Mercedes-Benz engineers have always been at the forefront of technological progress and innovation, often becoming the pioneers of the introduction of revolutionary solutions into series production. But sometimes this led to curiosities.
In the company’s museum in Stuttgart, you can contemplate one of these projects (a silver Mercedes-Benz SL roadster in the back of R129) and shouts “Someone stole the steering wheel!” scare tour guides and other visitors.
Depriving a car with a crazy, for its time, 394 horsepower V12 engine, steering wheel and pedals came to the mind of Mercedes-Benz engineers in 1996, when the automaker introduced the F200 Imagination concept, instead of the traditional controls equipped with joysticks. Accordingly, there was no mechanical connection with the wheels.
Mercedes-Benz F200 Imagination Concept 1996 Mercedes-Benz F200 Imagination Concept 1996
Two years later, a fully functional prototype based on the Mercedes-Benz SL was ready, used as a test bench for Drive-by-Wire technology (in translation – control by wire). Two joysticks were on either side of the driver – Mercedes was likening them to video game controllers, or more epic, combat fighter controls! It was also called the “Bridge to Aviation”. Dreamers …
Mercedes-Benz SL R129 Mercedes-Benz SL R129
Technically, the car could be controlled by either both joysticks or one of them. The driver pushed the joystick forward to drive, toward himself to brake, left / right to make turns. The control of the turn signal functions and the sound signal was also displayed on the joysticks. There was a rational grain in such a decision, incl. and safety-related: there was no need for a steering wheel and pedals that would injure the driver in an accident. Additional space was freed up in the car: in the SL, for example, a mobile work surface with all the attributes of a business person of the 1990s was placed in place of the steering column.
In addition, it was assumed that the passenger would be able to intercept control of the car if something happened. It was possible to confuse the police – it was not 100% clear who was driving the car: a sober passenger, or a drunk guy behind a steering wheel. However, not everyone liked this idea.
For the late 90s, Mercedes-Benz without a steering wheel and pedals turned out to be too futuristic, and remained in a single copy, still causing surprise! About 20 years remained before the introduction of such technologies. Today, production cars without a mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the wheels exist (Infiniti Q50), but the steering wheel is still there.