Introduced at the 1995 Geneva Motor Show, the Mercedes VRC (where VRC stands for Vario Research Vehicle) is to the Citroen C3 Pluriel what Darth Vader is to Luke Skywalker. Only if Citroen could exist only in the form of a hatchback or a convertible, the concept from Mercedes-Benz simultaneously replaced a coupe, a convertible, a station wagon and even a pickup.
Presented at the Geneva Motor Show of 1995, the Mercedes VRC (where VRC stands for Vario Research Vehicle) is to Citroen C3 Pluriel what Darth Vader is to Luke Skywalker. Only if Citroen could exist only in the form of a hatchback or a convertible, the concept from Mercedes-Benz simultaneously replaced a coupe, a convertible, a station wagon and even a pickup.
When creating the concept, Mercedes-Benz was guided exclusively by public demands – it was necessary to have an inexpensive, but functional solution which could kill not two birds with one stone, but four birds at once. Of course, there was initially no question of serial production of the VRC, but the experience gained during its development has helped Mercedes to create new cars, including commercial ones.
To make the bodies easier to change, the interchangeable body panels were pushed upward by electric motors. Each shape was attached in eight slots. The power structure of the body was organized in such a way that the interchangeable panels did not act as a stiffener. In addition, a large role was played by a microcomputer installed in the car, which determines which bodywork the car was in at the moment – for example, when the “coupe” was installed, the rear windows could be heated, and when a station wagon panel was used, the rear windshield wiper could be activated.
But interchangeable body panels were far from the only thing that surprised the VRC. The body itself was made from the now familiar carbon fiber, which helped achieve a 25 percent weight reduction with the highest rigidity. Each body panel weighed from 30 to 50 kg.
The concept also used Active Body Control suspension, working in conjunction with front-wheel drive transmission and automatic transmission. ABC system was first shown on the concept car C112, and went into production only with the advent of the CL model in the 215th body in 1999.
Already in 1995, the car had two color displays. The one on the dashboard, displayed all the information the driver needed (including the missing analog tachometer on the dashboard), as well as tips of navigation system and data about the speed limits: if the driver didn’t exceed speed, the figures ringed green, and if there was an excess – the color slowly changed to red, and the speed was encircled by an alarm triangle. The car received data on the speed mode on the basis of the information from the radar and the work of the directional stability system.
The second (central) display showed the navigation map, climate control mode and temperature, as well as the main data of the onboard computer. Switching between menus of the screen was carried out by a rotating washer (hello, iDrive), which had a sensor and understood which hand to take hold of it – the menu set for the driver and the right passenger was different.
If desired, the car could be transferred to Drive-by-Wire control – the steering wheel was removed, and the controls were replaced by two joysticks. With their help the acceleration, braking and maneuvering was carried out, and legs of the driver remained completely free. Of course, there was no mechanical connection between joysticks, motor and “steering” control.
However, the specific control was not the main trump card of the VRC – the emphasis was on the body variety. For its time, the car was too innovative and could not qualify for serial production because of too high costs (a carbon fiber body would cost a pretty penny) – but it was cheapening and simplification that its creators sought in the first place. But who knows, maybe in a couple of decades electric cars with interchangeable bodies will really become commonplace?