In January 1991, Mercedes-Benz – then Daimler-Benz – unveiled the F100 concept at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), marking it as a model in the exclusive family of Mercedes-Benz test vehicles identified by the letter F.
A voice-controlled car phone, autonomous intelligent cruise control, xenon headlamps, and a chip card as the vehicle key were just some of the innovative features that were added to the F100.
At the time, it was a vehicle that gave a fascinating look into the potential future of automotive technology by offering fresh insights into areas such as passive and active safety, ergonomics, and use of space.
The F100 – a drivable test vehicle – was just the first in a long line of F models that span from Carl Benz’s innovative patent motor car from 1886, to the F 015 Luxury in Motion test car of 2015.
What all these cars have in common is that they are fully functional, one-of-one vehicles featuring new systems and technologies that could be experienced, driven, and evaluated.
Engineers and designers at the time incorporated social and accident research into the development of the F100.
They determined that a typical passenger car carried an average of between 1.2 and 1.7 people in everyday use, consequently they decided to place the driver seat in the centre of the passenger cell as that was the safest place inside the vehicle.
The second-row occupants were then placed to the left and right behind the driver, with two further seating areas placed towards the centre between the rear wheelhouses.
“The body of the F100 with its steeply raked rear end anticipated the trend of future years, in which there was an increasing demand for spacious estate cars and other vehicles,” noted the company.
To match the innovative interior of the van, rotating-swiveling doors were added to access the driver’s seat – and these took part of the vehicle roof and floor with them as they opened.
Through this new style of door, Mercedes-Benz was able achieve a pillarless design – and included rear pivot-and-slide doors acting as B-pillar support after they were closed and locked in three different places with mechanical locking mechanisms.
The interior also got a lot of attention from the forward-thinking staff.
Up front was the central display of the van – a screen automatically showing all the key information needed by the driver in every situation.
Through the revolutionary (for the time) reverse camera, a distance-warning radar, and a further radar system that monitored traffic behind, the central screen was able to show information such as the speeds at which you were travelling, as well as traffic in the area around the vehicle.
Other unheard-of features for 1991 included:
- Chip card key
- Automatic lane keeping
- Voice-controlled telephone system
- Electronic tyre pressure monitoring
- Autonomous intelligent cruise control
- Electric seat and steering wheel adjustment
- Installed personal computer with mobile fax
The power supply for these functions was assisted by solar cells in the roof that occupied an area of almost two square metres and had a maximum output of up to 100 watts.
Lighting technology also falls under the innovation umbrella as the F100 was the first car from Mercedes-Benz to use highly compact gas-discharge lamps – better known as xenon headlamps today – and the tail lights were made of transparent prism rods that served as light conductors which were activated from a central light source in the appropriate colour.
The engineers had experimented with several engine concepts – including a hydrogen-powered engine – as well as making front-wheel drive another first that this car could add to its already extensive list.
Finally, Mercedes-Benz proudly stated that: “In the sum of its features and design details, the F100 represented nothing less than a new type of automobile.”