One of the most interesting, provocative and exciting concept cars ever built was a Mercedes — but not some awesome supercar that could outrun a bullet and hurtle towards the speed of sound in second gear. No indeed.
For the F 300 Life-Jet was one of the best fun drives ever, combining the thrilling cornering dynamics of a high-powered motorcycle with the safety, weather protection and zip of a small sports car.
Shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1997, this mould-breaking three-wheel concept car was the fruit of a research project into active-tilt systems (as used by the fastest modern trains). The front wheels of this sporty in-line two-seater leaned into corners, tilting the cabin to a maximum angle of 30°.
The amount of tilt was determined by an electronic control system that calculated optimum lean and passed command information to a hydraulic cylinder that pushed the appropriate spring-loaded strut outwards to achieve the desired result. At night, a headlamp unit turned with the car to provide brilliant illumination.
The streamlined silver aluminium body of the Life-Jet was unlike anything seen before. The cabin had a scissor door that folded forwards for the driver and rear-hinged passenger door on the opposite side. The removable roof could be stored in the back. Performance was more than impressive, with a compact 1.6 litre engine borrowed from the Mercedes-Benz A-class situated behind the passenger seat, delivering sports-car performance and miserly fuel consumption.
Had it gone into production, this fabulous driving machine would surely have sold well around the world. Sadly, Mercedes ignored many requests to turn concept into reality, though perhaps increasing interest in hybrid technology and electric locomotion may yet see a dramatic return for the F 300 Life-Jet, that looks as good today as it did back in 1997.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1,598 cc Straight Four
Top speed of 131 mph (211 km/h);0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.5 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The F 300 Life-Jet’s added stability enabled it to corner at speeds normally attainable only by the most experienced motorcyclists, with the centrifugal force that glues riders to bikes ensuring that occupants of the Life-Jet did not have to cling on when cornering fast, but were moulded into the car.