Model of the car: Mercedes-Benz F 300 Life-Jet, 1997

Carmakers have long shunned the idea of offering three-wheeled cars to their customers. Motorcycle manufacturers never promote anything that detracts from pure, two-wheeled excitement. But for flights of creative fantasy, three-wheeled machines mixing car and bike get plenty of attention, and this one from Mercedes-Benz packed a real technological punch with its Active Tilt Control (ATC) system.

1997 Mercedes-Benz F300 Life-Jet
In the back of the Life-Jet was a 98ci (1,598cc) Mercedes A-Class engine powering the rear wheel; the roof could also be stowed for sunny days

Using carefully placed sensors, a computer could calculate the tilt of the tandem two-seater body as the Life-Jet entered and progressed through a bend. Using this instant feedback, optimum control could be exerted on the springs by the hydraulic system to shift the center of gravity and ensure it wouldn’t overturn.

At very high speeds, minimum body roll would maintain stability, but the set-up would “relax” at lower speeds to let the cockpit lean over to a maximum 30 degrees. ATC would permit a g-force of 0.9, pretty.

1997 Mercedes-Benz F300 Life-Jet
1997 Mercedes-Benz F300 Life-Jet

ATC would permit a g-force of 0.9, pretty exhilarating for a typical car driver—no helmet or leathers were required, the seats had belts, and air-conditioning was included.

The aluminum chassis weighed just 196lb (89kg) while the bodyshell and vertically opening front-hinged doors were aircraftinspired. In good weather, the two roof sections could be removed and stowed in the boot. The Mercedes A-Class engine behind the passengers drove the single rear wheel through a five-speed manual gearbox. A sensor was added to automatically turn on the headlights in ambient light conditions.

“For a firm renowned for its conservative image, Mercedes pulled out all the stops with the F 300 to produce a design as gloriously irrelevant as possible.”

Richard Dredge In His Book Concept Cars, 2004

Video: model of the car Mercedes-Benz F300 Life-Jet

Specification: model of the car Mercedes-Benz F300 Life-Jet

YEAR REVEALED: 1997
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Stuttgart, Germany
HISTORICAL STATUS: prototype
ENGINE: four-cylinder, 98ci (1,598cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 102bhp
LAYOUT: rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheel
BODYWORK: two-canopy-door, two-seater coupé
TOP SPE: 135mph (217kph)
NUMBER BUILT: one