This one was never going to see mass production. If it weren’t for the design, this would have been just one of those technological studies that make the engineers juice but don’t do anything for the rest of us. Luckily, it wasn’t the case with the F 400 Carving.
In a nutshell, the F 400 Carving was the logical continuation after the revolutionary F 300 Life Jet, which provided extensive insights into the active wheel chamber control for cars. The engineers then switched focus on translating their findings over a four-wheeled vehicle, giving birth to the F 400 Carving.
The big idea behind the F 400 Carving was to offer enhanced handling safety, driving dynamics and motoring pleasure – exactly what people expect from a sports car.
At a quick glance, that’s exactly what the F 400 Carving looks like: your ordinary sports car with a futuristic twist. It’s not until you get a look at its wheels that you start to notice something is amiss.
The wheels, as well as the tires they were wrapped in, were special designs. The rims had different diameters on the inside (17 inches) and on the outside (19 inches), which made their shape change from cylindrical, to conical. Looks like someone finally managed to reinvent the wheel and, no big surprise here, it turned out to be Mercedes-Benz.
But the shape of the wheels was just a means to an end. The F 400 Carving’s main feature was it’s ability to tilt it’s wheels in real time. In other words, it was able to actively adjust the camber of the outside wheels while cornering, offering improved directional stability and roadholding, and reducing the danger of skidding. Sensors measure the road speed, acceleration, steering lock and yaw of the car, and send control signals to the outer wheels’ hydraulic servo cylinders, causing them to tilt at a precisely defined angle.
This solution doesn’t come in handy only when trying to go as fast as possible, but also when going faster than you should – entering bends too quickly or swerving suddenly.
Key for F 400 Carving’s success were the specially developed tires. The inner side of the tire has a high friction rounded tread for best cornering behaviour which was inspired by the design of motorcycle tires. The outer shoulder of the tire features a proven car tread for good straight-line stability.
We’re not over yet. The Carving used a drive by wire systems which means that there was no direct mechanical link between the steering and the wheels or between the brake pedal and the brake booster. It’s all done electronically. You might say it’s a bit of a sacrilege for a sports car, but it was all done in the name of safety: in hazardous situations, automatic steering correction reduces the risk of skidding. The electronics compute and, as required, apportion brake pressure to each wheel according to the situation, thus ensuring highly reliable braking on bends, for example.
And then there’s the materials the F 400 Carving used. There’s the carbon fiber reinforced ceramics in the brake discs or the carbon fiber reinforced plastic used for the body (which weighed 100 kg). The space frame chassis is made of steel, aluminium and CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic).
Such a bold new car could only be presented on a stage to match so Mercedes-Benz chose the Tokyo Motor Show in 2001 for it. As you know, there are no cars with conical wheels out there, but that doesn’t mean that the F 400 Carving was a failure. No, it was just one of those cars that are simply too weird and too complex to ever see the light of day. It would change too much of what we think we know about cars. It would be a totally new breed. It would be awesome. But it wasn’t to be…