A couple of months ago we took a look at the experimental C88 sedan that Porsche presented at a family car conference organized in Beijing by the Chinese government in 1994. Porsche’s project is one of the better-known concepts shown at the event but it certainly wasn’t the only one.
Mercedes-Benz was eager to get a slice of the then-burgeoning Chinese market so it announced that it would also participate in the event. Starting with a clean sheet of paper, the automaker designed a tall, almost minivan-like car dubbed simply Family Car China (FCC). The FCC presented at the conference took the form of a five-seater, but its design was modular and its wheelbase could be extended to seat seven passengers spread out three rows of seats. It could also be transformed into a five-seater pickup with a small bed or a roomy two-seater cargo van, though there is no indication that these two prototypes made it past the drawing board.
The FCC stretched 140 inches (356 centimeters) long in its standard five-seater configuration. At first glance it appeared to break all ties with Mercedes’ design language but a closer look revealed a few subtle similarities. Granted, the FCC didn’t look like a w140 S-Class but the perforated radiator grille was inspired by one found on the SLK I concept that was presented in 1994 at the Turin Motor Show and concept’s overall shape was reminiscent of the Micro Concept Car (MCC) concept built that same year.
Power for the FCC came from a 1.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline-burning engine rated at 55 horsepower, enough to send the car to a top speed of 93 mph (150 km/h). Mounted transversally in the engine bay, the four-cylinder spun the front wheels via a manual transmission. Mercedes put a big emphasis on safety, too. The FCC could be fitted with two front airbags years before the technology became mandatory in China and abroad, and the engine was designed to slide under the passenger compartment in the event of a frontal collision in order to protect the passengers, a technology called Sandwich Floor.
Like we mentioned in the Porsche article, a clear winner was never chosen and the Chinese government quickly shelved the idea of designing a locally-built people’s car with the help of a foreign automaker. The FCC remained a prototype that was never given the green light for production, but it heavily inspired the w168 A-Class, Mercedes’ first front-wheel drive model, that was introduced in the fall of 1997 at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Notably, the A-Class featured the innovative Sandwich Floor that first appeared on the FCC.
Photos courtesy of Mercedes’ archives department.