The Forgotten 1981 Concept Car You'd Never Guess Was A Mercedes

When you think of Mercedes-Benz you think of first class German luxury vehicles, not ... whatever triangle thing above is. It looks like it was built by the Clown Werks Division at Barnum & Bailey Circus, not one of the most trusted car makers in the world.

However, the Nahverkehrsfahrzeug – doesn't that just roll off the tongue? — does in fact come from Mercedes. Thankfully, the acronym "NAFA" was adopted to keep us all from spitting on each other when trying to pronounce the name of this vehicle. The NAFA is a concept that actually played an important role in the development of a few of Mercedes line of cars, including the A-Class.

It was designed as a "vehicle for traveling short distances" (via Dyler). The NAFA was to be used for bopping around the urban landscape where parking is always at a premium. As such, Mercedes built the vehicle with an overall length of just over eight feet. It wasn't tall either, sitting a hair under five feet. With the ability to turn a complete circle inside a 19-foot diameter (via Mercedes-Benz), it was the literal definition of a compact car.

Try saying 'Nahverkehrsfahrzeug' three times fast

The engine on this mini was a three cylinder 1.0-liter pony kicking out 40 horsepower (via Motor1). Again, this two-seater was meant to drive down to the store for a few bags of groceries — and not much more, considering it lacked interior space — and scoot back home.

The NAFA had front-wheel drive, automatic transmission, and four-wheel power steering (via Motor1). Additionally, the doors didn't swing out conventionally. Instead, they slid forward to keep with "city car designed to fit on congested streets and in tight spaces" mantra Mercedes wanted. As the doors slid, a clever design choice automatically folded the side mirrors out so they wouldn't get smashed (via Honda). The sliding door would eventually find its way into Peugot's 1007 (via Dyler) some 23 years later.

Alas, the NAFA never made it into production because the German automaker couldn't get it up to snuff safety-wise (via Motor1). However, many of NAFA's concepts made their way into the Smart ForTwo and the Smart City Coupe later down the line, while other lessons it learned in the NAFA's development found their way into the design of the first-generation of A-Class cars.