Mercedes' Wild F200 Concept Ditched The Steering Wheel Decades Ago And Still Looks Fresh

Vehicles are constantly being reimagined, reworked, and reinvented. Electric vehicles are currently taking over the market and yet were seen as an impractical niche only a few years ago. Even gas-powered cars are more electrically reliant than ever before. Driver aids are constantly being thought up and added, all of which rely on wiring and battery power. As a result, the car has transformed from an almost purely mechanical device into a kind of hybrid. Sometimes things go to extremes and seemingly vital components are removed.

If leaks are to be believed, Apple's eventual take on the self-driving car will lack a wheel, pedals, or any other kind of control mechanism. This kind of move would set the tech giant apart from rival companies that are also working on self-driving technology. Every other automaker, including Tesla, Mercedes, and BMW, has elected to keep manual controls in their patents and prototypes.

While it may seem novel in the world of self-driving cars, Apple isn't the first company to ditch the concept of a steering wheel. Mercedes was at the forefront of innovation in the '90s, and its S-class range was the first to come with features that are still considered high-end or modern to this day. These features include radar-guided cruise control and an electronic stability program. Mercedes even pioneered the use of anti-lock brakes. However, some of the ideas they came up with in the '90s didn't stick around, and in hindsight, it's pretty clear why.

Mercedes had a joystick-operated concept car

Joysticks were a common feature on gaming systems in the '90s, but no one really expected to see one bolted to the center console of their car. Still, in what was perhaps its quirkiest attempt at innovation, Mercedes decided to do it anyway. In 1996, the automaker came up with the Mercedes-Benz F200 Imagination, a concept car that doesn't have a steering wheel but does have a stick in the middle that you can grab and point towards where you'd like to go. The joysticks control steering, braking, and throttle, so there's no need for pedals, either.

An archived snap of the Daimer website shows that the joysticks operated through a drive-by-wire design. The car also had an "electro-transparent panoramic glass roof," gullwing doors, bi-xenon headlights, the world's first window airbag, cameras instead of mirrors, "active body control," and the ability to control the driver's cell phone with their voice. Visually, it's still a beautiful car; the lines are sleek, the roof is amazing, and to non-trypophobia sufferers, the wheels look pretty cool.

An F200 Imagination, which is valued at around $10 million, was recently spotted being unloaded and driven into position at the London Concours. The driver seemed fairly adept with the unusual controls, though there were one or two movements that seemed a little bit jerky. Shockingly the concept didn't catch on. There was no full production run, and you won't see a joystick-steered car on the roads in 2022.