Wednesday, June 19

The most complicated cars ever made

Cars are complex machines, but some take that to a whole new level in the search to break new technological ground.
Sometimes that brings success and other times it results in failure. There are cars that appear to have been more complicated than they ever needed to be just for the sheer design hell of it, like the magnificent homage to over-engineering that was the Mercedes-Benz 600, pictured.

Whatever it is that makes a car more complex than others, here’s our pick of the most finicky designs in chronological order:Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner (1957)
If you want to know what was the first coupé-convertible car, look no further than the Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner. It was the first car with this roof arrangement to enter series production and went on to sell more than 45,000 examples. The roof itself was the first ever retractable top made up from more than one section and it stowed under the rear deck.

Making this work seamlessly required seven reversible electric motors, four lifting jacks, 10 solenoids, another 10 limit switches and four locking mechanisms. There’s also 607-feet (185m) of wiring to make all of this lot work, so the Skyliner was also the most complex drop-top on the market at its launch.Rover P6 (1963)
Rover may have had a slightly staid image up until the 1960s, but that all changed with the P6. Aimed at a new breed of thrusting young executives, it offered superb ride and handling, and excellent safety. Much of this was down to the design of the main structure that left all of the body panels unstressed.

Another unusual P6 feature was the front suspension that used a bell crank design. This gave the car fine comfort and also allowed more width in the engine bay for the proposed gas turbine engine that was ditched and replaced by the famous GM 3.5-litre V8. These design features make the P6 tricky to restore now but also accounted for its popularity in period.Mercedes-Benz 600 (1964)
Any car described as a ‘technical tour de force’ is likely to raise eyebrows when it comes to complexity and that’s just what the W100 series of Mercedes 600 did. It came with air suspension, twin heating systems and used vacuum-operation for the powered windows and central locking. On top of that, there was Bosch fuel injection at a time when carburettors were the norm.

From any other car makers, this lot would have sounded alarm bells, but the quality of construction for the W100 was immaculate. Little wonder it was the choice of car for world leaders until its demise in 1981.

However, all of that complexity means the 600 is fiendishly complicated to restore and maintain nowadays, though well cared for examples now command up to £80,000 for the standard saloon model, and rather more for the stretched dictator-spec Pullman model.Citroën SM (1970)
The SM was the result of Citroën buying Maserati in 1968. Using the Italian firm’s 2.7-litre V6 engine endowed the Citroën with decent performance, but it also had to power the car’s hydro-pneumatic suspension and brakes borrowed from the DS. Along with headlights that turned with the steering and advanced dials, the SM was as advanced as it was fragile.

The fragility meant regular maintenance was vital to keep the Maserati V6 engine ticking as it should and Citroën’s suspension working. Even so, the SM earned a reputation for being fearsomely difficult to keep running correctly and it’s only now the car is really appreciated as the clever machine it is.Citroën Birotor (1973)
Citroën more than dabbled with the notion of rotary power for its cars, but ultimately it decided against this design after experimenting with the Birotor. It used a Comotor 624 twin rotor engine as seen in the NSU Ro80 and it turned the GS base vehicle into a fast, refined cruiser. Citroën tested the car with 847 built and supplied to the public.

However, when Peugeot bought Citroën, the Birotor project was scrapped and most of the cars suffered the same fate when Peugeot bought them back. It felt the engine’s complex and unreliable nature would damage the Citroën brand, so the few surviving Birotors offer an enticing glimpse of how Citroën might have developed if it had remained independent.