Mercedes-Benz Vario Research Car

"Girls, can you please help me turn my hatchback wagon into a convertible before we go for lunch?"

…said no one, ever. Well, the models above had to deal with a photo shoot in 1995 for the Vario Research Car, aka VRC, that promised four distinct body styles on one vehicle platform. For me, this is what separates big car companies like Mercedes-Benz that can mobilize teams of designers in order to create something like this car. Put another way: every day, you get to read about people who found difficulties making just one car.

Four in one is an ambitious idea, and when you're combining a truck, coupe, convertible, and wagon into one vehicle, the end result will produce compromised versions of each.

The business case for the VRC is similar to the one attempted by battery swap startup Better Place, and is actually much different than the press photos depict. Mercedes-Benz envisioned a system where, say, ahead of a road trip you'd pull into a rental station, wait for 15 minutes, and in that time a few mechanics would convert your car into a new body style.

Electric motors, locks, and solenoids kept everything locked down—obviously, an important consideration. Daimler seems to think coffee was a required part of the swap process, though: 

"While they drank a coffee, service technicians would exchange the body. A few minutes later, the customer would be on the road again. The driver could decide how long to use a particular body variant, because the rental system would be just as flexible as the car itself."

The modules are said to weigh between just 30-50 kg (66-110 lbs) thanks to their carbon fibre-reinforced plastic construction, but just imagine restoration shops hunting for rare body panels and parts decades later—if, in fact, a production VRC would be worth restoring in, say, 2035.

Besides the fancy bodywork, it had a colour LCD inside and was one of the first Mercedes-Benz to include a "central rotary control to operate electrical functions"—you know, a BMW iDrive-like module with a dial and some buttons intended to control the radio, GPS, A/C, and other features.

If you'd love your very own VRC, I suggest finding yourself a Nissan EXA Sportbak: you'll only get to pick between coupé and wagon, but at least Nissan was crazy enough to put it into production.