After the end of World War II, 90 percent of the plant facilities in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim were destroyed. The first priority was to reconstruct the plant in order to resume industrial activity. Nobody seriously thought of resuming motor sport activities, except one man: racing manager Alfred Neubauer. He searched for three-litre Mercedes racing cars in working condition – and found them. And so the company set out to compete in motor racing again in 1951, entering three W 154 in the race in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Alongside doyen Hermann Lang, the drivers' team now included Karl Kling and the Argentinean Juan Manuel Fangio.
The three company-entered Mercedes-Benz cars finished the "Premio Presidente de la Nación Juan D. Perón" race in places two, three and six, with Lang ahead of Fangio and Kling.
However, the respectable result could not hush up the fact that the 12-year-old W 154 was getting on in years; all formula racing plans were therefore stopped for the time being. Instead, Daimler-Benz now set its sights on being competitive again with a racing car with 2.5 litre naturally aspirated engine specified by the International Racing Commission FIA from 1954. In addition, a promising sports car series was launched in which Daimler-Benz competed with the 300 SL from 1952.
1952: Premiere of the legendary 300 SL gullwing
For the first official racing competitions, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was developed, derived from the 300 saloon and cabriolet models. The six-cylinder in-line engine in the production cars developed 115 hp from a displacement of three litres – not enough for motor racing. Its output was therefore boosted to 175 hp.
The car had been developed by the experienced design engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut and was first entered in the classic Italian long-distance race, the Mille Miglia. Karl Kling fought a long duel with a Ferrari before being forced to let it pass due to technical problems on his own car.
Sports car race in Berne: First post-war victory of the Mercedes team
In the next race in Berne, Switzerland, Mercedes drivers Kling, Lang and Riess scored an outstanding triple victory. Rudolf Caracciola was out in the lead for some time but crashed against a tree after experiencing brake problems. The most famous racing driver of the pre-war era did recover from this accident, but his career as a racing driver was over.
The double Mercedes victory in the classic long-distance race in Le Mans attracted enormous public acclaim. After 24 hours, the team of Hermann Lang/Fritz Rieß was the first to cross the finishing line, followed by their team mates Theo Helfrich/Helmut Niedermayr. The 300 SL again occupied the first three places in the sports car race on the Nürburgring.
Mercedes-Benz also faced the competition in the Carrera Panamericana: the 3,300 kilometre race on Mexican roads, part of them unmetalled, at icy-cold altitudes and through muggy lowlands, was an acid test for both man and machine. The team of Kling/Klenk experienced its greatest adrenaline rush when a vulture hit the windscreen at 220 km/h and ended up, torn to pieces, inside the car. The fact that the team was nevertheless the first to see the chequered flag testified not only to the 300 SL's technical superiority but also to the excellence and intrepidity of drivers Karl Kling and Hans Klenk.
With the victorious 300 SL, Mercedes-Benz proved that the company was able to continue its magnificent pre-war successes.
1954: Mercedes returns to Formula 1 racing with the W 196
In 1953, the Daimler-Benz racing department was busy preparing for entering the new Formula 1. A completely new car with 2.5 litre naturally aspirated engine was developed: the W 196. It was built with three different wheelbase lengths, as a monoposto with exposed front wheels and with a streamlined bodywork. The tubular grid frame had been adopted from the 300 SL sports car; the engine developed for this car was again an eight-cylinder in-line unit – the first to feature direct fuel injection and desmodromic valve control. Its output was 265 hp initially and 290 hp at a later stage. The naturally aspirated unit was able to rev up to 9000/min.
Racing manager Alfred Neubauer's team took the return to Grand Prix racing very seriously indeed, as shown in their very first race. Karl Kling and Juan Manuel Fangio in their brand-new W 196 cars already dominated the practice sessions for the French Grand Prix in Reims on 4 July 1954. In the race itself, they didn't give their competitors on Ferrari, Maserati, Giordini and HWM a chance and scored a much-acclaimed double victory, with Fangio finishing ahead of Kling.
Several victories during that season – unforgotten the triple victory by Kling/Fangio/Hermann in the race on the Avus in Berlin – clearly demonstrated the strength of the Mercedes-Benz company team. The 1954 season culminated in Juan Manuel Fangio winning the world champion's title in a Mercedes-Benz W 196.
1955: Mercedes-Benz dominates the world's racetracks
Parallel to its activities with the revised W 196 racing cars in Formula 1, Mercedes-Benz set out in 1955 on a successful course with 300 SL touring cars and the newly developed 300 SLR racing sports cars. The company's drivers' team included Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling and Hans Herrmann as well as Englishman Stirling Moss and the Italian Piero Taruffi.
The first race in the 1955 Formula 1 season was staged in Argentina. After a three-hour battle in scorching heat, Juan Manuel Fangio was the first to cross the finishing line. His team-mate Stirling Moss won his first race at the wheel of a W 196 on home ground, in Aintree. The competitors had a hard time of it because the Stuttgart team's drivers Fangio, Kling and Taruffi finished, in superior fashion, in places two, three and four in England. At the end of the season, Fangio had amassed the largest number of points and clinched the 1955 Formula 1 world champion's title ahead of Moss who always lacked that modicum of luck that is required for winning this coveted title.
Mille Miglia: Stirling Moss' record-time victory in a 300 SLR
In his fast 300 SLR with start number 722, Stirling Moss celebrated a memorable victory: on 30 April 1955, Moss and his co-driver Denis Jenkinson won the 1,600 kilometre Mille Miglia in ten hours, seven minutes and 48 seconds, at an average speed of 157.65 km/h – a record that has remained unsurpassed to this day.
The dashing 300 SLR sports car was a direct descendant of the W 196 Formula 1 car. The displacement of its eight-cylinder in-line engine was enlarged from 2.5 to 3.0 litres, the engine's output was between 276 and 310 hp. Despite the resulting inferiority in nominal terms – Jaguar entered cars with 3.5 litres, Ferrari with as much as 4.4 litres – the 300 SLR scored additional victories in Germany, Sweden, Ireland and Sicily and won the world championship for sports cars in the constructors' ranking.
End of 1955: Withdrawal from motor sport
The incident with the most serious consequences in the company's motor sport history took place on 11 June 1955, in the 24-hour race in Le Mans. French driver Levegh was involved in an accident through no fault of his own and his car was catapulted into the crowds. The tragic death of numerous spectators prompted those responsible at Mercedes-Benz to withdraw all drivers from racing. Daimler-Benz had for quite a while been considering a withdrawal from racing and under the impression of this terrible accident, the company announced its complete withdrawal from motor sport on 22 October 1955. An era had come to an end at the pinnacle of success.
In all those years, the team around racing manager Alfred Neubauer had not only provided for thrilling races but had also demonstrated that victory requires more than just fast cars and drivers. The Neubauer era, which had begun as early as 1926, can safely be credited with marking the beginning of team work, superior pit work and perfect racing strategy.
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