Racing in its DNA: 60 years of Mercedes-Benz SL
Daimler Reitwagen: forerunner of the motorbike
Timeless luxury: Mercedes-Benz SS-Type once owned by the Maharaja of Kashmir
Stuttgart – Mercedes-Benz Classic will be showing off a number of its finest vehicles at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in the USA. Held on the 18th fairway of California’s Pebble Beach Golf Links, the event is considered the world’s most prestigious exhibition of historical motor cars. For the Mercedes-Benz brand, the focus is on the 60th birthday of the 300 SL racing car (model series W 194) from 1952. Other vintage vehicles from the Stuttgart-based company’s private collection will be on show in the ‘Cars of the Maharajas’ and ‘German Motorcycles’ features.
The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance traditionally takes place on the third Sunday in August, which this year falls on the 19th. This date marks the high point of a weekend during which the finest and most elegant cars ever built play a starring role in tours, auctions and a host of other events. Such tremendous dedication to automotive heritage at its finest has earned Pebble Beach an unrivalled reputation among classic car aficionados. First held in 1950, the event still attracts intense interest from enthusiasts, experts and collectors the world over.
Mercedes-Benz cars have a very special place in the history of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, winning Best of Show several times and collecting more than 120 First in Class and Special Awards as part of a long list of successes since 1950.
In 2012, Mercedes-Benz Classic is celebrating the 60th birthday of the 300 SL racing car (W 194) at Pebble Beach. These are the cars whose memorable victories laid the foundations for Mercedes-Benz’s post-war motor sports renaissance in 1952 and which gave rise to the SL legend. An original vehicle will be representing this triumphant era at the Concours d’Elegance – the oldest SL still in existence, the W 194, chassis number 0002. Mercedes-Benz Classic will also be bringing the prototype SL bearing chassis number 0011 to Pebble Beach. Developed for the 1953 racing season, this car showed the potential for the racing car’s future development.
The W 198 series-production sports car, the legendary gullwing, was introduced in 1954 as the road version of the 300 SL racing car. The USA played an important part in this chapter of success for Mercedes-Benz. Indeed it was Maximilian E. Hoffman, Mercedes-Benz’s American importer, who suggested the introduction of a 300 SL for series production. And right from the start, the USA was one of the biggest markets for this high-performance sports car.
Mercedes-Benz Classic will also be recalling the very beginnings of automotive history with the Daimler Reitwagen. In 1885 Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach fitted this forerunner of all modern motorbikes and test bed for the development of the motor car with their four-stroke engine to prove its viability for vehicle propulsion.
In autumn 1885 the vehicle demonstrated its capabilities on a test drive from Cannstatt to Untertürkheim. It never made it into series production, however. The world’s first motorcycle, outrigger wheels and all, remained a one-off.
The 1906 Reitwagen, now part of the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection, is an authentic replica of the original, which was destroyed in a fire at the Cannstatt plant in 1903. It will be on display at Pebble Beach in the ‘German Motorcycles’ feature.
‘Cars of the Maharajas’, meanwhile, looks back upon a grand era of Indian automotive heritage. As its contribution to this feature, Mercedes-Benz Classic is bringing a SS-Type to Pebble Beach. This supercharged grand tourer – a paragon of luxury and lavish detail.– was built in 1930 for the Maharaja of Kashmir.
In the first third of the 20th century, the Maharaja was one a number of Indian motor car enthusiasts who bought themselves the finest and most expensive cars of their time – often having them specially built with exquisitely designed bodies. The Maharaja would no doubt be in his element at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance with its illustrious field of luxury classic cars.
The vehicles of Mercedes-Benz Classic at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing car (W 194), 1952
With the Second World War over, Mercedes-Benz returned to international motor sport with the 300 SL racing sports car (W 194) in 1952. The car was based on an ultra-light, yet extremely torsionally stiff tubular lattice frame covered by elegantly styled light-alloy bodywork made from sheet aluminium/magnesium. Because the lattice frame required comparatively high sides for reasons of rigidity, the W 194 could not be fitted with conventional doors; as a result, the racing sports car came to be equipped with its distinctive upwardly opening doors. This detail was adopted in the series-production 300 SL (W 198) sports car of 1954, which soon earned the nickname ‘gullwing’.
The W 194 was powered by the 170 bhp (125 kW) M 194 six-cylinder in-line engine with a displacement of 2996 cc. The 300 SL made its racing debut in May 1952 at the Mille Miglia, having been unveiled for the first time that March. The greatest successes of the W 194 during its first and only racing season included a threefold victory in the Prix de Berne race, spectacular double victories in the Le Mans 24 Hours and the 3rd Carrera Panamericana in Mexico and victory in the Nürburgring Anniversary Sports Car Grand Prix.
In the immediate post-war era, the then Daimler-Benz AG had neither the means nor the capacity to develop a radically new Formula 1 racing car – especially in view of the fact that changes to the formula were deemed to be imminent. That is why those responsible in Stuttgart decided to draw on what they already had and develop a sports car. At their disposal in 1952 was the engine from the Mercedes-Benz 300, which became known as the ‘Adenauer car’. Modified as necessary, uprated and fitted in the newly developed tubular lattice frame, it now also powered the 300 SL. The body of the racing car was either a closed gullwing or, for certain races, a roadster.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 198), 1954 to 1957
In 1954, spurred on by Maximilian E. Hoffman, the manufacturer’s importer in the USA, Mercedes-Benz developed a sports car version of the 300 SL for series production. And so the legendary 300 SL gullwing (W 198) was born, which adopted a number of features of the competition-only vehicle including its high-strength yet lightweight tubular frame.
The W 198 sports car was launched in February 1954 at the International Motor Sports Show in New York. In English-speaking countries, it soon became known as the gullwing because of its doors that hinged on the car roof.
The world’s first series-production car powered by a four-stroke engine, the 300 SL was fitted with a fuel injection system that gave it greater power and efficiency. The output of 215 bhp (158 kW) was 40 bhp (29 kW) more than the carburettor-based racing version of the engine could deliver. The engine was set at a slight angle, resulting in a particularly flat front end with outstanding air-flow characteristics. In ready-to-drive condition, the car weighed only 1,295 kg – including spare tyre, toolkit and fuel. The combination of its engine power, aerodynamic design and ultralight construction made it a highly impressive performer. Depending on the rear axle ratio, the 300 SL could achieve a top speed of between 235 km/h and 250 km/h.
Daimler Reitwagen, 1885
In 1885 Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach made a huge step forward in the development of the four-stroke engine as a means of propulsion for vehicles. The automotive pioneers took Nikolaus August Otto’s invention and made it much faster, whilst also greatly reducing its size and weight. It was then necessary to test the engine – nicknamed the grandfather clock because of its distinctive upright cylinder – in a vehicle. A two-wheeler with a wooden frame and wooden wheels was chosen for the job.
This was the Daimler Reitwagen, powered by a one-cylinder 264 cc engine with an output of 0.5 bhp (0.37 kW) at 600 rpm. Power was transmitted by a leather belt, which when stationary could be set on two differently sized pulleys – a simple form of two-speed gearshift.
On 29 August 1885 Daimler had his Reitwagen patented as a ‘Gas or Petroleum Power Machine’ (DRP 36423). In November of the same year, Daimler’s younger son Adolf took the vehicle on its maiden journey from Cannstatt to Untertürkheim, reaching speeds of up to 12 km/h.
Mercedes-Benz Type SS, 1928 to 1934
In 1928, following the success of the S-Type supercharged sports tourer from 1927, Mercedes-Benz launched the SS-Type (Super-Sport). The main difference from the 1927 car was the new M 06 engine, which was also used in the subsequent SSK and SSKL. This 7.1 litre engine initially produced an output of 140 bhp (103 kW) without a supercharger (160 bhp /118 kW from 1930 onwards) and 200 bhp (147 kW) at 3300 rpm with supercharger engaged.
The SS-Type proved hugely successful on the race track. Its standout successes for Mercedes-Benz include the three-fold victory at the German Grand Prix on 15 July 1928 at the Nürburgring.
In October 1928, the official Mercedes-Benz sales programme made the Type-SS available to private individuals with a passion for speed. As a Gran Turismo with a racing car’s DNA, the vehicle and its supercharged, high-performance engine proved popular with an affluent, discerning clientele. It had a higher chassis line than the S-Type and was available in several chassis variants. Initially, there was a four-seater sports car in addition to the basic model; and at the end of 1929 came a four-seater convertible available for 44,000 marks. A two-seater convertible was added in September 1932, which could also be made as a roadster.