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”Magical moments. The hour of the Silver Arrows”: The vehicles
Mercedes Simplex 18/28 hp, 1904
The Mercedes-Simplex 18/28 hp introduced in 1904 is based on the 35-hp Mercedes. The latter was the first vehicle to bear the name Mercedes (from late 1900). Named after Mercedes Jellinek, the then eleven-year-old daughter of businessman and automotive enthusiast Emil Jellinek, the vehicle marks the definitive departure from the until then dominant primitive design principle based on a motorised carriage, and is thus considered the first modern motor car. The innovative vehicle creates a furore in particular through its successes at the Nice Week in March 1901. Subsequent models, offered under the name Mercedes-Simplex from 1902, continue the success story. The addition to the name, “ Simplex” refers to the simple handling required by the car, simple, that is, by the standards of its day. Mercedes-Simplex high-performance sports cars dominate not only the Nice Week races in 1902 and 1903; the 60-hp model also achieves the until then greatest motor sports success for Mercedes in June 1903: Camille Jenatzy, at the wheel of a 60-hp Mercedes-Simplex, wins the Gordon Bennett race in Ireland, the most important motor sports event of its time. The Mercedes team had originally really intended to send a significantly more powerful 90-hp racing car to the race, but a disastrous fire in the Cannstatt factory three weeks before the race shatters the plan. The 18/28 hp Simplex presented in “Magical moments” is the 1904 entry-level model of the Simplex product range and obeys the same design principle as its more powerful sister models.
Mercedes Grand Prix racing car, 1908
The Mercedes Grand Prix racing car of 1908 vintage is seen as the summit of the technical development of its time. The vehicle is based on the previous year’s model, having been thoroughly reworked in many details. Among other things, for the first time in a Mercedes racing car, the vehicle body sides are raised up much higher to provide better protection for the driver. The engine, with two low-mounted camshafts, overhead intake valves and side outlet valves, follows the design concept created by Wilhelm Maybach for racing-car four-cylinder engines. From its 12,824 cc displacement the engine draws a power output of 96 kW (130 hp) at 1,400 rpm. The vehicle, with its chain drive to the rear axle, convinces with its balanced handling and ease of operation. The then internationally most important racing event, the French Grand Prix, is won by Christian Lautenschlager on 7 July 1908 on the triangular racetrack at Dieppe. He reaches the finish line almost 9 minutes before his main rival, Victor Hémery, driving a Benz. Otto Salzer, at the wheel of a Mercedes, drives the fastest lap at an average speed of 126.5 km/h.
200-hp Benz (“BlitzenBenz”), 1909 to 1911
The 1908 Benz Grand Prix racing car serves as the base for the legendary “BlitzenBenz” (“Lightning Benz”) of 1909. This new vehicle is driven by the engine with the greatest displacement ever used in a racing car or record-setting car made by the Benz, Mercedes and Mercedes-Benz brands. The gigantic four-cylinder with a displacement of 21.5 litres delivers 147 kW (200 hp) at 1,600 rpm. Victor Hémery thunders through the kilometre with a flying start on 8 November 1909 in Brooklands at an average speed of 202.7 km/h. With this the 200 km/h barrier is broken for the first time in Europe. The 200-hp Benz is not only the swiftest land vehicle, it is also faster than all the aircraft of its time. In 1910 and 1912 two out of a total of six 200-hp Benz are shipped to America where they set more records. The first vehicle reaches the record-breaking speed of 211.4 km/h on Daytona Beach in March 1910. A year later this record is broken, as a new one of 228.1 km/h is set. The record-setting car becomes known around the world as the “ Lightning Benz” or “BlitzenBenz”. From December 1913 to June 1914 L. G. Hornsted sets two new records in Brooklands – among which is the first record according to the newly created two-way rule, as the average speed of two runs in opposite directions.
Mercedes Grand Prix racing car, 1914
For the Grand Prix racing car of 1914, Paul Daimler, elder son of Gottlieb Daimler, head of Development of the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, and his collaborators are faced with the challenge of having to design a completely new engine. The new rules for 1914 limit displacement to a maximum of 4.5 litres. The Mercedes designers decide to apply a principle already tried and tested in aviation engines: the four-cylinder engine with overhead camshaft and two intake/two outlet valves per cylinder has a five-bearing crankshaft made from special steel and turned steel cylinders, bolted from below individually into the cylinder head, and with a sheet steel cooling mantle welded onto them. The engine reaches a top output of 78 kW (106 hp) at the revolutionary high engine speed of 3,100 rpm. The Grand Prix car of 1914 is the first Mercedes racing car with a cardan-shaft drive, which is employed instead of the chain drive until then in common use. On 4 July 1914 the Mercedes starts with five of these cars at the 37.6-kilometre-long racecourse near Lyon against supposedly far superior competition. In spite of this, Christian Lautenschlager, Louis Wagner and Otto Salzer attain a resounding success, a three-fold win, significantly surpassing even the Mercedes success of 1908.
Mercedes-Benz SS 27/170/225 hp (model series W 06), 1928
The 1928 Mercedes-Benz SS (“Super-Sport”) is derived from the successful S-Type, which had reaped spectacular successes in the previous year, worthy of mention among which is the victory at the opening race at Nürburgring. With a displacement of 7.1 litres, its six-cylinder in-line supercharged engine delivers up to 125 kW (170 hp) without supercharger, and up to 166 kW (225 hp) with the supercharger engaged. Despite its powerful engine the SS is not a pure racing sports car, but also a production sports car suitable for everyday use, so that over 100 units are built. The “ Super-Sport” celebrates its première in June 1928 at the Bühler Heights Hill Climb (Bühler Höhe Bergrennen), organised within the framework of the Baden-Baden Automobile Tournament. Rudolf Caracciola pilots the new super sports car to an immediate victory. And at the German Sports Car Grand Prix on the Nürburgring racecourse the SS shows its potential with a triple victory (Caracciola ahead of Otto Merz and Christian Werner/Willy Walb). There follows a series of numerous racing successes, among which can be mentioned Rudolf Caracciola’s triumph in the International Tourist Trophy in Ireland in August 1929. This vehicle forms the base for the even sportier SSK, which also celebrates its racing première in the summer of 1928.
Mercedes-Benz SSK 27/170/225 hp (model series W 06), 1928
The SSK (model series W 06) is the most exclusive and fascinating of the six-cylinder supercharged sports cars belonging to the Mercedes-Benz S-Series. The model, deployed for the first time just four weeks after the SS, and whose designation stands for “Super-Sport-Kurz” (Super Sport Short), underscores its striking sportiness among other things by a wheelbase that has been shortened by 45 centimetres. This virtually predestines the SSK for hill climbs. In July 1928 works driver Rudolf Caracciola at the wheel of the brand-new SSK wins the Gabelbach race in Ilmenau as well as both the Schauinsland and Mont Ventoux hill climbs. The SSK, with its top speed of almost 192 km/h, enables him to win the European Hill Climb Championship in 1930 and again in 1931. The weight-reduced power-enhanced 1931 version, also known as SSKL (Super-Sport-Kurz-Leicht or “Super Sport Short Light”), also achieves spectacular successes. Among the most important victories can be counted Caracciola’s triumph in the legendary 1000-mile race, the “Mille Miglia” in Italy: The arduous road race from Brescia to Rome and back is won by Rudolf Caracciola driving an SSKL in April 1931. He thus becomes the first non-Italian driver ever to win the race. Further racing successes follow, among others the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring.
Mercedes-Benz 750-kilogram racing car W 25, 1934
The W 25 is the first Mercedes-Benz racing car for the new Grand Prix formula valid from 1934. This formula prescribes a maximum weight of 750 kilograms for the vehicle (without service fluids or tyres) – this way the organisers want to limit the power output of the racing cars and thus the top speeds that are possible. The designers at Mercedes-Benz opt for a classic vehicle architecture: the front engine drives the rear wheels via a transmission on the rear axle. The in-line eight-cylinder engine originally has a displacement of 3.4 litres and features supercharging, which has fully proven its worth in racing. Painted in the German racing livery colour, white, the W 25 weighs in at Nürburgring a kilo over the limit, just a day before its first deployment in the International Eifel race. The legend holds that the mechanics scraped the paint off, allowing the racer to shine in the silver colour of its unpainted bodywork. With Manfred von Brauchitsch at the wheel it wins the race founding the unique success story of the Silver Arrows. The W 25 races between 1934 and 1936 and is continuously further developed and enhanced during this time. In 1935 it helps Rudolf Caracciola to win the title in the European Championship and two Grand Prix victories in 1936: in Tunis (Algeria) and Monaco.
Mercedes-Benz W 25 record car, 1936
In addition to the Grand Prix races, Mercedes-Benz also uses the Silver Arrows for speed records. After the first record runs of the W 25 in late 1934, in 1936 a complete new record car is created. At first it is equipped with a V12 engine with a displacement of 5.7 litres, but it is out of the question for the Grand Prix race because of the weight limitations imposed by the new rules. It delivers an output around 60 kW (80 hp) higher than the Grand Prix racing car straight-eight cylinder engine. Just as important for the record runs: the entirely redesigned fully streamlined body, developed in the wind tunnel. In October and November 1936, the vehicle is driven on the Frankfurt-Darmstadt motorway. On 26 October, Rudolf Caracciola sets three international records in the “ B” class (5 to 8 litres displacement) over a one-kilometre run, a one-mile run and a five-mile run, each time with a flying start. He reaches a top speed of 372.1 km/h. On 11th November, the record runs are resumed. Caracciola sets two new class records for the five-mile and the ten-kilometre runs. The quest for excellence is crowned by a world record for ten miles with a flying start: in it Caracciola reaches a speed of 333.5 km/h as the average between two runs in both directions.
Mercedes-Benz 750-kilogram racing car W 125, 1937
As it becomes increasingly clear that the W 25 despite two Grand Prix victories is no longer competitive in the 1936 season, with Rudolf Uhlenhaut the racing department gets a technical head of its own. With his team he immediately begins to develop a fundamentally new racing car. An unusual step to take, since the days of the 750-kg formula are counted and an entirely new regulation based on the displacement is due to be in place already in 1938. After thoroughly testing the W 25 under racing conditions, Uhlenhaut chooses a revolutionary chassis design principle for its successor, the W 125, one with soft spring characteristics and powerful damping. The engine, too, is thoroughly further developed. The in-line eight-cylinder with supercharger delivers – after hiking the displacement to 5.7 litres – up to 435 kW (592 hp) or around 73 kW (100 hp) more than the previous year's model. This is an output that Grand Prix racing cars will only reach again in the late 1980s. The top speed of the W 125 is around 320 km/h. The three cooling vents in its front section give the W 125 an unmistakeable look . The new Silver Arrow starts off by winning the very first race it enters, the Tripoli Grand Prix (Libya), piloted by Hermann Lang. With no less than seven victories, nine 2nd and six 3rd places it dominates the 1937 racing season, and Rudolf Caracciola goes on to win the Grand Prix European Championship for the second time.
Mercedes-Benz 3-litre W 154 racing car, 1939
The W 154 is Mercedes-Benz’s answer to the new regulations that come into force for Grand Prix races in 1938. The decisive technical factor is the displacement, which is now limited: naturally-aspirated engines may have a maximum displacement of 4.5 litres while for supercharged engines the displacement is limited to 3 litres. The displacement limitation is because the International Motor Sports Association wants to reduce engine output and thus the speed of the racers. For the new racing car, too, Mercedes-Benz relies on the proven supercharging technology and develops a V12 engine that delivers 333 kW (453 hp) at 8,000 rpm. Despite the almost halved displacement, the W 154 is hardly less swift than its predecessor. It dominates the 1938 racing season and helps Rudolf Caracciola obtain his third European championship title driving a Mercedes-Benz. For the 1939 season the W 154 is thoroughly redesigned. It is given an even more powerful engine, a lower front section and a modified tank that makes possible a more balanced weight distribution throughout the entire race. The W 154 thus continues in 1939 the success story of the Silver Arrows that started in 1934: After the last race of the season, two days after the start of the Second World War, the success story of the W 154 can show five victories, three second places and three third places in 1939 alone. With his four victories, Hermann Lang is the most successful pilot of the season, while the fifth victory was thanks to three-time European champion Rudolf Caracciola.
Mercedes-Benz 1.5-litre racing car W 165, 1939
The W 165 racing car with its 1.5-litre V8 engine is developed by Mercedes-Benz for a single race – the Grand Prix of Tripoli in Libya, then a part of Italy, in 1939. The reason is the decision taken by the organisers to hold the race in the Italian colony only for vehicles of the so-called Voiturette formula with 1.5-litre engine. The intention behind this decision is to displace German competition, because neither Mercedes-Benz (Tripoli winner in 1935, 1937, and 1938) nor Auto Union (winner in 1936) can present a racing car for this class. However, the racing department in Stuttgart accepts the challenge and builds an entirely new “monoposto” for the 1.5-litre formula in less than eight months. In many design details, this W 165 is based on the current 3-litre W 154 Grand Prix car. The mechanically supercharged V8 engine with a displacement of 1,493 cc delivers 187 kW (254 hp) at 8,000 rpm and reaches a top speed of 272 km/h. The calculation of the developers in Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s team succeeds: The two cars that on the 7th of May 1939 start the race in Tripoli against an overwhelming number of competitors: 28 red-painted voiturette Alfa Romeo and Maserati racing cars, achieve a triumphant double victory. Hermann Lang wins the spectacular desert race for the third time, incumbent European Champion Rudolf Caracciola finishes second, while the fastest Italian car crosses the line a good four minutes later.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194), 1952
When, after the Second World War Mercedes-Benz plans to return to motor sports, this comeback can only be contemplated for sports car races: a new set of rules is announced for Formula One, to come into effect in 1954, and limited resources prevent the development of a Grand Prix vehicle according to the previous formula before then. The new 300 SL racing sports car (W 194) has to make use of existing components: axles, transmission, and the basic engine are taken from the Mercedes-Benz 300 (W 186) representative saloon. Entirely new is an extremely lightweight yet highly torsionally rigid spaceframe, clad in an elegantly curved, streamlined bodywork made from aluminium-magnesium sheet metal. Since the spaceframe reaches quite far up the sides, the W 194 cannot be equipped with conventional doors – this is how the racing sports car gets its characteristic doors, pivoting from the roof. From 1954, this feature is also adopted by the 300 SL (W 198) series-produced sports car based on the racing car. This is the reason for the nickname given the car in the English-speaking world: the “Gullwing”. The car is powered by an M 194 125 kW (170 hp) in-line six-cylinder engine with a displacement of 2,996 cc. The 300 SL is unveiled in March 1952 and celebrates its première at the Mille Miglia in May 1952. Among the great successes it enjoyed in its only racing season can be counted its threefold win in the Berne Grand Prix in Switzerland, the spectacular double victories in the 24-hour race of Le Mans (France) and in the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, as well as the fourfold victory at the “Nürburgring Jubilee Grand Prix for sports cars”, in which an open-top version of the 300 SL is entered.
Mercedes-Benz 2.5-litre streamlined car W 196 R, 1954 to 1955
In 1954, Mercedes-Benz returns to Grand Prix sport with a fully newly developed racing car. The W 196 R complies with all the conditions of the new Grand Prix formula of the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale): 750 cc displacement with, or 2,500 cc without, supercharger, no restrictions on fuel composition. From its 2,496 cc displacement the W 196 R delivers, 188 kW (256 hp) at 8,260 rpm in 1954 and 213 kW (290 hp) at 8,500 rpm in 1955. For 1954 at first a streamlined version is built because the opening race in Reims (France) allows very high speeds. After this a second variant with free-standing wheels follows. The spaceframe of the W 196 R is light and sturdy, the chassis has a torsion-rod suspension and a new single-joint swing rear axle as well as turbo-cooled Duplex drum brakes. For its powerplant the engineers choose an eight-cylinder in-line engine with direct injection and desmodromic (positively opened and closed) springless valves, which make high engine speeds above 8,000 rpm possible. In the opening race, the French Grand Prix on 4 July 1954, Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling drive W 196 R streamline racing cars to a double victory. Fangio finishes the season as World Champion. With a further improved version of the streamlined car he wins the Italian Grand Prix in 1955 and by the end of the season he is again World Champion.
Mercedes-Benz 2.5-litre racing car W 196 R, 1954 to 1955
In most of the Formula One races of 1954 and 1955 it is not the streamlined car that is driven, but the classic monoposto with free-standing wheels. This variant is significantly better suited to extremely curvy racetracks, because it allows the driver to take the measure of curves better. Like the streamlined car, the classic version starts with flying colours, winning the very first competition it enters, the European Grand Prix at Nürburgring. The victor is Juan Manuel Fangio, who had already won the opening race in Reims and – with a 4th place in the British Grand Prix – learnt that the streamline car’s capability for handling very curvy racecourses is limited. The W 196 R is re-worked for its second season: The straight intake manifold, which enables an increase of the engine output to 213 kW (290 hp), and the additional dome on the left side become the outward distinctive features of the 1955 version of the vehicle. In addition, Mercedes-Benz deploys the W 196 R with different wheelbases, likewise the arrangement of the drum brakes is varied. The result is a superior racing car that dominates the 1955 season, too, and helps Juan Manuel Fangio win his second World Champion title with Mercedes-Benz.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (W 196 S) racing sports car, 1955
With the 300 SLR (W 196 S) Mercedes-Benz wins the Sports Car World Championship in 1955. The vehicle is basically a Type W 196 R Formula One racing car with a two-seater sports car body. The main technical difference is to be found in the engine: the racing sports car, not being bound by the Formula One regulations limiting the engine’s displacement, is powered by a three-litre version of the eight cylinder in-line engine and features cylinder blocks made, not from steel, but from light-alloy. Apart from this the 300 SLR is not powered by special methanol-based racing fuel but by premium petrol. Its output, 222 kW (302 hp) and its unexcelled fatigue strength and reliability make the 300 SLR far superior to its competitors of 1955, a fact it goes on to prove with its double victory at the Mille Miglia and wins in the Eifel race, the Swedish Grand Prix and the Targa Florio (Sicily). At the 1955 Mille Miglia, Stirling Moss and his co-driver Denis Jenkinson (starting number 722) come in first with the average speed, unequalled to this day, of 157.65 km/h. The track record of this sports car remains unique: The W 196 S wins every single race the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR enters and finishes.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Coupé (“ Uhlenhaut Coupé”), 1955
For the 1955 racing season, Mercedes-Benz had actually planned to produce the 300 SLR racing sports car only as a coupé. However, the pilots opt for the roadster version, in particular because of the noise levels to be expected in the cockpit. Despite this, under Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s direction two coupés are made in 1955 whose design is closely based on the Type 300 SL sports car. The deployment in long-distance races planned for the 1956 racing season, beginning with the Carrera Panamericana slated for November 1955, makes a closed vehicle appear more comfortable and thus more adequate. However, the long-distance race in Central America is not approved by the Mexican government and is thus not held in 1955. The coupés are thus only used for training runs – in Sweden, Northern Ireland, and Sicily, among other places. Later one of the two coupés is provided with road traffic certification for Rudolf Uhlenhaut to use as a test and touring car. The vehicle with its top speed of 290 km/h, known as the “ Uhlenhaut Coupé”, becomes the absolute dream car of the 1950s. It is thus just as famous as the 300 SLR driven on the racetracks.