Glorious year 1955: Silver Arrows win a spate of victories
60 years ago, the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows were practically unbeatable throughout the entire racing season – in all the major classes of international motor sport: in 1955, the Stuttgart racing team with Juan Manuel Fangio at the wheel of the W 196 R won the Formula 1 world championship for the second time running and achieved a triumph in the sports car world championship with the 300 SLR (W 196 S), while Werner Engel became European touring car champion in the 300 SL (W 198) production sports car.
Major national titles were also won, for example victory in Class D of the US sports car championship.
The public and the motor racing world celebrated Mercedes-Benz for this uniquely successful season, as no manufacturer had previously dominated the international racing events of one year so comprehensively.
This was due to a combination of innovative technology, a highly motivated team and meticulous planning and organisation.
This attitude by the Mercedes-Benz racing team is aptly illustrated by one example: the legendary “Blue Wonder”, a 160 km/h fast racing car transporter developed by Mercedes-Benz in 1955 as a one-off for particularly urgent conveyance of racing cars between the factory, the racetracks, and for practice sessions.
1955: highlight of a glorious development process
The preparations for the triumphs by the Silver Arrows 60 years ago already began in 1952, when Mercedes-Benz re-entered the international racing scene with the 300 SL racing sports car and won numerous victories.
The excitement grew dramatically in 1954, immediately after Mercedes-Benz had returned to Grand Prix racing, when Juan Manuel Fangio won the world championship by a wide margin at the wheel of the new W 196 Silver Arrow.
In the 1955 season, Mercedes-Benz brought this development process to full fruition. Apart from Fangio it was above all Stirling Moss who shone in the new 300 SLR racing sports car.
The excellent results gave rise to great expectations for the 1956 racing season, however even before the 1955 season ended, the Executive Board of the then Daimler-Benz AG decided that until further notice, Mercedes-Benz would withdraw from motor sport after that season.
The reason was the company’s accelerated development of new passenger car and commercial vehicle series.
This meant that there was an urgent need for skilled personnel who were currently committed to the motor sport activities.
After all, at the high point of the 1955 season the racing department employed more than 200 personnel and was able to call on other in-house specialists when needed.
The message was clear: the creativity, innovative strength and expertise of the engineers and technicians who had helped the Mercedes-Benz racing cars to achieve their victories were now to be devoted to development for series production.
For the Silver Arrows, their drivers and the entire racing department, this meant saying goodbye to the world of international motor racing – at the height of their success and to tumultuous applause.
A mysterious new engine for the new Silver Arrow
It was already clear in mid-January that the 1955 motor sport season was likely to be a particularly successful year for Mercedes-Benz: improved even further since the 1954 season, the W 196 R competed in the Argentine Grand Prix in Buenos Aires, the first Formula 1 race in the 1955 calendar.
Juan Manuel Fangio, world champion in the previous year driving a Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow, emerged as the winner of this hot, gruelling race in his home country after superhuman efforts.
But Mercedes-Benz also had another appointment in Argentina: on 30 January, the Silver Arrows lined up at the start of the non-formula Buenos Aires Grand Prix. Fangio was the winner ahead of Stirling Moss, with Karl Kling taking 4th place.
In this race, the Silver Arrows were powered by a new three-litre engine which the engineers had developed from the 2.5-litre, eight-cylinder power unit of the Formula 1 racing car.
This was the engine that came to be used in the new 300 SLR (W 196 S) racing sports car.
However, this car with its muscular, streamlined bodywork, which was developed by Mercedes-Benz to win the battle for the world sports car championship, only had its official racing debut at the Mille Miglia three months later.
Series of world championship victories in Formula 1
In Formula 1 – as in the previous year – Mercedes-Benz placed its confidence mainly in classic racing cars with exposed wheels.
All in all there were three different variants of the W 196 R body design for 1955 (the “R” stood for “Racing” to distinguish it from the sports car, which bore an “S” in its name).
The major difference between them was the wheelbase. A fully enclosed racing car similar to the streamlined variant with which Mercedes-Benz had opened the 1954 racing season was not used until the Italian Grand Prix, the last Formula 1 race of 1955.
Following a moderate performance in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix in Monaco (also the European Grand Prix), the Belgian Grand Prix began a breathtaking series of three double victories for Mercedes-Benz (each time with Fangio in 1st place) and a quadruple victory for the Silver Arrows in the British Grand Prix in Aintree, Lancashire, (Moss followed by Fangio, Kling, and Piero Taruffi).
This meant that after a disappointing start in Monaco, Mercedes-Benz won all subsequent Formula 1 races of the 1955 season.
This is because the Grand Prix races in Germany, France, Spain, and Switzerland were cancelled following the tragic accident during the Le Mans 24-hour race in June.
Fangio won the Formula 1 driver’s title with 40 points ahead of Stirling Moss (23 points).
This was the second world championship title in succession for the Mercedes-Benz racing driver and his W 196 R, and his third championship title overall.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR: the star of the 1955 racing season
The Mercedes-Benz brand itself did not win a title in the 1955 Formula 1 season, despite its outstanding success record (a total of five victories, four 2nd places and one 3rd place in seven races).
This is because the drivers’ world championship title was awarded from the start in 1950, but the constructors’ championship was only introduced in 1958.
This made the company’s commitment to the 300 SLR for the world sports car championship, where the title went to the most successful constructor, all the more important.
The new racing sports car, whose technology was closely related to that of the Formula 1 car, had its debut in the Mille Miglia.
Stirling Moss with his co-driver Denis Jenkinson won probably the most gruelling road race of the era in the best time ever set in the Mille Miglia.
It took the pair 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds to cover the distance of around 1,600 kilometres.
This equates to an average speed of 157.62 km/h. Fangio, driving with no co-driver, crossed the finishing line in 2nd place just 31 minutes and 45 seconds later – likewise an outstanding performance.
In this 1,000-mile race from Brescia to Rome and back, the Stuttgart-based brand also demonstrated that the sporting excellence of Mercedes-Benz cars extended from thoroughbred racing cars to regular production saloons: in addition to the overall victory by the 300 SLR, the production models 300 SL (W 198) and 180 D (W 120) were the winners in their respective classes.
After the double victory (Fangio ahead of Moss) in the International Eifel Race at the Nürburgring, the 300 SLRs were at the starting line for the Le Mans 24-hour race in June.
Here the car driven by the blameless Mercedes-Benz driver Pierre Levegh was involved in the worst accident ever to have occurred in motor racing history.
Out of respect for the victims and in consultation with senior management, racing manager Alfred Neubauer decided to withdraw the leading 300 SLRs from the race. This made the pressure to win the remaining races even greater.
Final decision in the last race
Indeed, in the International Tourist Trophy in Dundrod, Northern Ireland, the penultimate race of the world sports car championship, the 300 SLR triumphed by taking the first 3 places.
What was still needed for the title were the points from the Sicilian classic, the Targa Florio.
This was a heart-stopping final event, for Mercedes-Benz had only taken part in three of the five races conducted so far, and Ferrari was in the lead by a few points.
The Mercedes-Benz team needed a victory to secure the title, and also needed to ensure that its competitors Ferrari and Jaguar only achieved a 3rd place at most.
Even under this immense pressure, Mercedes-Benz was able to continue its series of victories and emerged triumphant with 1st place for Moss and Peter Collins, 2nd place for Fangio and Kling and 4th place for Desmond Titterington and John Cooper Fitch.
This final success secured the title, and the Mercedes star of the racing department shone more brightly than ever before.
Well put: quotes on the 1955 season
Argentine Grand Prix (Buenos Aires), 16 January 1955
Heinz-Ulrich Wieselmann, “Argentine Grand Prix: El grandioso Corredor Juan Manuel Fangio”, “das Auto Motor und Sport”, Germany, No. 3/1955: “Nobody who was there will ever forget that hell. […] Only seven of the 21 cars on the starting line emerged from those oven-like temperatures to finish the race. […] I saw drivers younger than Fangio flopping to the ground exhausted after only one third of the race, and hardened fighters resignedly handing over the wheel to the next driver.
Whereas three drivers for each car were needed to get two Ferraris and a Mercedes-Benz to second, third and fourth places, the iron-willed Fangio covered all his laps alone. […] The race results show that Mercedes-Benz is equal to this tough challenge.”
Mille Miglia, Italy, 30 April to 1 May 1955
Denis Jenkinson, “With Moss in the Mille Miglia”, “Motor Sport”, Great Britain, June 1955:
“Down a steep hill in second gear, we went, into third at peak revs, and I thought ‘it’s a brave man who can unleash nearly 300 b.h.p. down a hill this steep and then change into a higher gear’.”
Denis Jenkinson, “With Moss in the Mille Miglia”, “Motor Sport”, Great Britain, June 1955:
“I indicated that we were still leading the race, and by the way Moss left Florence, as though at the start of a Grand Prix, I knew he was out to crack one hour to Bologna, especially as he also looked at his wrist-watch as we left the control.
‘This is going to be fantastic,’ I thought, as we screamed up the hills out of Florence, ‘he is really going to do some nine-tenth plus motoring’ and I took a firm grip of the ‘struggling bar’ between giving him direction signals, keeping the left side of my body as far out of Moss’s way as possible, for he was going to need all the room possible for his whirling arms and for stirring the gear lever about.”
Heinz-Ulrich Wieselmann, “A journey to Italy: Mille Miglia for the heart”, “das Auto Motor und Sport”, Germany, No. 10/1955: “Moss had plenty of incidents during his record-breaking Mille Miglia.
On one occasion his Mercedes took flight for 15 metres at 250 km/h on a series of ground undulations, on another he hit a patch of oil when exiting a bend and performed a 360-degree spin, and near Pescara he had already taken a slight short-cut by ploughing through some straw bales – none of this perturbed him in the least.
After 10:07.48 hours at the wheel he rocketed down Brescia’s finishing straight in Via Rebuffone, the closely-packed spectators awaiting the winners behind the finishing line sprang aside like drops of water on a hot pan, Jenkinson’s once red beard was now as black as soot, photographers came to blows with their cameras and the crowd was ecstatic: Mercedes had won.”
8th British Grand Prix, Aintree, 16 July 1955
Günther Molter, “First Grand Prix victory by Moss”, “das Auto Motor und Sport”, Germany, No. 15/1955: “Moss and Fangio increased their lead over Kling by 3 or 4 seconds on each lap.
On the 18th lap Fangio then overtook his team-mate Moss, but two laps later he relinquished the leading position to him, this time for good. […]
On the last lap Fangio put on the pressure again and drew up alongside Moss, who powered his Mercedes across the finishing line just ahead of Fangio to win the first Grand Prix race of his life.
Afterwards he was not too proud to mention that he considered Fangio to be the world’s best racing driver.”
25th International Liege–Rome–Liege long-distance race, 17 to 21 August 1955
Helmut Polensky, “Liege–Rome–Liege”, “das Auto Motor und Sport”, Germany, No. 18/1955:
“What is required in the Liege–Rome–Liege race?
The drivers are required to cover a total distance of approx. 5,000 kilometres under difficult conditions, for example overcoming a succession of more than 30 Alpine passes. […] Having competed in the L-R-L three times previously, the young Belgian Olivier Gendebien finally achieved the major triumph of first overall place in a 300 SL. […] In 4th place in the overall ranking was Werner Engel with co-driver Straub, driving a Mercedes 300 SL. This helped to increase his score of points for the European championship.”
Italian Grand Prix, Monza, 11 September 1955
Heinz-Ulrich Wieselmann, “1955 Italian Grand Prix”, “das Auto Motor und Sport”, Germany, No. 20/1955: “How does the superiority of Mercedes racing cars come about?
Is it really due to the inexhaustible financial resources we hear and read so much about? No doubt, they have contributed their share, but they are not the decisive factors.
It was sheer ingenuity and manual precision that made the difference.
When Daimler-Benz decided to start building racing cars, it was not a matter of experimentation and improvisation, but of research.
A completely new approach was taken. […] In addition, everything was done to eliminate the chance factor that so often decides over victory or defeat, and it was done methodically and successfully.”
“Fangio remains unbeaten in the last motor car championship race”, “Motor-Rundschau – NKZ”, Germany, No. 19/1955: “The 26th Italian Grand Prix, which was held on 11 September as the last world championship race of the season on the new, 10-km-long Monza high-speed circuit in front of 150,000 spectators, ended with a double victory for the Formula 1 cars from Untertürkheim, which were competing for the last time.
Without having to stop even once for refuelling or to change the Conti tyres during the 50-lap race, world champion Fangio and the Italian Taruffi – who had been led by Stirling Moss in the third works car for a longer period, while Karl Kling lay in fourth position – outpaced all their rivals.
Moss and Kling were forced to retire in the 29th and 33rd laps respectively. Fangio finally beat his Italian team colleague by only 7/10 seconds.”
Gregor Grant, “Fangio – Champion of the World”, “Autosport”, Great Britain, 16 September 1955: “Mercedes decided to replace the cars of Moss and Fangio with long-chassis aerodynamic machines, the former’s being built overnight at Stuttgart and rushed to Monza on the famous Mercedes ‘racing lorry’.“
Augusto Pancaldi, “A Manuel Fangio il Gran Premio d’Italia”, “L’Unita”, Italy, 12 September 1955: “The series continues: another victory by Mercedes and Fangio.”
Giovanni Canestrini, “A Fangio (Mercedes) il Gran Premio d’Italia”, “La Gazzetta dello Sport”, Italy, 12 September 1955: “Fangio and Taruffi continued at more than 240 km/h on the high-speed oval, and were only slower on the old road circuit.”
Tourist Trophy, Dundrod circuit near Belfast, 17 September 1955
“Richard von Frankenberg, “German victories in Ireland”, “das Auto Motor und Sport”, Germany, No. 20/1955: “This anniversary Tourist Trophy – the first race was held exactly 50 years ago – was a major German triumph in stormy, rainy conditions.
Daimler-Benz was able to claim the first three places in the overall ranking – something that has never happened before.
And neither can anyone say that the competition was weak, for Jaguar, Ferrari, Maserati, and Aston Martin had sent works cars to Ireland, and the best-placed Jaguar driven by Hawthorn was so fast that it notched up the fastest lap of the race while the conditions were still dry.
In the rain, nobody could keep up with Moss and the outstanding roadholding of the 300 SLR.”
39th Targa Florio, Italy, 16 October 1955
“The Targa Florio ends with a double victory for Mercedes-Benz”, “Automobil Revue”, Switzerland, No. 45 of 19 October 1955: “Collins had meanwhile taken the lead in his Mercedes after a thrilling chase, and when Moss finally took over the slightly battered vehicle he drove off with a lead of 20 seconds over Castellotti.
But then Fangio demonstrated his skill once again. For three laps he chased after the Italian, who defended his position bravely, and finally passed him on the eleventh lap, seizing the second place that Mercedes needed for the world championship.
There was no further change to the situation, although Castellotti subsequently lost even more time during a tyre change.”
Bernard Cahier, “Moss-Collins win the Targa Florio”, “das Auto Motor und Sport”, Germany, No. 22/1955: “It was wondrous to behold, for when he took over the car from Moss he was more than 7 minutes behind Fangio and in 4th place.
When he handed the car back over to Moss, he held the leading position and was 1.04 minutes ahead of Fangio. […] Moss opted for safety and was content to hold his lead, and despite his outstanding racing experience and enormous talent, Fangio was unable to come any closer than 4.41 minutes behind the winner. […] It has to be unreservedly admitted that for the third time this year, Moss has proved himself to be the well-deserved sports car champion.”
- F. Bradley, “Sicilian Adventure”, “Autocar”, Great Britain, 28 October 1955:
“All the luck was with Moss. His headlights had gone and he could not have run in the dark, if that had been necessary; Fangio had been held back at the pits and Castellotti had been delayed by Manzon’s accident. Nevertheless, the young Britisher drove what undoubtedly was the finest race of his career, honestly beating his team-mate Fangio, who had started out with the conviction that such a speed was impossible, and proving himself faster than the Italian champion Castellotti.”
Bernard Cahier, “38th Targa Florio”, “Road & Track”, USA, January 1956:
“After a hard battle Mercedes had once more succeeded in winning, and in defeating Ferrari by one point they finished their 1955 season with a triumphal flourish, taking the three world titles for Racing cars, Sports and Gran Turismos, a performance never before accomplished in automobile history.”
Gregor Grant, “Spotlight on Sicily”, “Autosport”, Great Britain, 28 October 1955:
“One must admit that the performance of Stirling Moss and Peter Collins really shook the motor racing world.
To turn in laps faster than world champion Juan Manuel Fangio was fantastic enough, but to win after two separate prangs was unbelievable.”
Mario Ciriachi, “Vittoria di Moss-Collins (Mercedes) nella tormentata ‘Targa Florio’”, “Corriere dello Sport”, Italy, 17 October 1955: “The Mercedes cars really have won all the races counting towards the championship in which they took part, with the exception of the Le Mans 24-hour race from which the German cars were withdrawn as a sign of grief while the race was still under way.”
Mario Ciriachi, “Vittoria di Moss-Collins (Mercedes) nella tormentata ‘Targa Florio’”, “Corriere dello Sport”, Italy, 17 October 1955: “The German 3,000 cubic centimetre cars with their direct injection engines have actually managed to achieve three extraordinary victories in the ‘Mille Miglia’ (1st and 2nd place), in the ‘Tourist Trophy’ (1st, 2nd, and 3rd place) and finally in the Targa Florio, where their drivers took 1st, 2nd, and 4th places in the overall ranking.”
Mario Ciriachi, “Vittoria di Moss-Collins (Mercedes) nella tormentata ‘Targa Florio’”, “Corriere dello Sport”, Italy, 17 October 1955: “The world championship title has gone to the strongest. Yet the Ferraris fought back strongly to hamper the victory by these great German opponents.”
Mario Ciriachi, “Vittoria di Moss-Collins (Mercedes) nella tormentata ‘Targa Florio’”, “Corriere dello Sport”, Italy, 17 October 1955: “Moss proved himself to be the best among the racing drivers, and his victory was well-earned.”
Mario Giordano, “A Moss la 39a Targa Florio”, “La Gazzetta dello Sport”, Italy, 17 October 1955: “Despite the certainty of victory, the Mercedes cars continued to set a gruelling pace that was imitated by the remaining Ferraris.”
Race-winners: the Mercedes-Benz cars of the 1955 season
The racing cars and racing sports cars of the W 196 series
In 1954, Mercedes-Benz returned to Grand Prix racing with a completely newly developed racing car.
The W 196 R – the “R” stood for Racing – complied with all the conditions of the new Grand Prix formula of the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale): a displacement of 750 cubic centimetres with supercharger or 2,500 cubic centimetres without, no restrictions on fuel composition.
The 300 SLR racing sports car (W 196 S – the “S” standing for Sport) was developed in parallel with this model, and was first used in the 1955 season which it proceeded to dominate.
The two cars shared a technical concept consisting of the following components: a spaceframe (introduced in the 300 SL racing sports car in 1952), a transaxle configuration with the five-speed transmission positioned behind the differential, a single-link swing axle with a low pivot point at the rear and – with two exceptions – inboard drum brakes plus the use of torsion bar springs and telescopic shock absorbers.
In both, the racing car and the racing sports car, the frame and suspension excelled with forgiving handling characteristics which proved particularly outstanding on demanding, difficult and wet road surfaces.
The frame structure impressed with its great torsional rigidity and robustness, contributing to driver safety in accidents or when leaving the road unintentionally.
Especially in difficult driving conditions, the newly developed single-link swing axle produced superior handling characteristics.
As an overall package, these technical innovations were almost a guarantee of victory. In the 1955 season, from the British Grand Prix in Aintree, Lancashire, on 16 July onwards, the Formula racing cars were equipped with engageable auxiliary springs designed to keep the wheel camber and suspension at a constant level as the contents of the full fuel tank decreased.
For the M 196 engine the designers opted for new technologies that had not been used in previous Mercedes-Benz racing cars.
These included desmodromic valve control, which reliably allowed high engine speeds – this was not achievable with the previous spring-controlled valves.
Another innovation was direct petrol injection, which Mercedes-Benz was introducing into series production with the 300 SL “Gullwing” (W 198) at the same time.
This allowed more efficient metering of the fuel to suit the load and performance requirements, while at the same time lowering fuel consumption compared with previous designs.
The eight-cylinder in-line engine consisted of two adjoined four-cylinder steel blocks with a central power take-off.
The variant used for Formula 1 with a displacement of 2,496 cc initially developed 188 kW (256 hp) at 8260 rpm in 1954, increasing to 213 kW (290 hp) at 8,500 rpm in 1955.
A major part of the power increase was due to ongoing improvements and the straight intake manifolds introduced for the 1955 season.
The higher position of the pressure pipe caused by the straight intake manifolds made a cowl necessary on the right-hand side of the bonnet – a distinguishing feature of the 1955 racing cars.
The engine had a compression ratio of 1:11, and could only be operated on special methanol-based racing fuel.
The eight-cylinder engine of the 300 SLR racing sports car distinguished itself from the Formula 1 engine by a displacement increased to 2,982 cc, two cylinder housings of cast aluminium rather than cast steel, and the reversed camshaft rotation.
It generated up to 228 kW (310 hp) at 7,500 rpm. The compression ratio was only 1:9, so that normal premium petrol could be used in accordance with the rules for the world sports car championship.
Mercedes-Benz also tested this engine in the W 196 R for a racing event, namely the non-formula race on 30 January 1955 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In contrast to its later use in the 300 SLR, the compression ratio was increased to 1:11 on this occasion.
Streamlined body or exposed wheels
The concept for the new W 196 R Formula 1 racing car also included the use of two different light-alloy bodies, which had already been planned for the pre-war racing cars and which were selected according to the racetrack.
The chassis was given a streamlined body for high-speed circuits. A body with exposed wheels was used for circuits with numerous bends – a configuration that Juan Manuel Fangio for example particularly liked because he could exactly determine the position of the front wheels.
For the racing debut of the W 196 R, the French Grand Prix in Reims on 4 July 1954 in Reims (France), streamlined racing cars were provided for all three drivers because the circuit allowed very high speeds.
Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling drove to an epoch-making double victory – on the same day when the German national football team achieved the “wonder in Berne” and won the World Cup.
The young Hans Herrmann was the third in this perfect trio for a long time, and even achieved a lap record, but was later forced to retire with engine damage.
The classic monoposto with exposed wheels was used for most of the Formula 1 races of 1954 and 1955.
This variant had its debut at the Nürburgring on 1 August 1954, where it won the European Grand Prix.
Once again the winner was Juan Manuel Fangio. The W 196 R with exposed wheels was available in three different wheelbases for the 1955 season, so as to have the ideal car for any racetrack.
This was accompanied by different brake configurations. In the case of the racing cars with a medium and long wheelbase, the engine was moved rearwards and allowed space for large drum brakes located inboard next to the wheels.
This space was not available in the version with a short wheelbase, as the engine was positioned further forward, and the front wheel brakes were accommodated outboard within the wheels.
All in all there were therefore four variants of the W 196 R, which were used to suit the relevant race circuit.
The result of all this technical effort and excellent race organisation was this: the Mercedes-Benz racing car was the most successful car in the 1954 and 1955 seasons by a wide margin – and it was in this Silver Arrow that Juan Manuel Fangio won the Formula 1 world championship in both years.
300 SLR – the dominant racing sports car of the 1955 season
From the very start Mercedes-Benz dominated the world sports car championship races of the 1955 season with the 300 SLR (W 196 S), and secured the hotly contested title – the car was far superior to all its competitors.
This success by the 300 SLR was due to the outstanding technical basis it shared with the Formula 1 racing cars.
This close relationship gave the racing sports car superior roadholding, a highly reliable engine and – not least owing to the strong spaceframe – a robustness that was unusual for a sports car.
One special feature was the so-called air-brake, which was used in the Le Mans 24-hour race and in the Swedish Grand Prix.
This enabled the driver to manually extend a metal plate into the airstream.
This ensured much improved deceleration compared with using the drum brakes alone – and not only thanks to the significantly higher air resistance, but also owing to the additional downforce at the rear axle.
The plate normally lay flat against the bodywork, and was hinged at the rear edge. The driver deployed it hydraulically by operating a hand lever.
The results achieved by the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR remain unsurpassed to this day: It won every race in which it competed and finished.
It demonstrated its absolute superiority with double victories in the Mille Miglia, the Eifel Race, the Swedish Grand Prix and the Targa Florio – and the 300 SLRs even brought off a triple victory in the International Tourist Trophy.
An eternal record was also established by Stirling Moss and his co-driver Denis Jenkinson with their victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia: they won the race at a still unbeaten average speed of 157.65 km/h.
Technical data: Mercedes-Benz W 196 R 2.5-litre racing car
In use: 1954 to 1955
Displacement: 2,497 cubic centimetres
Output: 188 kW (256 hp) to 213 kW (290 hp)
Top speed: more than 300 km/h
Technical data: Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing sports car (W 196 S)
In use: 1955
Displacement: 2,982 cubic centimetres
Output: 222 kW (302 hp) to 228 kW (310 hp)
Top speed: more than 300 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” (W 198), 1954 to 1957
In February 1954 the 300 SL (W 198) “Gullwing” celebrated its world premiere at the International Motor Sport Show in New York.
The new high-performance sports car was based on the legendary 300 SL racing car (W 194) from the 1952 season – and the worldwide attention the 300 SL attracted was correspondingly huge.
It was the first series production passenger car with a four-stroke engine and petrol injection. What is expected as a matter of course today was an absolute sensation at the time.
The striking gullwing doors – an innovative solution made necessary by the high spaceframe – emphasised an appearance that was uncompromisingly sporty for a regular production Mercedes-Benz, and this was further confirmed by corresponding performance figures.
With an engine output of 158 kW (215 hp) – a good 20 per cent more than that of the carburettor-equipped racing version of 1952 – the W 198 was in the top echelon of the production sports cars of its time, and ideal for sporting competition.
To be ready for this, a number of different suspension set-ups and final drive ratios were optionally available to allow top speeds between around 225 km/h and 250 km/h.
To this day, this sports car with its well-balanced mix of technical innovation, performance and design counts as an icon in automotive engineering.
In 1955, its outstanding performance already led to much-noted successes on the international racing and rally scene in Europe and the USA: for example, Werner Engel driving the 300 SL (and the 220 a) won the European rally championship, and Paul O’Shea won the US sports car championship in Class D.
It is not least thanks to these trailblazing victories that the 300 SL projected a new, dynamic image of the Mercedes-Benz brand.
Technical data: Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” (W 198)
Production period: 1954 to 1957
Displacement: 2,996 cubic centimetres
Output: 158 kW (215 hp)
Top speed: up to 250 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 220 a (W 180), 1954 to 1956
Spring of 1954 saw the launch of the 220 model, also designated 220 a (W 180) internally, the first Mercedes-Benz six-cylinder model with a unibody design.
Its modern, roomy “Ponton” body, presented by Mercedes-Benz half a year earlier in the form of the medium-class 180 model, offered previously unheard-of sense of spaciousness and comfort.
Safe handling was ensured by the single-joint swing axle, which was introduced into regular automobile production with the 220 a model. In 1955, it was driven by Werner Engel in the European rally championship, alternating with a 300 SL.
In the following year, the sports department under Karl Kling specially prepared three vehicles for use in the 1956 Mille Miglia.
These already featured the twin carburettor system that would be fitted to the succeeding model, the 220 S, taking engine power to around 85 kW (115 hp).
To ensure sporty handling, shorter, harder springs, and modified shock absorbers were fitted. In addition to this, drivers changed gear using a floor shift of the type found in the 190 SL (W 121), instead of the steering wheel gearshift provided as standard.
Technical data: Mercedes-Benz 220 a (W 180) – series production version
Production period: 1954 to 1956
Displacement: 2,195 cubic centimetres
Output: 63 kW (85 hp)
Top speed: 150 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 180 D (W 120), 1954 to 1959
The first diesel engine version of the Mercedes-Benz 180 “Ponton” (W 120) had its debut in January 1954. The Stuttgart-based manufacturer thereby also offered its modern “Ponton” saloon with a compression-ignition engine, which delivered 29 kW (40 hp) from a displacement of 1,767 cc.
Up to the model facelift in autumn 1959, a total of 114,046 examples of the model 180 D Saloon were produced. These diesel saloons, which were capable of speeds up to 110 km/h, cannot however be compared with the racing and sports cars that sped to overall victory in the Mille Miglia.
But in its time, the 180 D was an ultra-modern vehicle with a self-supporting body and a “unibody construction subframe” on which the front wheels guided by a double wishbone axle were suspended.
It proceeded to demonstrate its strengths and reliability in the Italian road race: Mercedes-Benz entered several 180 D models with the start numbers 04, 09, and 010A, and they won a triple victory in the diesel class.
Technical data: Mercedes-Benz 180 D (W 120) – series production version
Production period: 1954 to 1959
Displacement: 1,767 cubic centimetres
Output: 29 kW (40 hp), from September 1955 32 kW (43 hp)
Top speed: 110 km/h