Cars have long been considered much more than simply a means of transport. Like the horses they replaced more than a hundred years ago, many cars have acquired certain iconic statuses, and a select few creations have come to be viewed as authentic objects of art. With their sculpted lines and sensuous contours, the Mercedes-benz racing cars of a bygone era are the firsts among equals, and in honour of these fast moving sculptures, the Louwman Museum in Den Haag is hosting an exhibition of the legendary Mercedes-benz racing cars from the 1950s.
The seven unique cars on display in the Louwman museum represent one of the most heroic periods in the history of motor racing, and played a major role in the development of modern racing cars.
Following the devastation during and after the Second World War, Mercedesbenz resumed motor racing in 1952 with some of the most beautiful and successful creations ever to grace the racetrack. From the 1952 Le Mans winning 300 SL to Manual Fangio’s Formula One conquering W 196 R racer, through to Stirling Moss’ 300 SLR that shattered the Mille Miglia record in 1955 these are the cars that have shaped modern motor racing as much as they shaped the modern car design. 1952 Mercedes-benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194)
The car on display with the sequential chassis number 2 is the oldest SL still in existence, and the car that reaffirmed Mercedes-benz as the leader in automotive engineering and design. With its streamlined light-alloy body straddling a lightweight space frame, along with its characteristic
‘gullwing’ doors, the 300 SL achieved several triumphs that year, including the Grand Prix of Switzerland, followed by spectacular victories in the Le Mans 24-hour race and the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico. Specs Cylinders: 6 in-line Displacement: 2,996 cc Output: 125 kw Maximum speed: 230 km/h 1954 Mercedes-benz 300 SL “Gullwing” (W 198)
The 300 SL production sports car presented in 1954 was based on the racing sports car of the same name that won spectacular victories in the 1952 season. The innovative petrol injection system ensured an increase in both power and speed compared to the carburettorequipped racing version.
A total of 1400 examples of this dream sports car were produced from 1954 to 1957, and in 1999 a jury of motoring journalists voted the 300 SL “Gullwing” as “Sports Car of the Century”. Specs Cylinders: 6 in-line Displacement: 2,996 cc Output: 158 kw Maximum speed: 250 km/h 1954 Mercedes-benz 2.5-litre streamlined racing car (W 196 R)
After a 15-year interruption, Mercedesbenz returned to Grand Prix motor racing, now in the guise of Formula One, with the futuristic-looking W 196 R streamlined racing car in 1954. With its desmodromic valve timing that made conventional valve springs unnecessary and engine speeds exceeding 8,000 rpm, in the hands of Manual Fangio the streamlined version of the W 196 R won four Grand Prix races in 1954 and one in 1955 to help steer the Argentinian to two consecutive Formula One World Championship titles. Specs Cylinders: 8 in-line Displacement: 2,497 cc Output: 188 kw to 213 kw Maximum speed: 300 km/h 1954 Mercedes-benz 2.5-litre racing car (W 196 R)
During the 1954 and 1955 Formula One seasons, Mercedes-benz supplemented the W 196 R streamlined racing car with an open wheel design that was better suited for shorter racetracks with more corners. Although not quite as successful as the streamlined racing car, the open wheeler secured two Grand Prix victories in 1954 and 1955.
Specs Cylinders: 8 in-line Displacement: 2,497 cc Output: 188 kw to 213 kw Maximum speed: 300 km/h 1955 Mercedes-benz 300 SLR racing sports car (W 196 S)
Mercedes-benz developed the 300 SLR for the 1955 World Sports Car Championship on the basis of the successful W 196 R Formula One racing car, with the added grunt of a three-litre version of the eightcylinder in-line engine. Stirling Moss won that
year’s Mille Miglia in record time, a record that was never broken before the race was banned after two fatal crashes in 1957. With numerous other victories, the 300 SLR comfortably won the World Sports Car Championship in 1955. The car on display is the first of a total of nine examples built, and is equipped with the unusual air brake. Specs Cylinders: 8 in-line Displacement: 2,982 cc Output: 222 kw Maximum speed: 300 km/h
1955 Mercedes-benz 300 SLR “Uhlenhaut Coupé” (W 196 S)
The closed version of the 300 SLR racing sports car was developed for the 1956 season to give the drivers in the Mercedesbenz team better protection in gruelling long-distance races. However, it was never actually entered in races as Mercedes-benz withdrew from motorsport at the end of the 1955 season. Instead, the 300 SLR Coupé was used as a company car by the head of the test department, Rudolf Uhlenhaut. Hence it is nowadays nicknamed the “Uhlenhaut Coupé”. Today the not-for-sale “Uhlenhaut Coupé” is potentially the world's most valuable automobile. Specs Cylinders: 8 in-line Displacement: 2,982 cc Output: 222 kw Maximum speed: 300 km/h
1955 Mercedes-benz express racing car transporter
With the ‘world's fastest racing car transporter’, Mercedes-benz also caused a sensation off the racetrack. With the high-performance engine of the 300 SL, the modified frame of the 300 S and the doors, headlamps and indicators of the “Ponton” model 180, this was a visually and technically unique vehicle with a top speed of up to 170 km/h depending on payload.
Known as the “Blue Wonder”, this oneoff vehicle was scrapped in 1967, 12 years after the withdrawal of Mercedes-benz from motorsport. Then about 30 years later, Mercedes-benz decided to build a true replica, and after seven years of dedicated work by the experts at Mercedes-benz Classic, the “Blue Wonder” once again appeared in all its glory in 2001.
Specs Cylinders: 6 in-line Displacement: 2,996 cc Output: 141 kw Maximum speed: 170 km/h Needless to say that Mercedes-benz represents the very best that the world of motoring has to offer. Whether it’s technology, design, innovation or style, Mercedes-benz leads the way, and that’s seemingly how it’s always been.
1952 Mercedes-benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194)
1954 Mercedes-benz 300 SL “Gullwing” (W 198) 1954 Mercedes-benz 2.5-litre racing car (W 196 R)
1955 Mercedes-benz express racing car transporter Text: Wilhelm Loots Images © Mercedes-benz
1955 Mercedes-benz 300 SLR “Uhlenhaut Coupé” (W 196 S)