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The Mercedes-Benz W 196 R is one of the most important racing cars in post-war history.

Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow
under the hammer.

Bonhams auction off a jewel of motor racing history.

The Silver Arrows were a living legend before the war.

The birth of a legend.

1934. In the Eifel, a group of young men could barely hide their disappointment: the International Eifel Race at the Nürburgring was just coming up – and the white racing car, a Mercedes-Benz W 25, was one kilogram overweight for the current 750 kg Formula. Whilst all the participants were racking their brains what to do, one of them had a simple and brilliant idea: according to the legend, racing team leader Alfred Neubauer ordered the paint to be removed overnight. Now, in shimmering silver, the racing car weighed in at the required weight. The car went to the starting post and Manfred von Brauchitsch won in a new record time. From then on, an incredible spectacle took place: 

in the following years, the "Silver Arrow" won one race after another, and double and triple wins became commonplace for the team. Graced by three European championship titles for Rudolf Caracciola, a living legend was born with the Silver Arrows.

In 1954, Mercedes-Benz returned to Grand Prix motor racing for the first time after World War Two with the W 196 R.

Shooting stars of the race track.

For fifteen years, all people could do was tell each other about the "Silver Arrows" and their spectacular successes. Mercedes-Benz's involvement in motor racing had been abruptly interrupted by the sudden outbreak of the Second World War. However, in 1954 the shooting stars returned to the cosmos of Formula One and Grand Prix racing, making the secret wishes of drivers and spectators alike come true once again. In good time for the Reims Grand Prix, the Stuttgart team had their new car ready. The W 196 R had impressive, futuristic technology which was to completely redefine motor racing standards. Right up to the present day, it is considered to be one of the most successful racing cars in post-war history. 

There's a good reason it's almost as fast as a plane: the racing technology was taken from aircraft design.

A new engine design
for motor racing.

The engineers at the Mercedes-Benz motor racing department came up with a revolutionary idea for the W 196 R: to transfer the principle of direct injection from aircraft to car design. In collaboration with Bosch, they determined all the relevant parameters – different engine speeds and loads, nozzles and nozzle system, the intake manifold and effective fuel injection pump tuning. The result led to a sensational gain in performance. The reason was that by considerably reducing the fuel consumption during fuel injection, the size of the tank could also be reduced. The weight saved and the increased efficiency enabled the car to reach staggering speeds. To keep the car's centre of gravity as low as possible, the eight-cylinder engine was built into the chassis at a tilt. 

It was constantly refined up until the end of 1955. As a result, the initial 256 hp in 1954 was increased to 290 hp at the end of its racing career in 1955. In the end, the highest engine speed of the car was 8500 rpm.

Brakes repositioned on the inside.

Good brakes are half the battle.

The choice of chassis and brakes was a source of further surprise. They first decided on drum brakes repositioned on the inside, with a minimum of wear and tear on the brake linings even with abrupt braking from very high speeds. As the design developments continued, the drums were repositioned on the outside. This trick meant a further 40 kg weight reduction. In 1955 brake boosters were also installed – at the time a sensation in motor racing.

Watch Film

Myth W 196 R

The rear axle of the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R.

Triumphal axle.

Instead of the De-Dion rear axle, which was very popular in the 1930s, the technicians chose a new swing axle for their latest racing jewel: this lowered the centre of rotation to just over two centimetres above the road surface. In combination with the tilted engine, a very low clutch and the optimised seating position of the driver, the overall centre of gravity was able to be lowered to a mere 310 mm above the road surface. The front wheel suspension was hardly any different from that of the pre-war Grand Prix cars – whereby here again every effort was made to keep the weight as low as possible. In 1954 the hydraulic telescopic shock absorbers linked to the base of the double wishbone created a small revolution. 

Soon it became an indispensable design feature of all racing cars. The revolutionary swing axle was soon integrated into Mercedes-Benz series-production cars such as the 220, 180 D, 300 SL or 190 SL models.

The start of the French Grand Prix in Reims: Mercedes-Benz returns.

Return after World War Two.

Before the French Grand Prix, this car was only presented to a small select circle of journalists. There was debate about whether the W 196 R should really be entered in its presented form. It seemed to be worthy of consideration. In Reims in 1954 its time had finally come. Countless thousands of motor racing enthusiasts had gathered in hordes to witness one of the most brilliant performances in Formula One history. From the very first moment it was clear to every spectator: this cannon would mercilessly relegate the competition to the rear of the race. At first glance, the W 196 R appeared vastly superior to the competition vehicles thanks to its flat construction and fully panelled body for fast race tracks. No one was surprised that the race – continuing the tradition of the pre-war Silver Arrows – 

finished with a spectacular double victory for Mercedes-Benz: in first position was Juan Manuel Fangio, followed by Karl Kling. The third driver in the team, the junior Hans Herrmann, drove the fastest lap of the race. 

The list of W 196 R winners.

The dream of all Formula 1 drivers.

In 1954 the double victory in Reims was merely the beginning of a new series of triumphs on the part of the silver racing car from Stuttgart: it was followed by first place at the German Grand Prix, first and third positions in Switzerland and the winning position in Monza, on one of the most legendary race tracks in the world. In the following season, the W 196 R racing cars were fitted with brake boosters and they outdid themselves: double victories at Grand Prix races in Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands as well as wins in Aintree and Argentina. To put it in a nutshell: soon it was the dream of every racing driver to race a Mercedes-Benz W 196 R at least once. However, this dream only came true for a select few. Apart from Juan Manuel Fangio – who became world champion in 1954 and 1955 in a Mercedes-Benz W 196 R – Stirling Moss, Hermann Lang, Hans Herrmann, Karl Kling and Piero Taruffi belonged to the select few.

Juan Manuel Fangio in a W 196 R with chassis number 0006/54 at the Nürburgring in 1954.

Driving a bit faster, thinking a little further ahead.

Five-times world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, who formed a man-machine unit with his W 196 R in his active years, was famous not only for his gifted driving style but also for his dry sense of humour. When asked by a journalist how he had managed to shake off the competition so many times, he is reported to have answered: "I just drove a little bit faster than the one who came second." But he certainly also thought a little further ahead. In the early 1950s the inventive engineers at Mercedes-Benz were fully aware of the need for a single-seater with free-standing wheels for use on winding stretches of road. However, it was Fangio's utter insistence on another, further improved car which led the design team to construct a new vehicle: 

in good time for the German Grand Prix on the Nürburgring at the beginning of August, the chassis 0006/54 with its 2350 mm wheelbase was ready. It was the first racing car in post-war history to feature free-standing wheels. Juan Manuel Fangio won confidently.

Chassis 0006/54 at the start of the Swiss Grand Prix in 1954.

A piece of history
under the hammer.

This was the car in which Fangio won the first German Grand Prix after World War Two. A historic success which elicited an effusive telegram of congratulation from proud Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. It was also the car in which Fangio won first place at the last Grand Prix to be held on Swiss soil. So it is not surprising that chassis 0006/54 with its eight-cylinder, 290-hp engine and 275 km/h top speed ranks as the most important historic racing car of all times. It is also the only Silver Arrow in the world in private possession. On 12 July 2013 this jewel will be auctioned at the Goodwood Festival of Speed by Bonhams, the famous auction house. Experts anticipate that it will fetch an astronomical price well above anything ever paid for a car to date. Just as it should be for motor racing shooting star.

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