Spectacular triumph of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL 60 years ago at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
Living motorsport history of Mercedes-Benz Classic at one of the most prestigious events in Europe
Original 300 SL racing car from 1952 on location
At this year’s Le Mans Classic, between 6 and 8 July Mercedes-Benz will be recalling the brand’s triumphal return to racing 60 years ago. On 14/15 June 1952 Herrmann Lang and Fritz Rieß won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race ahead of their team colleagues Theo Helfrich and Helmut Niedermayr.
The outstanding two-one finish with the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing car (W 194), which had been redeveloped to face its first season of competition after the Second World War, went down as one of the major successes for the motorsport department of the Stuttgart-based company. At the same time the 1952 season marked the birth of the later Mercedes-Benz SL series-production vehicles, whose production start-up began with the 300 SL (W 198, 1954) and 190 SL (W 121, 1957) models.
The two-one win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1952 is being brought to life again by Mercedes-Benz Classic this summer at the Le Mans Classic 2012. Three original models of the 300 SL racing car will be present at this internationally renowned historic motorsport event: the oldest existing SL in the world (chassis number 2; the number 1 was scrapped by the plant back in its day), the 300 SL racing car (chassis number 5), whose races included the 1952 Carrera Panamericana, and the training vehicle used in Le Mans in 1952 (chassis number 6).
These legendary competition vehicles are witnesses of racing history at Mercedes-Benz. Their unique biography in the context of this historic location is the core theme on the Mercedes-Benz Classic exhibition area at the Le Mans race track.
But racing history at Mercedes-Benz is not just reflected in the vehicles themselves – this is equally true of the fascinating drivers who achieved the many successes for the brand at the wheel of its silver-coloured racing cars. And this is precisely why the former Mercedes-Benz racing drivers Hans Herrmann, Klaus Ludwig and Jochen Mass – each one of them has clocked up at least one victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race – are active as ambassadors for the brand under the banner of the three-pointed star at the Le Mans Classic 2012.
Prestigious event in the world of historic motorsport
Ever since its premiere ten years ago, the Le Mans Classic has established itself as a prestigious historic motorsport event. It takes place every two years and evokes memories of the history of long-distance and endurance competitions stretching back to 1923 in Le Mans. The focus will be on the 24 Hours competition, which will last from 4 p.m. on the Saturday until 4 p.m. on the Sunday. The classic models will not be driving continuously during this time, however – instead they will start in six groups. All the participating vehicles will be assigned to a particular group depending on their year of construction. Each of these “grids” will complete three starts during the course of the race, in accordance with the classic Le Mans model.
Other attractions will include demonstration drives, parades and rallies with historic buses on the race track. Around the route there will also be a spectacular three-day festival of historic racing and motorsport involving more than 8,000 vehicles on an area of around 180 hectares.
The Mercedes-Benz Classic vehicles at the
Le Mans Classic 2012
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing car (W 194), 1952
For the first time since the Second World War Mercedes-Benz re-entered the arena of international motorsport in 1952 with the 300 SL racing car from model series W 194. The base for this vehicle is formed by an extremely light but nevertheless very torsionally stiff space frame and an elegantly curved light-alloy body made of aluminium-magnesium sheet metal panel arching over it. Because the space frame is comparatively high on the sides due to the stiffness, the W 194 cannot be fitted with conventional windows; this is how the racing car came by the characteristic swing-wing doors which are attached to the roof. This detail was adopted in 1954 by the 300 SL (W 198) series-production car and soon gave the vehicles their nickname “Gullwing”.
The drive system for the W 194 is the 170 hp (125 kW) six-cylinder in-line engine M 194 with 2996 cubic centimetres. Unveiled in March 1952, the 300 SL celebrated its motorsport premiere in May of the same year at the Mille Miglia. The major successes enjoyed by the W 194 in its first and only racing season included the triple victory in the Bern Grand Prix, the spectacular double victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and at the 3rd Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, not to mention the win at the Jubilee Grand Prix on the Nürburgring.
Directly after 1945, the then Daimler-Benz AG had neither the means nor the capacity for redeveloping 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”. Appropriately modified, uprated and fitted in the newly developed space frame, it now also powered the 300 SL. The body of the racing car was either a closed gull-wing or, for certain races, a roadster.
The drivers for Mercedes-Benz Classic at the
Le Mans Classic 2012
Born: 23 February 1928 in Stuttgart
Following his debut in motorsport Mercedes-Benz racing manager Alfred Neubauer recruited the 25-year-old Hans Herrmann for the Daimler-Benz AG factory team in the 1954 season. At the Swiss Grand Prix Herrmann took third place on 22 August 1954. The Avus race held on 19 September 1954 ended with a triple win for the Mercedes-Benz drivers in their three aerodynamic W 196 R models in this order: Karl Kling, Juan Manuel Fangio, Hans Herrmann.
In the 1955 racing season, Herrmann entered a total of eight races and ten heats in Formula 1. At the Monaco Grand Prix he stood in for Kling and was seriously injured in an accident. Despite making a full recovery he no longer drove for Mercedes-Benz, as the company withdrew from motorsport in October 1955. This marked the end of Herrmann’s involvement for Mercedes-Benz for the time being.
However he continued his motorsport career and in the ensuing years, he again entered motorsport and racing competitions. After driving in Formula 2 and Formula 1 he ended his active career in 1970 with a victory for Porsche at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. To this day Herrmann makes appearances for Mercedes-Benz at historic events.
Born: 5 October 1949 in Bonn
Given the nickname “King Ludwig” by fans, the racing driver and three times DTM champion Klaus Ludwig was born 1949 in Bonn. His career in motorsport got under way at the start of the 1970s with slalom racing, orientation drives and touring car races. His first major successes included the championship title in the German Racing Championship (DRM) in 1979 and 1981 as well as victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1979, 1984 and 1985. Ludwig came to the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) in 1985, initially driving for Ford and taking his first title in 1988. In 1989 he changed to the AMG-Mercedes team, for which he took two championship titles in the following years up to 1994 (1992 and 1994, becoming runner-up in 1991), clocking up 19 race victories in all. In 1995 and 1996 he drove in the ITC (International Touring Car Championship) for the Opel team Rosberg. Then he returned to AMG-Mercedes and together with Ricardo Zonta he won the drivers’ and team trophy in the International FIA GT Championship in 1998. Following this Ludwig then officially ended his motorsport career for the time being, but in the year 2000 he once again drove in the new German Touring Car Masters (DTM) – in a Mercedes-Benz CLK, ending both the season and his racing career in 3rd place overall.
Born: 30 September 1946 in Dorfen (near Wolfratshausen)
Jochen Mass, originally Seemann, embarked on his varied career in Motorsport in 1968 when he took part in touring car races for Alfa Romeo, also working as a factory driver at Ford from 1970 to 1975. In this period he won the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in 1972. In parallel he drove in Formula 2 (1973) and in 105 Grands Prix in Formula 1 (in 1973/74 with Surtees; from 1975 to 1977 with McLaren; in 1978 with ATS; 1979/80 with Arrows; in 1982 with March). With the German Sports Car Masters title in 1985 and following on from his activity as a factory driver at Porsche up to 1987 he became a factory driver in the Sauber-Mercedes team. Until 1991 he drove for this team in Group C. In the new Silver Arrow, the Sauber-Mercedes C 9, Jochen Mass celebrated victory in 1989 in the same team as Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, and was also runner-up in the World Championship in the same year. Three years later (in 1992) Mass left to join the DTM team management. To the present day Jochen Mass regularly enters historic events for Mercedes-Benz.