merc staub

(Max Staub)

Mercedes Benz returned to Grand Prix racing with a vengeance at Reims in 1954, here Fangio leads Karl Kling in the W196 Streamliners…

Mercedes had a habit of re-entering racing in the French Grand Prix every 20 odd years, when doing so bringing new standards of engineering excellence with them.

In 1914 the 4 cylinder SOHC 4483cc engined Mercedes 18/100 of Sailer, Lautenschlager, Salzer, Pilette, and Wagner crushed the opposition at Lyon just before The Great War. The course was 37.6 Km long, 20 laps of it took the winner Christian Lautenschlager 7 hours 8 minutes!

1914

Three of the 1914 French GP winning Mercedes team cars at Unterturkheim post event. L>R #28 Lautenschlager 1st, #39 Salzer 3rd, #40 Wagner 2nd. (unattributed)

In 1934 Auto Union and Mercedes came to Monthlery with cars which would largely sweep the board until War again intervened.

Although on that day an Alfa Romeo triumphed. Louis Chiron won in a Scuderia Ferrari Alfa P3 from Achille Varzi similarly mounted, the three 2.9 litre supercharged straight-8 Mercedes W25 of Rudi Caracciola, Manfred von Brauchitsch and Luigi Fagioli retiring with a variety of maladies.

1934

1934 French GP, Montlhery. Rudy Caracciola Mercedes W25 DNF, from Avhille Varzi Alfa P3/Tipo B, 2nd. (unattributed)

And so it was that Mercedes returned to racing after a break of 15 years at Reims on the weekend of July 4th 1954, 40 years after Lyon and 20 after Monthlery…

fangio reims

JM Fangio, Mercedes Benz W196, Reims victor 1954. (Jesse Alexander Archive)

cutaway 1

The W196 was a triumph of complex engineering, the 2.5 litre straight eight cylinder car had the following new features; Direct injection of fuel into the cylinders for more precise ignition of the incoming fuel charge, the engine lying on its side only 20 degrees from the horizontal to allow a lower bonnet line and the driveshaft to pass beside the driver rather than him sitting on it.

Desmodromic or mechanical operation of the valves allowed higher rpm than the valve springs of the day could handle, 4 wheel independent suspension using a new type of swing axle at the rear, inboard brakes front and rear to lower unsprung weight and a streamlined all enveloping body helped the car to quicker thru ze air.

The very experienced pre-war engineering team of Dr Fritz Nallinger and Rudy Uhlenhaut were in control of the conception, design, development and testing of the new car.

french paddock

Reims 1954 paddock shot. #18 Fangio and #22 Hans Hermann Mercedes W196 Streamliners being prepared for the race. Open bodies used from Nurburgring 1954 onwards, Streamliner body about 60 pounds heavier than the ‘Nurburg’ slipper/open wheeler bodies. (unattributed)

The purpose of this article is not to write in detail about a car which has had everything written about it, rather the words are a support to the wonderful painting and cutaways originally published in that splendid annual, Automobile Year, in this case the 1955 edition.

cutway 2

(Automobile Year)

In his Automobile Year technical review of the 1954 season noted journalist/Le Mans Winner/GP driver Paul Frere explains in great detail the technical advances of the car but also makes clear all of the Benz victories in ’54 were scored by Fangio, saying that the cars speed was partially a factor of Fangio’s dominance as a driver rather than it being a function of the cars speed itself. He and Alberto Ascari were the standout drivers at the time.

The W196 won four of five 1954 races entered, impressive with a new car; Frere also makes clear that the development potential of the car was obvious and subsequently reinforced in their 1955 season!

french start

French GP Start; #18 Fangio, #20 Kling Benz W196, #10 Alberto Ascari Maser 250F #2 Gonzalez Ferrari 553, #12 Marimon Maser 250F, #46 Prince Bira Maser 250F, #22 Hans Hermann Benz W196, #6 Hawthorn Ferrari 553, #4 Maurice Trintignant Ferrari 625, #34 Robert Manzon Ferrari 625, #14 Luigi Villoresi Maser 250F. (unattributed)

At Reims Fangio was on pole with his young German teammate Karl Kling alongside and Alberto Ascari in a factory Maserati 250F. Alberto and Onofre Marimon were ‘loaned’ to Maserati by Gianni Lancia given his new D50 GP car was still not raceworthy and the drivers otherwise unemployed for the weekend.

Ascari’s race was over on lap 1 due to either gearbox or engine failure depending upon the report you read, this left Fangio and Kling to run away with the race.

Hawthorn and Marimon scrapped for 3rd before the Argentinian stopped for a plug change and dropped to the back of the field.

start 2

Fangio left, and Kling Mercedes W196 well clear of Ascari’s Maser 250F shortly after the start. (unattributed)

Pre-war Thai driver Prince Bira drove a great race in a customer 250F dropping to 4th having run out of fuel and losing time switching to his auxiliary tank, and his 3rd place, so Robert Manzon was 3rd in a Ferrari 625.

Hans Herrman in the other W196 took fastest lap early in the race before over-revving the engine leaving its telltale at 9100rpm!

So, a dominant Mercedes start to a run which sadly only lasted until the end of the 1955 season before their modern era return and the dominance of 2014/5…

fangio thillois

Fangio, Thillois Hairpin, Reims 1954. MB W196. (unattributed)

Etcetera…

grid shot

Front row pre start. Fangio, Kling and Ascari. Hawthorn fiddling with his goggles on row 3. (unattributed)

cutaway 3

(Automobile Year)

merc w 196

Nice section of the W196 cylinder head and operation of its desmodromic valve gear. (Automobile Year)

Race Footage…

Credits…

Max Staub, Automobile Year, Jesse Alexander Archive

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Comments
  1. graham64 says:

    I wonder what the mechanic on the side of the track next to Ascari’s car was doing?

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