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Lord Howe in the process of loading his Mercedes 38/250 SS onto ‘Southern Railways’ cross-channel steamer ‘Autocarrier’ cross channel ferry on 30 March 1931…

AF Rivers-Fletcher in a letter to MotorSport in February 1976 relates his experiences with this car which Howe acquired after Rudy Caracciola’s victory in the 1929 TT at Ards, Northern Ireland. The great German won the 30 lap race with a 5 lap handicap in a rain storm.

Fletcher wrote the letter in response to Bill Boddy’s article some months before comparing the Bentleys and Mercedes in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Fletcher ‘having been at different times, closely involved with both camps, Bentleys and Campbell/Howe Mercedes, found his allegiance torn’. His impressions and recollections make very interesting reading.

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1930 Irish GP/Eireann Cup start, 19 July 1930 #1 Campbell Merc SSK from #2 Howe Merc SSK, #6 Jean Chassagne Bentley Blower, #8 Birkin Bentley Blower, #9 ?, #10 Giulio Ramponi O.M. and the rest (Mercedes Benz)

I first drove some of the cars-Le Mans 6 1/2 litre Bentleys and Earl Howe Mercedes more than 40 years ago..’and in more recent times. ‘Even more revealing was being driven by Barnato, Birkin, Campbell and Howe in the very cars at the time of their racing success. Regretfully, however i never rode as a mechanic in the Mercedes or Bentleys…watching as an apprentice with pangs of enyy during practice for the Brooklands Double Twelve as Wally (Hassan) jumped down into Barnato’s Speed Six Bentley to ride with him as a mechanic’.

Fletcher; ‘After Caracciola’s epic victory with the 38/250 Mercedes SS in the 1929 TT, Lord Howe bought the car and raced it for several seasons. I drove it several times, once on quite a long run with Leslie Callingham of Shell…it must be remembered that Malcolm Campbell and Lord Howe ran their Mercedes in sprints and hillclimbs as well (as long distance races). They were very successful in spite of the brakes, the ‘achilles’ heel of the racing Mercedes.’.

‘…i always thought one of the best performances of Lord Howe’s Mercedes was its run in the 1933 Mille Miglia. Driven by Penn-Hughes and Percy Thomas (Lord Howe’s excellent mechanic) the Mercedes was in fact acting as the tender car to the ‘old mans’ successful MG Magnette team. It was loaded with MG spare parts under the tonneau’.

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1930 Irish GP/ Eireann Cup: Rudy Caracciola Merc SSK from the Howe SSK (Mercedes Benz)

Fletcher then compared the Benz with the Bentleys of the day; ‘The Bentleys particularly the 6 1/2, felt a good deal bigger than the Mercedes, perhaps because you sat so much higher in the Bentleys. Comparing the cars is very difficult because they felt so entirely different. Despite the record i still feel the Mercedes was pre-eminently a sprint machine with ‘bottom-end’ performance. The very light steering, terrific getaway aided by the unique blower installation and the compact feel of the car all made the Mercedes an ideal car for tight circuits and the hills-despite those brakes’.

‘The Bentley was a long distance car with ‘top-end’ performance. With its heavier steering it felt incredible sure footed. It needed more thought in deciding on a line through a corner, but was, i believe, quicker on the faster swerves than a Mercedes. The getaway from rest and from tight corners was slower than the Mercedes, but it made up for this by having tremendous torque in the middle and upper ranges. The ‘big 6 Bentley’ really accelerated between 70-100 where the Mercedes lagged a bit unless the supercharger was used all the time, which was seldom a proposition for long periods. The Bentley brakes were always excellent, with SO little fade, despite the considerable weight’.

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Malcolm Campbell and Earl Howe at Brooklands upon the unveiling of the new BRDC, and still thankfully current! logo, 9 September 1931. What are the cars tho? (Underwood)

Fletcher, in a fascinating letter, his impressions of driving the cars ‘in period’ of vastly greater relevance than any modern ‘comparative tests’ concluded the correspondence with a comment ‘As to the drivers-Campbell, Howe, Barnato and Birkin (one could write of any of the Bentley team, but Birkin and Barnato come to mind as they were most involved with ‘Mercedes baiting’)- it would need to be a complete article, or even a book, to compare them. All were thrilling to ride with, Barnato seemed the safest and Lord Howe the most frightening. Suffice it to say that in many ways Campbell, Howe and Barnato were rather like their cars and Birkin was more like a Mercedes! Don’t you think?’

1930 Irish Grand Prix…

The Irish Grand Prix format from 1929-1932 comprised two handicap, 300 mile races each year with a formula determining the overall winner of the GP. The ‘Saorstat Cup’ was run for cars under 1500cc on the Friday of race weekend  and the ‘Eireann Cup’ for the over 1500cc ‘heavy metal’ on the Saturday. Phoenix Park, the venue is just west of Dublin’s City Centre, the circuit was first used for racing in 1903 and was 6.8 Km long at the time. The 1930 races were won by Victor Gillow’s Riley 9 Brooklands with Rudy Caracciola’s Benz SSK taking out the over 1500cc event and awarded the GP itself.

Of interest to Australian enthusiasts is Adelaide born, but British domiciled Arthur Waite’s 3rd place in the ‘Saorstat Cup’ aboard his Austin, Captain Waite was the winner of the second Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island in 1928. Caracciola’s margin was 8 minutes from Giuseppe Campari’s works Alfa 6C 1750 GS with Howe 3 minutes further back in his SSK- then Birkin’s Bentley Blower circa 35 seconds adrift of the SSK.

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Lord Howe togs up for the 1931 Irish GP/ Eireann Cup in which he was 5th and set fastest lap in his Mercedes Benz SS. The winner was Sir Henry Birkin’s Alfa Romeo 8C2300. An amusing sidebar is this snippet from the Adelaide Advertiser’s report of the race in its 9 June 1931 edition ‘…Birkin’s car, made in Italy, was turned out for the race only by the intervention of Mussolini, who said that, as an Englishman had honoured Italy by ordering an Italian car for an English race, the Alfa Romeo company should provide a double-shift to complete the job. These shifts were necessary because this company is making also the engines for the Italian Schneider Cup planes’, the report concludes. Alfa went to great lengths to get the car to the race in time, factory race mechanic Alessandro Gaboardi accompanying Clive Gallop, a member of Birkin’s team in driving Vittorio Jano’s brilliant 8C2300 from Portello to Phoenix Park and then sat alongside Birkin during the race.

Birkin, Gaboardi and Alfa 8C2300 after their 1931 Eireann Cup win, Phoenix Park, Dublin (Popperfoto)

Mercedes S, SS, SSKL 1926-33…

Click here for a link to the factory site and a summary of these magnificent cars;

https://mercedes-benz-publicarchive.com/marsPublic/en/instance/ko/S-SS-SSK-SSKL-1926—1933.xhtml?oid=4175

Credits…

WG Phillips, Rivers Fletcher letter to MotorSport February 1976, Mercedes Benz

Tailpiece: ‘Carach’ on the way to winning the 836.9 Km 1929 RAC TT at Ards in the works Mercedes Benz SS, on 17 August…

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(Mercedes Benz)

The RAC International Tourist Trophy, a race for ‘production sports cars’ was held from 1928 to 1936 on a 13.67 mile road course on the outskirts of Belfast at Ards, eight spectator fatalities after a car crashed into the crowd in 1936 caused the events demise.

 

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