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Camo Car: Back to the Future

Camo Car: Back to the Future

It’s not just McLaren going back to the future this week with their new engine partners Honda… As our friends at Red Bull debuted their ‘camo car’ this week in Jerez, it brought back memories of a different age when Mercedes did just the same… but with a twist.

Back in the early 1920s, pressure charging and downsizing were all the rage; some things never change ;) When it came to the 1924 Targa Florio and Coppa Florio in Sicily, the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) entered three of its supercharged 2-litre machines in what was then known as probably the toughest road race of all.

The Targa Florio was run over a 108 km course comprising 7,000 corners along narrow mountain roads; for the Coppa Florio, competitors completed an extra lap for a total race distance of 540 kilometres!

The cars entered by the Stuttgart marque were broadly identical to those used at the previous year’s Indianapolis 500, with a frame modified to accommodate the spare wheels needed on the harsh mountain roads. And another innovation for driver comfort was the small windscreen which shielded them from the hail of small stones thrown into the air when overtaking other cars.

As for the engine, it featured two overhead camshafts and four-valve technology, plus the innovative cross-flow principle with intake on the left and exhaust on the right. It delivered 50 kW (67.5 hp) without supercharger and 93 kW (126 hp) with supercharger at 4,500 rpm.

But the real innovation wasn’t under the skin – it was the skin. Instead of the traditional German racing white, the cars were painted in Italian racing red. This was all part of a cunning plan: most of the spectators were enthusiastic Italians cheering on the local, red-painted vehicles. And they had a slight tendency to obstruct the path of differently coloured foreign cars. So Mercedes decided to compete in red… and created the original camouflaged racer!

The result was conclusive: a 1-2-3 win in both the Targa and the Coppa, with the Stuttgart marque showing a fearsome combination of performance and reliability as they swept all before them.

The official telegram back to HQ was predictably to the point: “Overall result Werner wins Targa and Coppa Florio, also Coppa Caltavuturo for shortest time from start to that place, also Coppa Villa Igiea for lap record, also Grand Gold Medal of King of Italy, ditto Motor Club of Sicily, also all prizes awarded by Palermo Merchants’ Chamber stop class result Werner first, Lautenschlager second, Neubauer third, Mercedes team wins Coppa Termini for best factory team.”

French magazine ‘Auto’ proved a little more poetic in its assessment: “The Mercedes cars were built as they needed to be for the race course in Sicily: short wheelbase, correctly positioned centre of gravity, special attention to comfortable seats for the drivers (such as a cushion of coarse-grained leather to prevent sliding). The Mercedes vehicles also boasted two precious qualities that even non-experts are likely to have appreciated: a quite wonderful road-holding ability and a steering mechanism that puts little load on the front axle and is therefore very soft and extremely precise.”

And thus Mercedes wrote another chapter in a remarkable racing history that continues today. One hard-fought race – or test day – at a time. Camo car or Silver Arrow, the world may have changed in the past 91 years, but the standard we aspire to hasn’t…

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