1931: First victory of a non-Italian
Mercedes-Benz and the Mille Miglia belong together, in fact they are inseparable. Of particular significance are the overall victories of 1931 and 1955, both of which are defining moments in the motorsport heritage of the Stuttgart manufacturer. These were not the only glorious chapters of the racing history books written at the Mille Miglia, with further contributions coming from a class win by Rudolf Caracciola and Christian Werner in 1930 in a Mercedes-Benz SSK and second place overall in 1952 by Karl Kling in a 300 SL racer (W 194).
Car enthusiasts have been staging the Mille Miglia out of the Tuscan town of Brescia since 1927. In the fourth edition of the road race leading over a distance of 1000 miles to Rome and back Mercedes-Benz scored a class victory for the first time in May 1930.
The powerful Mercedes-Benz SSK racing sports car driven by Caracciola and Werner made quite an impression: “Forging his path through the dust, Caracciola, the German champion, appeared in his squat white Mercedes”, wrote the reporter from British “Motor” magazine in his race report published on 15 April 1930. At one point on the home leg, in the high country of Bologna, Caracciola lay in fourth place, but eventually fell back to sixth place. This was enough to take a class win for cars with engines greater than 5 litres.
In 1931, Caracciola became the first non-Italian driver to take overall victory in the Mille Miglia. He was joined in the Mercedes-Benz SSK by co-driver Wilhelm Sebastian. From 12 to 13 April, Caracciola delivered a superlative performance throughout the 1635 kilometre race at the wheel of the SSK. His average speed in the marathon from Brescia to Rome and back was 101.1 km/h – the first time that the 100 km/h barrier had been broken at the Mille Miglia. In the mid 1930s, Caracciola reflected on this achievement in his first autobiography “Rennen – Sieg – Rekorde” (“Races – Victory – Records”): “1600 km on dusty country roads, passing gorges and ravines… around fearsome corkscrew bends and snake-like passages; through cities, towns and villages and again along dead-straight roads at an average of 150, 160, 170 km … one night and then another day.” He received a gold medal from the King of Italy and a cup from the Automobile Club of Germany in recognition of his victory.
1955: record victory on Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR
That day, I started to feel young again”. Following the end of World War II, Mercedes-Benz returned to motorsport in 1952 with the newly developed 300 SL racing sports car (W 194). The first race appearance for the 300 SL, with its distinctive gullwing doors, was at the Mille Miglia. On 3 May 1952, there were three 300 SLs on the starting line in Brescia. On 4 May, Karl Kling and Hans Klenk finished in second place, with Rudolf Caracciola and co-driver Paul Kurrle following in fourth. Mercedes-Benz thus was the only manufacturer to finish with two vehicles in the top five in 1952. For racing manager Alfred Neubauer a dream was coming true. “That day, I started to feel young again,” the racing director later recalled.
This success was followed in 1955 by the second overall victory in the Mille Miglia by Mercedes-Benz with the 300 SLR racing sports car (W 196 S). Stirling Moss and his co-driver, Denis Jenkinson, won the thousand-mile race with an average speed of 157.65 km/h and the fastest time ever recorded of 10:07:48 hours. An all-time record. Second place belonged to Juan Manuel Fangio, who had entered as a solo driver, making for the perfect one-two. Mille Miglia success was not just the realm of the 300 SLR racers in 1955, with 300 SL (W 198) production sports cars also enjoying outstanding results that year: The team of John Fitch/Kurt Gessl were victorious in the Gran Turismo class for over 1600 cc, followed by their teammates Olivier Gendebien/Jacques Washer and Salvatore Casella (Places 5, 7 and 10 overall). And another extraordinary victory mustn’t be forgotten when talking about the success of Mercedes-Benz in 1955: in the new created diesel category Helmut Retter/Wolfgang Larcher, Karl Reinhardt/Wulf Wisnewski as well as Arturo Masera/Pasquale Cardinali get the first three places on the 40 hp (29 kW) Mercedes-Benz 180 D.
The vehicles from Mercedes-Benz Classic at Mille Miglia
Mercedes-Benz SSK 27/170/225 PS (W 06).
Of the six-cylinder compressor sports cars in the Mercedes-Benz S-Series, Type SSK (W 06) was the most exclusive and most fascinating model. The model designation stood for Super-Sport-Kurz (Super Sport Short) and featured a shortened wheelbase alongside its particular sportiness. In the summer of 1928, works driver Rudolf Caracciola immediately won the Gabelbachrennen and the races at Schauinsland and Mont Ventoux with the brand-new SSK. In 1930 and 1931, the SSK accompanied him to victory in the European Hill-Climb Championship. The weight-reduced and further modified 1931 version, also known as the SSKL (Super-Sport-Kurz-Leicht – Super Sport Short Light), likewise achieved spectacular success. Amongst the most important of these was the victory in the legendary 1000-mile “Mille Miglia” race. In April 1931, Rudolf Caracciola was the first non-Italian to win this harrowing road race from Brescia to Rome and back in the SSKL.
In summary: the Mercedes-Benz SSK was a sports car legend that once again exemplified the leading position of Mercedes-Benz.
Technical Data for the Mercedes-Benz SSK (W 06, road version)
Production period: 1928-1930
Engine capacity: 7065 cubic centimetres
Output: 125 kW (170 hp)
Output with compressor: 165 kW (225 hp)
Top speed: 192 km/h
Mercedes-Benz SS (W 06).
In 1928, the modified Type SS (for Super Sport), a further development of the sports car Type S launched one year earlier, was introduced. The bored-out six-cylinder engine developed now 200 hp (147 kW) in compressor mode.
On 29 June, the car was put to the test for the first time in the Bühler Höhe hill climb, which took place as part of the Baden-Baden motorcar tournament and was handily won by Rudolf Caracciola. Even more spectacular was its next showing in the German Grand Prix for sports cars, which was held on 15 July at the Nürburgring. With a triple victory, the Type SS was immediately able to show what it was capable of. Many other racing successes followed before the SS was added to the sales programme in October.
In addition to the launch of the Type SS, in 1928, the short-chassis SSK with identical technology would go on to write motorsport history. The SSK was developed especially for hill climbs and road races on narrow and curvaceous routes and should achieve two significant successess at the Mille Miglia.
Technical Data for the Mercedes-Benz SS (W 06, road version)
Production period: 1928-1933
Engine capacity: 7065 cubic centimetres
Output: 103 kW (140 hp)
Output with compressor 147 kW (200 hp)
Top speed: 170 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR sports racing car (W 196 S).
In 1955, Mercedes-Benz won the sports car World Championship with the 300 SLR (W 196 S). This car is essentially a W 196 R type Formula 1 racing car equipped with a two-seater sports car body. The main technical difference is in the engine: the sports racing car, which was not bound by the Formula 1 rule, was powered by a three-litre version of the in-line eight cylinder engine and had cylinder blocks made of light alloy rather than steel. In addition, the 300 SLR did not run on special methanol-based racing fuel, but rather on regular 4-star petrol. The 222 kW (302 hp) power rating, as well as its endurance and reliability made the 300 SLR far superior to its competitors in 1955, which it demonstrated with dual victories in the Mille Miglia, the Eifel race, the Swedish Grand Prix and the Targa Florio (Sicily).
In the 1955 Mille Miglia, Stirling Moss and co-driver Denis Jenkinson (starting number 722) won with a still unsurpassed average speed of 157.65 km/h. The results achieved by this sports racing car are unparalleled even today: the W 196 S won every race started and finished by a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.
Technical Data for the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR sports racing car (W 196 S)
In use: 1955
Engine capacity: 2982 cubic centimetres
Output: 222 kW (302 hp)
Top speed: over 300 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” (W 198).
In February 1954, the 300 SL “Gullwing” celebrated its world premiere at the International Motor Sport Show in New York. The new high-speed sports car was based on the legendary 300 SL sports racing car (W 194) from the 1952 season. A lightweight, stiff space frame supported the engine, transmission and axles. But as with the racing version, it allowed no room for conventional doors, and the gullwings became a distinctive feature of the standard sports car. In any case, the “Gullwing” was a true cutting-edge vehicle: it was the world`s first production passenger car to be powered by a four-stroke engine with petrol injection. That improved not only the efficiency, but also the engine performance. An engine performance of 215 hp (158 kW) – 20 percent more than the carburettor-equipped sports racing version ? allowed for a top speed of up to 250 km/h, depending on the final gear ratio used, making the 300 SL the fastest production car of its time and the dream sports car of the 1950s.
At the Mille Miglia 1955, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” experienced its motorsport debut and raced to victory in the Mille Miglia, vehicle driven by the John Fitch/Kurt Gessl team in the Gran-Turismo class over 1600 cubic centimetres.
Technical Data for the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 198)
Production period: 1954–1957
Engine capacity: 2996 cubic centimetres
Output: 158 kW (215 hp)
Top speed: 250 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 180 D (W 120).
The first diesel engine version of the Mercedes-Benz 180 (W 120) had its debut in January 1954. The Stuttgart-based manufacturer thus offered its modern Pontoon saloon with a compression-ignition engine, which initially had 40 hp (29 kW). Until the model upgrading in the autumn of 1959, 114,046 Type 180 D saloons were built. These diesel saloons, which were capable of speeds up to 110 km/h, cannot be compared with the racing and sports cars that raced to overall victory in the Mille Miglia. But the 180 D was an ultra-modern vehicle in due course, with a self-supporting body in the actual “Ponton” form and a “subframe” on which the front wheels guided by double wishbone axles were suspended. And it proved both its strength and reliability in the arduous long-distance race across Italy:
Mercedes-Benz raced several Type 180 D vehicles, and the Helmut Retter / Wolfgang Larcher team handily won the diesel class. Second and third place were also won by 180 D vehicles, thus completing a triple victory in the diesel class.
Technical Data for the Mercedes-Benz 180 D (W 120, road version)
Production period: 1954–1959
Engine capacity: 1767 cubic centimetres
Output: 54 kW (40 hp)
Top speed: 110 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL sports racing car (W 194).
When Mercedes-Benz was planning to re-enter motorsports following World War II, sports racing cars were initially the only consideration. This was due to the fact that a new rule was announced in 1954, and the limited resources prevented previous development of a Grand Prix car based on the old formula. The new 300 SL sports racing car (W 194) made use of a number of existing components: the axles, transmission and base engine came from the Mercedes-Benz 300 (W 186) representation saloon. A brand new innovation was the extremely light yet stiff space frame, enveloped by an elegantly arched, streamlined body made of aluminium-magnesium sheet metal. Because the space frame extended relatively high on the sides, the W 194 could not be fitted with conventional doors – and this was how the sports racing car got its characteristic gullwing doors, which were attached at the roof. The car was powered by a 125 kW (170 hp) M 194 inline six-cylinder engine with a displacement of 2996 cubic centimetres.
The new sports racing car achieved a second- and fourth-place ranking in its very first race, the Mille Miglia. After this, one victory followed another: a triple win in the Bern Grand Prix (Switzerland), a spectacular dual victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans (France) and in the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, as well as a quadruple victory in the Nürburgring Anniversary Grand Prix, in which an open version of the 300 SL was used.
Technical Data for the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL sports racing car (W 194)
In use: 1952
Engine capacity: 2996 cubic centimetres
Output: 125 kW (170 hp)
Top speed: 240 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 220 (W 180).
Introduced in early 1954, Type 220, also called 220 a (W 180) internally, was the first Mercedes-Benz six-cylinder model with a self-supporting design. Its modern, spacious “Pontoon” body, which Mercedes-Benz had presented six months earlier in the mid-series model, offered previously unknown spaciousness and comfort. A single-joint swing axle, which had been introduced into standard production with the Type 220, ensured safe handling. Several Mercedes-Benz 220 vehicles participated in the 1956 Mille Miglia in the class of standard special touring cars. In this class, the vehicle chassis and engine could be modified. The Erwin Bauer/Erwin Grupp driver team won its class with a special 220 model: in the racing division headed by Karl Kling, three vehicles were prepared specifically for use in the Mille Miglia. They already had the two-carburettor system of the successor Type 220 S, with which the engine developed approximately 115 hp (85 kW).
Shorter and harder springs as well as modified shock absorbers were fitted for sporty driving. In addition, the driver could change gears via a floor shift, as in the 190 SL – instead of the otherwise fitted column shift.
Technical Data for the Mercedes-Benz 220 (W 180, road version)
Production period: 1954–1956
Engine capacity: 2196 cubic centimetres
Output: 63 kW (85 hp)
Top speed: 150 km/h