Rallies also occupy an important place in the Mercedes-Benz tradition – as in January 1952, for example, when Karl Kling, Rudolf Caracciola and Hermann Lang competed in the Monte Carlo rally in three Mercedes-Benz 220s (W 187).
The Stuttgart trio came away from the event with the trophy for the best team performance.This rally was an exciting challenge in particular for Kling, who had acquired his initial motor sport experience in long off-highway drives. However, this form of competition was far less popular with the German public than circuit racing, as the driver acknowledged:
“A car race is tied to a circuit, with dramatic and sensational events unfolding before the eyes of the public, like the audience at a play. Thundering engines form the acoustic backdrop to an absorbing struggle between the drivers of these beautiful cars, the thoroughbreds of the automotive world. The battle of man at the steering wheel versus matter is played out on centre stage. A rally is different – the event takes place over wide spatial expanses, with the drivers locked in a grim struggle with the caprices of the weather and the route. Their struggle is with themselves, with fatigue, monotony and hundreds of kilometres of back-country roads, over hilly and flat sections of the course, or along the coast. This is a hidden struggle, lasting minutes, hours or even days at a stretch.”
Mercedes-Benz vehicles had already enjoyed success in rally events during the Silver Arrow era from 1952 to 1955, in the hands of private drivers such as fruit and vegetable merchant Walter Schock. He entered the first Solitude Rally, on 24 and 25 April 1954, in his business vehicle, a Mercedes-Benz 220a (W 180 I). That year’s event counted towards the German touring car championship, and included a slalom course at Malmsheim airport and acceleration and braking trials in the Stuttgart urban area. Uniformity trials were held between these various points. A total of 174 entrants started from eleven different locations towards the Solitude castle, where the special stages were to begin.
Schock won the event, and with co-driver Rudolf Moll went on to achieve many more rally victories over the next few years in Mercedes-Benz vehicles. In 1954, he also won the Wiesbaden Rally, the Weinheim Spring Drive and the Bavaria Rally. The duo then entered what was probably the leading European rally, the Monte Carlo event. In 1955, the Schock / Moll team received only limited support from Mercedes-Benz for this adventure. Racing manager Alfred Neubauer had a bigger objective in view for that season – winning the ‘double’ of the Formula 1 world championship and sports car championship. He also still had bitter memories of the racing department’s experience from the Monte Carlorally in 1952. The test workshop did, however, optimise Schock’s privately owned Mercedes-Benz for the rally by lowering the body setting. The race started on 17 January – and the Stuttgart duo proceeded to take third place in the overall rankings after the four days of the event. This was followed by a victory in the Sestriere Rally in Italy (25 February to 1 March 1955), second place in the Adriatic Rally in Yugoslavia (20–24 July 1955), and fourth place in the Viking Rally in Norway (9–12 September 1955). Walter Schock was also back on the starting line for the Solitude rally in 1955, this time coming third. This event had now become a true endurance rally, over a distance of 2000 kilometres.
1956: focus on rally events
Following the withdrawal of the Mercedes-Benz works team from Formula 1 and the sports car championship, from 1956 all eyes were on the rally scene. Mercedes vehicles, mainly driven by private teams, were competing on rally courses all around the world. Whereas the racing cars and racing sports cars from the years before had shone as top-performing thoroughbreds, it was now the turn of near-production passenger cars to show their strength and stamina. The man responsible for rally operations was Karl Kling, now in the role of Mercedes-Benz director of motor sport, taking over some of the responsibilities of legendary racing manager Alfred Neubauer following the latter’s retirement.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was mainly the 220 SE and 300 SE six-cylinder sedans and the 300 SL sports car that set the pace on the world’s roads and gravel tracks. One of the leading teams was the already well-known duo of Walter Schock and Rudolf Moll, racing for the Stuttgart Motor Sports Club. Extensive support was now forthcoming from Mercedes-Benz in the form of vehicles and service. Schock started in the Monte Carlo Rally in a Mercedes-Benz 220a on 15 January, finishing on 23 January only 1.1 seconds behind the winner.
One month later in Italy, the competition simply had no chance. The Stuttgart duo started the Sestriere Rally on 24 February in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing coupe, and in the mountains the Silver Arrow left the rest of the field far behind. Schock recollections of the outstanding performance of the coupe in the winter rally conditions as follows: “Very fine snow chains on all four wheels allowed us to reach uphill speeds of up to 180 km/h.” And on 28 February, the team drove across the finish line as the event winners. Further triumphs followed, with victories in the Wiesbaden Rally (21–24 June 1956), the Acropolis Rally (25 April to 2 May 1956) and also first place in the Adriatica Rally. Schock and Moll also finished third in the Iberico Rally and tenth in the Geneva Rally. In addition, Schock won the Eifel race, and was placed second in the 1956 Nürburgring Grand Prix. He was the international rally champion for 1956, as well as being European touring car champion and German car champion in the GT up to 1300-cc class.
1959: motor sport director Kling stands in as works driver
The motor sport director himself occasionally took a turn at the wheel as a member of the works team – and Karl Kling, with Rainer Günzler as co-driver, actually won the 14,000-kilometre Mediterranée-Le Cap rally in this way in 1959. The Stuttgart team were driving a diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz 190 D, whose reliability secured the event for them. Kling was back at the wheel of a sedan in 1961, when he drove a Mercedes-Benz 220 SE to victory in the Algiers-Lagos-Algiers rally in Africa, again with Rainer Günzler as co-driver.
Kling also functioned as race manager when Mercedes-Benz factory teams competed in selected major races. In the 1960s, for instance, on several occasions he accompanied teams taking part in the Argentine Road Grand Prix. On 26 October 1961Walter Schock once again competed in a very special rally, the Argentine Road Grand Prix, against 207 other drivers. A relentless race over 4600 kilometres with around 3000 metres difference in altitude to overcome awaited the field. This rally ended on 5 November in a double victory for Mercedes-Benz. Walter Schock and Rolf Moll came in first followed by Hans Herrmann and Rainer Günzler in second place. “That was perhaps the most difficult race I ever competed in,” said rally champion Schock after returning from South America. Together with team manager Karl Kling, Juan Manuel Fangio personally attended to the teams supported by the Stuttgart brand.
Schock and Moll previously had captured the European rally championship in their 220 SE in 1960: they crossed the finish line in first place both in the legendary Monte Carlo Rally and the Acropolis Rally in Greece. This first overall German victory in Monte Carlo actually was a triple victory for Mercedes-Benz, with the driver teams Eugen Böhringer / Hermann Socher and Eberhard Mahle / Roland Ott taking second and third place. After this triumph in 1960 the sports press demanded that Mercedes-Benz come back to the racing circuits of the world and compete on a continuous basis with its factory cars. But sports manager Kling made clear: “This success will encourage us to make further substantial efforts in rallies. But Mercedes does not intend to return to motor racing.”
From 1962 on another driver from the Stuttgart racing department developed winning ways: Eugen Böhringer, who had been driving Mercedes-Benz cars in rallies since 1957, took the European rally champion title in the 1962 season. With co-drivers Peter Lang and Hermann Eger, Böhringer gathered points during the season mainly at the following races: Monte Carlo Rally (2nd place), Tulip Rally (7th), Acropolis Rally (winner), Midnight Sun Rally (5th), Poland Rally (winner), Liège – Sofia – Liège Rally (winner) and German Rally (2nd).
A brilliant achievement in that year was the victory in the legendary Liège – Sofia – Liège road race in a Mercedes‑Benz 220 SE. In the following year the Stuttgart driver again won this marathon race straight across Europe. He was the first driver ever to win this rally twice in two successive years. Böhringer’s major successes at the wheel of a Mercedes‑Benz 300 SE include the winning of the Argentine Road Grand Prix in 1963 and 1964.
In the years up to 1964 various male and female drivers (Ewy Rosqvist and Ursula Wirth) won many competitions on rally tracks and circuits in the fast “tailfin” models. During this era the Mercedes-Benz 230 SL also proved to be an extremely competitive vehicle. For example, Eugen Böhringer/Klaus Kaiser won the 1963 Liège – Sofia – Liège marathon rally in this car, popularly termed the “pagoda”.
Mercedes-Benz was also enjoying considerable success in North America at this time, and in 1957 it actually created a car specifically for the American sports car championship: the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLS. The vehicle was based on the 300 SL production sports car, but its lower weight, at just 900 kilograms, and higher power, boosted from 215 to 235 hp (158 to 173 kW), resulted in a highly competitive car. The SLS gave American Paul O’Shea his third consecutive title, following victories with a 300 SL Coupe in the 1955 and 1956 seasons.
The big eight-cylinder 300 SEL 6.3 sedan was raced as a works vehicle only once – when it won the six-hour touring car race in Macao in 1969 for Erich Waxenberger. The oil crisis in the early 1970s barred further race outings for the sedan. Automotive historian Karl Eric Ludvigsen emphasises the importance of this break in the motor sport tradition of the Stuttgart brand: “The oil crisis was the first externally prompted interruption to a long-established Daimler-Benz tradition, which had run continuously from the turn of the century, apart from the war years and a short hiatus in 1955: year after year, there had always been one or more Benz, Mercedes or Mercedes-Benz vehicles competing with direct or indirect works support in at least one major race.”
Even now, however, the Mercedes-Benz racing tradition was continued by private drivers. Their vehicles were increasingly being prepared for competition by AMG, a workshop established by Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher in 1967. One of their standout products from the first few years was the refined version of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL with a 6.9-litre engine, which finished second in the 24-hour Spa race in 1971. AMG remained in operation for many years as an independent tuning specialist for the preparation of racing cars and touring sports cars, before being fully acquired by the then DaimlerChrysler AG.
1976: record drives with the C 111
The rotary engine Mercedes-Benz C 111 coupe, launched in September 1969, was also affected by the impacts of the oil crisis. The futuristic experimental design featuring a three-disk rotary piston engine was much admired and envied throughout the automotive community, as a visionary successor to the 300 SL Gullwing car. The car was followed one year later by a reworked version with a four-disk rotary piston engine. It was this model that became the nucleus of the second Silver Arrow era. Any dreams of further success in sports-car racing were to remain unrealised, however, and the C 111 remained as an extraordinary experimental car. One of the arguments against series production was the rotary engine’s appetite for fuel, and the relatively high levels of pollutants in the exhaust gas. In 1971, Mercedes-Benz therefore decided to stop work on this compact engine, in spite of its impressive power and quiet-running characteristics.
The exploits of the C 111 on the racetrack were rather in the area of the record drives carried out in the years from 1976 to 1979. In 1976, Mercedes-Benz decided to tackle the long-standing prejudice against diesel engines as rough and slow. And what better argument could there be than a diesel-propelled C 111? For the first test drives, the engineers built a three-litre diesel engine with five cylinders and exhaust turbocharging, fitted in an externally unmodified C 111-II. In this car, known as the C 111-IID, a OM 617 LA production diesel engine – also used in the Mercedes-Benz 240 D 3.0 (W 115, ‘dash eight’) and subsequently other vehicles – developed a highly impressive 190 hp (140 kW), thanks to turbocharging and charge-air cooling. The standard production power rating was 80 hp (59 kW). In June 1976, the C 111-IID posted some spectacular speeds on the test track at Nardo in Italy. A team of four drivers set a total of 16 world records in just 60 hours, including 13 for diesel vehicles and three for any form of engine. Given the average speed of 252 km/h, Mercedes-Benz had proven beyond doubt that the diesel engine could also be a sprinter.
The triumph of the externally virtually unmodified C 111-II in Nardo spurred the designers on to new heights. The experimental design produced this time was never intended for use on public roads – the C 111-III was a ‘record car’ pure and simple, designed solely to break speed records. The new vehicle built during 1977 was narrower than the first C 111, with a longer wheelbase. Aerodynamics were enhanced will full fairing and tailfins. The C 111-III returned to the Nardo track in 1978, again with a diesel engine rumbling beneath the plastic body, this time painted silver. This was still a production-based engine, but now with a power rating of 230 hp (169 kW), propelling the streamlined car to speeds of well over 300 km/h. Mercedes-Benz went on to post nine absolute work records with this Silver Arrow car in the late 1970s.
Yet this was just the beginning of the C 111’s development into a true record-breaking machine. The last version of the car, the C 111-IV launched in 1979, reached a speed of 403.978 km/h on the Nardo track, breaking the then world record. This time, however, the diesel engine had been replaced with a V8 petrol engine with a displacement of 4.5 litres and two turbochargers, developing 500 hp (368 kW). The body shape was now also far removed from the initial design. The bold, confident contours of the 1969 model had mutated ten years later into a lean, elongated racing body with two tailfins and massive spoilers, painted silver.
1978: the days of the V8 coupes and debut of the 190
The reappearance of Mercedes-Benz on the motor sport winners’ list came only in 1977, when the teams of Andrew Cowan / Colin Malkin / Mike Broad and Anthony Fowkes / Peter O’Gorman posted the fastest overall times in the London-Sydney marathon rally, driving a works-supported Mercedes-Benz 280 E. The same model was also entered as a works car in the East African Safari in 1978. However, that year was dominated mainly by the fast V8 coupes: four Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC cars (C 107), with a power rating of 230 hp (169 kW) and automatic transmission, took part in the tough ‘Vuelta a la América del Sud’ rally in South America. The 30,000-kilometre race in August and September ended with a five-fold victory for Mercedes-Benz: the Cowan / Malkin and Sobieslaw Zasada / Andrzej Zembruski teams won in
Mercedes-Benz 450 SLCs, followed by Fowkes / Klaus Kaiser (280 E), Timo Mäkinen / Jean Todt (450 SLC) and Herbert Kleint / Günther Klapproth (280 E).
The following year the same near-production car, now called the 450 SLC 5.0, with the rebored eight-cylinder engine developing 290 hp (213 kW), provided the performance needed for a quadruple victory in the 5000-kilometre Bandama rally in Africa. The event was won by Hannu Mikkola and Arne Hertz, ahead of Björn Waldegaard / Hans Thorszelius, Cowan / Kaiser and Vic Preston / Mike Doughty. In 1980, Daimler-Benz entered the rally world championship in earnest, with a 500 SLC vehicle developing up to 340 hp (250 kW). Against tough competition, Waldegaard / Thorszelius and Jorge Recalde / Nestor Straimel posted another dual victory in the Bandama rally at the end of the season. This was also the last works involvement of Daimler-Benz AG in rallying, since, in December 1980, the Board of Management decided that the firm would withdraw from the world championship for capacity reasons. However, the numerous rally victories achieved over a period of almost 30 years had successfully proven the performance capabilities of near-production Mercedes-Benz vehicles, making this facet of motor sport an effective brand ambassador in a particularly direct sense.
The 1983 Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 Nardo record car was also based on a production vehicle. Mercedes-Benz put the modified 190 car through its paces on the Nardo racetrack in Italy as publicity for the launch of the W 201 model series, to highlight the sports performance capabilities of the new compact class sedan. These record cars had a 2.3-litre engine with four-valve technology, developing 185 hp (136 kW) at 6200 rpm. Differences with the subsequent production version included the rear axle ratio (i=2.65) and the absence of a reverse gear. The record cars were also set lower, with all-round ride height control. Special tyres and spoilers enabled the compact sedan to reach a top speed of 261 km/h.
Test department employees notched up 201 hours, 39 minutes and 43 seconds of test drives in the three record cars – precisely 50,000 kilometres. In the process, they set three world records (25,000 kilometres at 247.094 km/h, 25,000 miles at 247.749 km/h and 50,000 kilometres at 247.939 km/h), and nine class records (including 1000 kilometres at 247.094 km/h and 1000 miles at 246.916 km/h). The record car based on the 190 2.3-16 also heralded the return of Mercedes-Benz to circuit motor racing in 1984.
Source: Daimler AG