At a technical meeting of Daimler-Benz AG in November 1933, Max Wagner presented to Board of Management members Hans Nibel and Otto Hoppe and several directors a proposal for a mid-engine sports car.
Designed specifically for sports events, the vehicle was to be given its first competitive outing in the 1934 “2000 km through Germany” race. Minutes of the meeting note: “During discussion of the rear-engine car itself, Herr Wagner presented a complete design for a rear-engine sports car, which, as generally recognised, has the potential to become the future German sports vehicle for broad sections of the population. It is a two-seater streamlined vehicle, in which the engine is positioned not behind but in front of the rear-axle unit.” The design presented by Wagner was for a two-seater sport saloon – what would be termed today a coupé or sport coupé – with unusually efficient streamlining by the standards of the day. The finished vehicle bore similarities to the later VW Beetle of the post-war era. Distinctive features at the rear end included scoops in the roof section and numerous vents to provide fresh air for the engine. The Mercedes star was free-standing on the front bonnet.
The unusual feature of this design, compared with the Mercedes-Benz 130, was its use of the mid-engine concept, which is still used today in sports cars and in Formula One. The drive package of engine and transmission was rotated through 180 degrees in order to improve the distribution of masses between the axles. The engine was positioned in front of the rear axle, the transmission behind it.
Now Wagner saw his opportunity to introduce the concept of the mid-engine car at Daimler-Benz, a concept he had pioneered and realised a decade before in the Benz “Teardrop” racing car. At around this time, Ferdinand Porsche, who was of course familiar with these plans from his time as chief engineer at Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and Daimler-Benz AG, was also in the process of bringing this concept to fruition, in particular in his design of the Auto Union P racing car.
The four-cylinder in-line engine was a largely all-new design. It had a displacement of 1.5 litres, in line with sporting regulations for the intended entry category, a twin carburettor and an overhead camshaft driven by spur gears. This was standard racing engine design at Daimler-Benz at the time. Engines for ordinary road vehicles, by contrast, generally featured the overhead valve system and updraught carburettors, a design that was not exactly conducive to optimum output and fuel consumption, but had the merits of smooth operation and reliability.
Sports vehicle with high-performance engine
The sum of these measures generated an output of 40 kW from the four-cylinder assembly – a sizeable rating for a 1.5-litre engine and one which highlighted an advance in engine design. By comparison, the four-cylinder engine of the 130 model provided 19 kW, with the six-cylinder 170 and 200 models developing 24 kW and 29 kW respectively. The drive unit of the 150 model was equipped with two final drive ratios and different transmission ratios for third and fourth gear. The highest gear gave a top speed of 131 km/h. The wheelbase was extended by 100 millimetres compared with the 130 model, and the front track width by 30 millimetres. This sports engine was also used in several 150 model sports cross-country vehicles of the 1930s, although here it was front-mounted.
Fritz Nallinger allayed concerns that the 50 vehicles required for homologation would not be built within six months by using a considerable number of production parts from the 130 model – and sure enough, the company was able to take part in the reliability trial using the new vehicle.
For the 2000-kilometre trial, staged from 21 – 27 June 1934, six examples of the Sport Saloon version of the 150 model were built and used. They proved a sensation on their debut. An anonymous commentator wrote in the trade magazine Motor und Sport: “We had a number of surprises of a technical nature in Baden-Baden, [the start of the long-distance trial], for there were many new vehicle models on display that had been developed in secret. Daimler-Benz arrived with a sensation in the form of a new rear-engine car equipped with an ohv 1 1/2-litre engine. The fact that the engine was positioned in front of the axle meant that useful space in the interior was lost, but this was more than compensated by the significant gains in handling. What is interesting about this sports car is its entirely closed, streamlined design. The new arrangement of the rear engine permits a particularly effective shaping of the car’s rear end.”
In addition to the 150 models, Daimler-Benz also entered a Mercedes-Benz 500 K streamlined coupé in the “2000 km through Germany”, a precursor of the later “Autobahnkurier”. The streamlined body reflected the circumstances of the time. The 1920s and particularly the 1930s witnessed a rapid growth in mass motorisation. Autobahns were built, and cars began to play an important role as a long-distance means of transport. It is no surprise, either, that speed became an associated principle – streamlined bodies and improved aerodynamics not only resulted in more kilometres per hour, they simultaneously embodied the very notions of speed and modernism.
Two of the six teams driving the Mercedes-Benz 150 models were forced to retire. The remaining four won gold medals, one of them with the later racing driver Hermann Lang at the wheel. A gold medal was awarded to those who completed the route in the prescribed time, since the 2000-kilometre trial was not a road race in which the winner was the car with the fastest time. The event was also the largest deployment of Mercedes-Benz 150 models.
The car’s most notable success came shortly afterwards, however, and remains relatively unknown. At the Liège – Rome – Liège long-distance race in late August 1934, Hans-Joachim Bernet took the special award for best-placed closed car, having led the entire field from Rome to Pisa and finished without penalty points.
The final whereabouts of the six Sport Saloons remains unknown.
Mercedes-Benz 150 Sport Saloon (W 30 series)
Cylinders: 4 (in-line)
Displacement: 1498 cm³
Output: 40 kW at 4600/min
Max. speed: 131 km/h
Production period: 1934
Source: Daimler AG