Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mercedes Benz and the Millle Miglia, Past and Present

Mille Miglia, 1952. Racing victory poster by Hans Liska

Stuttgart – A strong contingent of exclusive classics from Mercedes-Benz Classic will be lining up in May 2014 to drive the Mille Miglia from Brescia to Rome and back. Following in the tracks of the legendary original road race held from 1927 to 1957, the modern race is a captivating reminder of two high points in the 120-year history of Mercedes-Benz motorsport: the victories of Rudolf Caracciola/Wilhelm Sebastian in a Mercedes-Benz SSK (1931) and Stirling Moss/Denis Jenkinson in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (W 196 S, 1955).

A thousand stories, a thousand miles: the Mille Miglia is a true legend in motorsport history. For historic automobile enthusiasts all over the world, the regularity race counts as one of the main events on the annual race calendar. This year, the thousand-mile journey from Brescia to Rome and back will take place from 15 to 18 May 2014. Mercedes-Benz Classic is lining up at the start with numerous original vehicles from the era of powerful, supercharged racing sports cars as well as with racing and production sports cars from the 1950s.
In addition to the rally for vehicles that competed in the original race between 1927 and 1957, the organizers of the Mille Miglia will for the first time stage the Mercedes-Benz Tribute to Mille Miglia in 2014. This sporting competition will take place governed by the same rules as the actual Mille Miglia on the identical route from Brescia to Rome and back. The vehicles will start one hour before the competitors of the main field. Selected Mercedes-Benz vehicles not qualified to participate in the Mille Miglia are invited to take part in the tribute event. For example, this applies to the 300 SL Roadster (W 198 II) for classic vehicles built between 1958 and 1981 as well as for selected sports cars built after 1981. 
Outstanding Mercedes-Benz victories in 1931 and 1955
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).
The Mille Miglia has been staged 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.
Mille Miglia opens the door to a return to motor racing
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 Gesell 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).
Mercedes-Benz Classic cars at Mille Miglia 2014
Mercedes-Benz SS 27/170/225 hp (W 06), 1930 – road-going version
With a displacement of 7.1 litres, the Model SS (Super Sport) six-cylinder in-line engine delivers up to 125 kW (170 hp) without supercharger, and up to 166 kW (225 hp) with the supercharger. Despite its powerful engine, the Mercedes-Benz SS is considered to be a Gran Turismo model, which is indicative of the wide range of bodies available. The Model SS had a baptism of fire as a racing car with up to 184 kW (250 hp) when it entered and won the Bühler Höhe Hill Climb. This was just the first of many racing triumphs. A total of 111 Mercedes-Benz SS cars were built, starting in November 1928, with the model staying on the price lists until July 1935.
Technical data – Mercedes-Benz SS 27/170/225 hp, road-going versionProduction period: 1928-1933
Cylinders: in-line 6
Displacement: 7065 cubic centimetres
Power: 125 kW (170 hp), with supercharger 165 kW (225 hp)
Top speed: 190 km/h
Mercedes-Benz SSK 27/170/225 hp (W 06), 1928 – road-going version
The SSK (model series W 06) is the most exclusive and alluring of the six-cylinder supercharged sports cars belonging to the Mercedes-Benz S-Series. The model designation stands for Super Sport Short (“Super-Sport-Kurz” in German), alluding to both the car‘s particularly sporty character and its shortened wheelbase. In the summer of 1928, works driver Rudolf Caracciola won the Gabelbach, Schauinsland and Mont Ventoux races in the brand-new SSK at the first attempt. In 1930 and 1931 he won the European Hill Climb Championship at the wheel of the SSK. The lighter and yet more powerful version from 1931, which was also known as the SSKL (German abbreviation for “Super Sport Short Light”), also scored some spectacular victories. One of the most significant was its 1931 win in the legendary thousand-mile Mille Miglia race in Italy.
Technical data – Mercedes-Benz SSK 27/170/225 hp, road-going versionProduction period: 1928-1930
Cylinders: in-line 6
Displacement: 7065 cubic centimetres
Output: 125 kW (170 hp), with supercharger 165 kW (225 hp)
Top speed: 192 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194), 1952
Mercedes-Benz re-entered the international motorsport scene after World War II in 1952 with the 300 SL racer (W 194). The car is based on an extremely light space frame that provides excellent torsional stiffness. Arching over this is are the elegant curves of the streamlined light-alloy body formed from aluminium-magnesium sheet. Because the space frame extends relatively high up the sides, the W 194 could not be equipped with conventional doors  – this is how the racing sports car got its characteristic wing-like doors, hinged at the roof. This feature, which from 1954 onwards was also adopted for the production 300 SL (W 198) sports car is the reason for the nickname given the car in the English-speaking world: the “Gullwing”. The car is powered by an M 194 125 kW (170 hp) in-line six-cylinder engine with a displacement of 2996 cc. The 300 SL was unveiled in March 1952 and was first raced at the Mille Miglia in May 1952. Many major successes were enjoyed by the W 194, including a clean sweep of the top-three at the Bern Grand Prix, spectacular one-twos at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the third Carrera Panamericana in Mexico and first place at the Nürburgring Jubilee Grand Prix.
Technical data – Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194)Period of use: 1952
Cylinders: in-line 6
Displacement: 2996 cubic centimetres
Power: 125 kW (170 hp)
Top speed: 240 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” (W 198), 1954-1957
The 300 SL “Gullwing” had its world première at the International Motor Sport Show in New York in February 1954. This new high-performance sports car was based on the legendary 300 SL racing car (W 194) from the 1952 season. A light weight space frame with high torsional stiffness carried the engine, gearbox and axles. As with the racing version, there was nowhere to install conventional doors, meaning the gullwing doors became an unmistakeable feature on the production sports car too. The W 198 also boasted a four-stroke fuel injection petrol engine, a world-first for a production car. This not only improved efficiency, but also increased engine power to 158 kW (215 hp) – around 20 percent more than the racing car version, which relied on a carburettor. Depending on the final drive ratio used, the 300 SL could reach a top speed of 260 km/h. This made it the fastest series production car of its time and the dream sports car of the 1950s. At the Mille Miglia, John Fitch and Kurt Gesell won the Gran Turismo class for engines greater than 1600 cc. In 1956, 300 SL Coupés also joined the pack at the Mille Miglia, where the team of Fürst Metternich and Graf Einsiedel took sixth place in the large GT class.
Technical data – Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” (W 198)Production period: 1954-1957
Cylinders: in-line 6
Displacement: 2996 cubic centimetres
Power: 158 kW (215 hp)
Top speed: up to 250 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 220 a (W 180), 1954-1956
Spring of 1954 saw the launch of Model 220, also designated 220 a (W 180) internally, the first Mercedes-Benz six-cylinder model with a unibody design. Its modern, roomy Ponton body, debuted by Mercedes-Benz half a year earlier in the form of the medium-sized Model 180, offered unheard of spaciousness and comfort. In a first for series production vehicles, the Model 220 enjoyed safer handling characteristics thanks to a single-joint swing axle. Under the leadership of Karl Kling, the Sports department specially prepared three vehicles for use at the Mille Miglia 1956. These featured a version of the twin carburettor that would be fitted to the 220‘s successor, the 220 S, taking engine power to around 85 kW (115 hp). To ensure a sporty drive, shorter, harder springs and modified shock absorbers were fitted. In addition to this, drivers changed gear via a floor shift of the type found in the 190 SL (W 121), instead of the steering wheel gearshift provided as standard.
Technical data – Mercedes-Benz 220 a (W 180) – series production versionProduction period: 1954-1956
Cylinders: in-line 6
Displacement: 2195 cubic centimetres
Power: 63 kW (85 hp)
Top speed: 150 km/h

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