January 24, 2012

Retromobile 2012: A meeting of the Le Mans winners

At the 2012 Retromobile, Mercedes-Benz Classic commemorates a very special victory this year: 60 years ago the legendary 24-hour Le Mans race ended with a spectacular double victory, achieved with 300 SL (W 194 series) racing cars. The impressive racing successes
of the 'gullwing' became the basis for the worldwide fascination for the SL model series from Mercedes-Benz which has continued undiminished to the present day. The trade fair presentation is organised in coordination with Mercedes-Benz France.

“At the Retromobile in Paris we are showing three original vehicles from our collection, cars that achieved success at Le Mans” says Michael Bock, Head of Mercedes-Benz Classic and Manager of Mercedes-Benz Museum GmbH. “The race is one of the most gruelling in the world. Winning the race was a great distinction,” he added. Next to an original 1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194 series), the brand is showing a 1931model SSK and a Sauber-Mercedes C9 from 1989 at its 400-square metre fair stand in Hall 3.

Famous vehicles at the Retromobile
300 SL – that was the designation of the competition vehicle with which in 1952 Mercedes-Benz returned to international motor sports for the first time since WW II. The development of the 300 SL can be traced back to the year 1950: the engineers pushed forward the development of the new racing car, some of whose components came from the Mercedes-Benz 300 representative saloon, the so-called 'Adenauer Mercedes'.

In June 1951 the Board decided to renew participation in racing sports, starting in 1952, and commissioned the construction of the 300 SL. The letters in its designation stand for 'Super Light'.

 In 1952 the Hermann Lang/Fritz RieƟ team won the 20th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194 series), ahead of Theo Helfrich and Helmut Niedermayr. The entire 1952 racing season was exceptionally successful for Mercedes-Benz. The other racing results reaped by the 300 SL that year: second and fourth places in the Mille Miglia rally, a triple victory at the Bern Sports Car Grand Prix, a fourfold triumph at the Great Jubilee prize at Nurburgring and a double victory in the third Carrera Panamericana in Mexico. Thus, the brand made its comeback to motor sports – and through the publicity effect generated, to the international markets – with a mighty fanfare.

The 300 SL (W 194 series) on show at the Retromobile 2012 is an original vehicle with chassis number 06. In all, 10 racing vehicles were made. The first 300 SL, the premiere car from 1952, no longer exists; it remained in company ownership and was eventually scrapped. The second car still exists and was painstakingly restored at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Fellbach in 2011. It is the oldest extant SL and, together with two other W 194s, belongs to the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection.

Racing sports as a driving force of innovation
The other Mercedes-Benz vehicles on exhibition at the Retromobile 2012 underscore the innovation capacity of the brand as well as its competitive zest: the silver-coloured 1989 Sauber-Mercedes C9 was specially developed for the Group C-series. Because, after more than 30 years’ abstinence from racing, Mercedes-Benz officially resumed its position at the starting line in 1988. Under the carbon-aramide-fibre reinforced synthetic bodywork, throbbed the heart of the featherweight 870 kilo Sauber-Mercedes C9: a water-cooled V8 engine delivering 720 bhp (520 kW). The 24-hour race that took place at Le Mans on 10-11 June 1989 was won by Mercedes drivers Jochen Mass/Manuel Reuter/Stanley Dickens and Mauro Baldi/Kenny Acheson/Gianfranco Brancatelli with a double victory – 37 years after the first– and until then, only – victory on that legendary racetrack.

The Mercedes-Benz SSK also on show at the Retromobile 2012 is considered the summit of a six-cylinder series which debuted in the 1920s, in the times of the DMG (Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft or Daimler Engine Company). For many years the S, SS, SSK models and the lightweight variant SSKL dominated international racing – often with Rudolf Caracciola at the wheel. On 13 and 14 June 1931 the duo Boris Iwanowski/Henri Stoffel drove the fastest lap at Le Mans, 7:03 minutes (139.2 km/h), going on to reach the second place in the overall result of the 24-hour race.


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