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THE GHOSTS ALIVE

March 12, 1956
March 12, 1956

Table of Contents
March 12, 1956

Events & Discoveries
Spectacle
Santee's Saturday
Mano A Mano
Fisherman's Calendar

THE GHOSTS ALIVE

Ten years after World War II's destruction, Mercedes is bigger and better than ever

By Kenneth Rudeen

The speeding ghosts of Sindelfingen take on their concrete form in David Douglas Duncan's photographs on the following pages. This is Mercedes today: the bright and gleaming sports cars which go through the final body assembly at the Sindelfingen plant, the 300SLs, the 190SLs, the magic come true. The fact that they exist at all is, in itself, remarkable.

This is an article from the March 12, 1956 issue Original Layout

In 1945, when the war ended, five Mercedes plants—in Untert√ºrkheim, Sindelfingen, Gaggenau, Mannheim and West Berlin—lay in ruins. By the end of 1946 Mercedes had produced 214 cars. By 1948 it had risen to 3,812. Two years later, in 1950, workers rolled 33,960 units of all kinds off the production line. Two years after that, in 1952, Mercedes was back in the races again.

A seasoned band of professionals was in charge of the racing team. Dr. Fritz Nallinger was its boss and chief engineer. Dr. Rudolf Uhlenhaut, British-born, was its technical wizard in the development of the racing cars. And on the track, in his old capacity of manager of the drivers and mechanics, was Alfred Neubauer, the colorful martinet whose pear-shaped form had been as familiar on Europe's prewar raceways as the ringed star itself.

The first Mercedes to race again was a sports car. Fritz Nallinger concluded that existing designs for the supercharged prewar racers were unsuited for further development under the new Grand Prix formula. But in the sports car field, most of the necessary equipment was already at hand, and it was Rudolf Uhlenhaut who put it to use and scored the first great successes for the ringed star again.

Using the Mercedes 300S model with its six-cylinder, 150-hp engine as a point of departure, Uhlenhaut produced a light, three-dimensional tubular frame, canted the 300S engine on its side to permit a lower hoodline and stepped up its output to nearly 200 hp. A new aluminum racing brake drum was added, with a cast-iron rim and radial cooling fins, and from wind tunnel work came an enclosed aluminum body of aerodynamic efficiency.

The finished car was named the 300SL (Super Light), and its appearance in 1952 signaled the ascendancy of the Mercedes star once more. Second and fourth in Italy's tortuous Mille Miglia, it took first and second places in the grueling 24-hour test at Le Mans and repeated that performance in Mexico's car-killing Pan-American Road Race.

After that campaign Mercedes quit racing again, partly to start the 300SL toward the assembly line at Sindelfingen, but chiefly to concentrate its efforts on the arduous task of developing a new Grand Prix winner.

Carburetors were discarded and fuel injection adopted as a superior means of supplying the engine. Daimler-Benz had helped design fuel-injection systems for the engines of the Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf World War II fighters and the Heinkel bombers; before that the firm had had a long acquaintance with the diesel engines. A knottier problem was the design of a new valve system for the Grand Prix car. The goal was to employ the largest possible valves to produce maximum engine breathing. For a year a team of engineers worked on nothing else. They soon realized that the conventional valve-closing spring had to be done away with—there would be no place for a spring of the strength needed. So they brought up to date an old principle that was tested inconclusively by Mercedes in 1912 and used with indifferent success on a French sports car of the 1920s—the "desmodromic" valve system, in which the valve is coupled directly with its operating mechanism.

The problem was chiefly one of metallurgy and of designing a camshaft lobe correctly timed to push the valve shut. In solving it with the right alloys and the proper camshaft contour, the engineers achieved all they had hoped for and more.

Opponents on the racing circuits were run ragged by the cars on which the valves appeared. Developing 300 hp from a 2½-liter fuel-injection engine—50 more than the long-standing ideal of 100 hp per liter—the Mercedes W196 Grand Prix car carried Juan Fangio to two world championships, sweeping five of six major events in the 1955 season.

On top of that, Mercedes won new laurels in the sports car arena with the 300SLR, a prototype model derived from the Grand Prix racer. After a record-breaking victory in last year's Mille Miglia, withdrawal while within reach of success at Le Mans because of the tragic Mercedes accident which took 87 lives, and another first in Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, the 300SLRs invaded Sicily needing one more victory in the rugged Targa Florio to snatch the world sports car championship away from the renowned Italian Ferrari factory.

The incredibly thoroughgoing way in which Mercedes approached the Targa Florio was typical of the firm's devout belief that winning races is 95% preparation and 5% luck. It is a belief that is carried out in the factory and on the racing circuits with an attention to detail unapproached by any racing competitor.

In support of the three official Targa Florio race cars, Mercedes brought along: 12 more cars for practice, 42 mechanics, spare parts enough to build a complete car, wheels and tires in superabundance and four mobile shortwave radio stations for swift communication of intelligence to the Mercedes pit from vantage points along the course.

A team of experts studied the course with painstaking care, taking into account every variation in road width and grade, measuring exactly the length of each straight and the radius of each curve. Even the moisture content of the air was sampled before the data was calculated in terms of proper gear ratios and tire pressures and a precise pattern for braking and shifting the cars on a wet or dry surface. Where other drivers had to improvise in a dozen ways, the Mercedes team, as usual, began practice knowing what moves to make every inch of the way.

Mercedes needed a victory, and it was won (although drivers Stirling Moss and Peter Collins each took an unpremeditated spin off the road before receiving the checkered flag), and with it, by the margin of a single point, the sports car championship.

Having proved its racing preeminence and achieved publicity of incalculable value for its entire manufacturing line, Daimler-Benz retired from racing again and settled down to tend its workaday, bread-and-butter business. And it has been a very good business indeed.

Within the last 10 years, through 1955, Daimler-Benz produced more than 400,000 vehicles, 'of which nearly 300,000 were passenger cars and the rest commercial machines: trucks, buses, fire-fighting equipment and a revolutionary general-purpose vehicle called the UNIMOG. The initial postwar Mercedes work force of 38 repair men in 1945 has been boosted to over 40,000 today.

Last year was the best ever for Daimler-Benz. Already first among German automotive manufacturers in value of production, the firm turned out 64,000 passenger cars and 29,000 commercial units. Sales jumped to $330 million, a 35% increase over 1954, and vital export sales advanced from $85 million in 1954 to more than $120 million as vehicles bearing the ringed star penetrated 126 countries.

The most glamorous of these by far are the sports cars, the 300SL and the new 190SL. The one a superb example of the Gran Turismo type, its smaller counterpart primarily a high-performance touring sports car, they are the dispensers of the magic, the proudest bearers of the Mercedes emblem today. Perhaps the greatest tribute paid to them is the fact that on the streets of Sindelfingen, where they are as much a part of the daily scene as the hausfraus' laundry hanging on the line, heads still turn to follow them as they pass by.

PHOTODAVID DOUGLAS DUNCANA MERCEDES 190SL CONVERTIBLE RIDES ON CONVEYOR TRACK PAST BRIGHT-LIDDED BATTERIES IN SINDELFINGEN ASSEMBLY PLANTPHOTODAVID DOUGLAS DUNCANFAMED MERCEDES STAR ADORNS THE GRILLE OF 190SL, WHICH MOVES AUTOMATICALLY OFF THE LINE AND OUT THROUGH PLANT DOORPHOTODAVID DOUGLAS DUNCANOLD ROUTE FOR A NEW 190SL UNDER TEST TAKES DRIVER KARL HOFFMAN INTO SINDELFINGEN'S BACK LANES. EVERY MERCEDES SPORTS CAR IS ROAD TESTED FOR ABOUT AN HOUR BEFORE SHIPMENT. ONLY 25 190SLs ARE PRODUCED EACH DAYPHOTODAVID DOUGLAS DUNCANBUTTERFLY DOORS ALOFT, A MERCEDES 300SL STOPPED ON VILLAGE STREET ATTRACTS AWED YOUNGSTERS AROUND DRIVER KARL ECKSTEIN. ONE OF WORLD'S FINEST SPORTS CARS. IT IS POWERED BY A THREE-LITER FUEL-INJECTION ENGINE, CAN DO 160 MPHPHOTODAVID DOUGLAS DUNCANNEW 190SL MODEL, A HARDTOP, STANDS BEFORE PARTLY FINISHED ADDITION TO SINDELFINGEN BODY PLANT. MORE MODESTLY PRICED AND POWERED THAN 300SL, IT STILL CAN TOP 100 MPHDIAGRAM1
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ANATOMY OF THE 300SL

Gull-Wing Door (10) characterizes a machine that combines functionalism and luxury. Other features: 1) fitted three-suiter case (optional); 2) knob (hidden) to tuck down steering wheel for easier entrance; 3) gill-like air vents for engine; 4) jacking point, raises front and rear wheels; 5) vents to relieve interior pressure at high speeds; 6) rpm dial; 7) speedometer; 8) fuel gauge; 9) oil pressure gauge; 11) adjustable bucket seats.

Canted engine permits lower hood. Its details: 1) fuel injection pump; 2) fueling pump; 3) fuel flow regulator; 4) fuel injection nozzle; 5) sparkplug; 6) piston; 7) inlet valve; 8) exhaust valve; 9) camshaft cover securing screw; 10) camshaft; 11) camshaft bearing; 12) valve rocker arm; 13) cylinder head bolts; 14) air intake manifold; 15) oil pump; 16) oil circulating system; 17) crankcase air vent; 18) exhaust manifold; 19) generator; 20) starter; 21) crankshaft; 22) coolant pipe. The 300SL engine peaks at 6,300 rpm.

LIGHTNESS + POWER = SPEED

Beneath the thin and streamlined skin of the 300SL is a tubular steel frame, longitudinally stressed, providing maximum rigidity and minimum weight which, with the 240-hp engine, makes for an outstanding power-weight ratio. The entire chassis weighs 2,040 pounds, with a curb weight (including the spare wheel, tools and fuel) of 2,855 pounds and a maximum total weight, with load, of 3,340 pounds.

THE CHASSIS IN ENGINEERING DETAIL
Racing car principles characterize the engineering of the 300SL: 1) finned aluminum brake drums, with self-adjusting, power-boosted brakes; 2) shock absorbers; 3) independent coil suspension springs; 4) steering arm; 51 dual radiator for oil cooling on right, water coolant on left; 6) four-gallon engine coolant tank; 7) air-intake system; 8) camshaft cover; 9) generator; 10) coolant pipe to radiator; 11) exhaust pipe; 12) muffler; 13) fuel tank for 34.3 gallons; 14) double coil, independent rear springs; 15) rear shock absorbers; 16) swing arm; 17) 12-volt battery; 18) drive shaft; 19) four-speed synchromesh transmission; 20) gearshift lever; 21) differential; 22) steering wheel, collapsible for easier access. Double springs plus swing axles are exclusive with Mercedes.

THE CAR IN PROFILE
Belly-panned and streamlined, the 300SL is designed for minimum drag and maximum roadability. In this drawing, the low hood line made possible by canted engine is clearly evident. Numbers indicate: 1) air intake system; 2) camshaft cover; 3) distributor; 4) dual radiator; 5) fuel injection nozzles (two indicated); 6) gearbox; 7) differential; 8) fuel tank; 9) spare tire.