Fantastic speed and acceleration the outstanding features of this six-cylinder fuel-injection coupe, tested over nearly 1,400 Miles in England and Scotland.
Most people will agree that the most fantastic motor car from the performance point of view which is available in the ordinary way is the Mercedes-Benz 300SL from Stuttgart. Produced a few years ago by the famous German firm as an essay in space-frame construction and to discover and subsequently demonstrate how the post-war 3-litre six-cylinder engine designed for the 300 and 300S Mercedes-Benz could be developed into a reliable fuel-injection, semi-competition power unit, the 300SL was successful in finishing first and second at Le Mans in 1952 and 1-2-3 at Berne, and winning the sports-car race (in open form) at Nurburg that year, besides being second in the Mille Miglia to a 4.1-litre Ferrari, after victory in the Carrera Pan-America race the previous year.
Since then this 300SL has been in prestige-production and over 1,000 have been sold, for this exceedingly eye-worthy, fast and, above all, accelerative coupe has proved a ready means of parting wealthy Americans from their dollars. Motor Sport has not been unaware of this fabulous car. In the issue for November, 1954, we published impressions of trying one at Silverstone. In the October issue last year our Continental Correspondent recounted his experiences of motoring to the Arctic Circle in a 300SL, and in August, 1955, R. R. C. Walker described his experiences as the first person to own one of these cars in England. We now have pleasure in presenting a full road-test report on this, the fastest of the production Mercedes-Benz models, with particular reference to motoring on British roads.
In Detail . . .
To remark that wherever it stops the 300SL causes interest and astonishment, from comment by small boys on its 160-m.p.h. speedometer to admiration for its bonnet full of complex machinery, is to state the obvious. The lines of the car are handsome and well blended, and the “gull’s wing” doors provide that touch of the futuristic in keeping with its character. In fact, this Mercedes-Benz provides comfortable accommodation for two persons and their holiday luggage, with a maximum speed of 145 to 160+ m.p.h. according to axle ratio, with acceleration “out of this world” and a fuel consumption of 80-octane petrol of at least 15 m.p.g. from an engine developing 190 b.h.p. and running safely up to 6,400 r.p.m.
Access to the interior is through the ingenious doors, which swing up under the action of spring-struts on hinges at the centre of the roof, their pull-out handles being revealed by pressing in a knurled projection on the door. It is necessary to climb in and out over wide door sills, a construction made necessary by the shape of the space-frame tubing, which requires modest lady passengers to wear slacks, shorts or jeans! On the inside, similar pull-out handles release the doors, which swing up automatically, safety-catches being provided for locking them at high speed — the apparent disadvantage being that in the event of an accident unconscious occupants are virtually trapped and that should the driver somehow contrive to get the car onto its roof neither door can be opened — but those who motor fast or fly usually possess an outlook suitably fatalistic not to let such morbid considerations mar their pleasure! The seats of the 300SL are separate, tartan-upholstered, easily-adjustable buckets, one each side of the transmission tunnel; they are hard, a little short in the squab, yet generally very comfortable, more particularly as they hold the occupants securely throughout the “g”-loadings imposed by the car’s immense performance. There is good leg room, sitting high with one’s feet in wells in the floor.
The dash layout is somewhat “American” in its employment of plating and lots of shining, unlabelled knobs, but these minor controls are of good quality. Spaced right across the plated strip at the base of the dash, from left to right of this left-hand-drive car, are a pair of sliding controls to regulate air supply to left of the windscreen and driver’s legs, choke, parking-lights switch, dashlamp switch, lamps switch (which has four positions: all off, electrics, including “blinkers,” other than lamps, side and tail-lamps, headlamps), Bomora ignition key, which when turned operates the starter, two-speed wiper switch for the self-parking wipers, sliding controls for heater, passenger’s horn-button, cigar-lighter, switch to operate heater fan for use in heating or ventilating the car when it is stationary, and sliding controls for passenger’s screen and leg-temperature control. Additional controls are the ignition advance and retard (not normally used by the driver), reserve fuel pump switch, which also acts as a means of starting the engine if it is reluctant when hot, together with warning lights for choke-out, “blinkers” in use, headlamps full-beam and dynamo charge. The passenger is reminded of the potentialities of the ride by a “300SL” motif in front of him or her, and beside this is an accurate Vdo clock. Immediately before the driver in a hooded upsweep of the dash are the Vdo 4-in. speedometer (reading to 160 m.p.h., with trip and total milometers) and rev.-counter, the latter recording up to 7,000 r.p.m. Both these instruments have steady, clear white needles which move round the dials in the same plane. There are four small Vdo instruments for fuel contents (gauge calibrated in R, ½ , F), oil pressure, which varies very considerably with engine speed, oil temperature and water temperature. Normally, oil temperature is about 140 deg. F. and water temperature 175 deg. F. The oil pressure at high r.p.m. is 70/75 lb. sq. in.
The 16½-in. two-spoke steering wheel hinges under for easy access to and exit from the driving seat by pulling a plunger under the boss. In its hub, proudly displaying the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star, is the push-button for the reasonably-penetrating horn. Vertical grab-handles are placed at each end of the dash and there is a covered ashtray (for smokers of Havanna cigars?) before the passenger on the off side of the deep dash sill. Further handles enable the doors to be pulled down easily after you have entered. The central mirror has a flick control to obviate dazzle but, mounted on the dash sill, provides a poor view and would probably be better hung from the roof — maybe the excuse is that nothing follows a 300SL for long!
Sitting at the wheel of a 300SL you find yourself well to the left, with a great expanse of motor car to the off side, the more embarrassing because the body is appreciably wider than the track, being, indeed, 5 ft. 10½ in. There is excellent forward visibility over the long but low bonnet with its two “power-bulges,” that on the near side to clear the valve cover, but the screen pillars are rather thick. The pedals are close spaced, so that it is possible to “heel-and-toe” when changing gear while braking. The hand-brake, which has an adjacent adjuster, is for parking only, being far forward on the left. The rigid remote-control central gear-lever is rather far back for the right hand; the gear positions are marked on the knob and reverse is well over to the left of the forward gear locations, which are conventional, except that this is a left-hand-drive vehicle, so that top and third are off-side. The lever is not spring-loaded.
Under the dash, from left to right, are the tommy-handle for releasing the bonnet and the screen-squirt knob. The interior lamp is above the screen, between the sun-vizors. Another tommy-handle under the dash opens a scuttle ventilator. At night, with the dash lamp off, all dials save that of the clock remain faintly and very effectively visible. The only warning light which dazzles is that of the “blinkers” reminder.
Luggage accommodation consists of a platform behind the seats which will comfortably accommodate a couple of large suitcases and many smaller objects. The lockable boot lid lifts, and is secured by a prop, to reveal the fuel tank and filler, spare wheel, and tools, but coats can be packed in round the wheel. Some water entered the boot in heavy rain. At the rear of the roof are two open ventilator ducts, so placed aerodynamically that no water or draughts appeared able to enter, and the car never, under any conditions, misted-up screen, side or rear windows. Couple this with a heating and ventilating system the equal in efficiency and adjustment to that of a luxury air-liner, augmented by opening panels, with effective catches, in the side windows — moreover, for summer motoring the whole glass panel of the window is detachable by pulling out a peg — and it will be evident that after lowering yourself into this impressive Mercedes-Benz and locking yourself in, you are certain of comfort. The body is commendably silent and the ingenious doors proved rain-proof in a tropical deluge, save for a little seepage onto one door sill, which didn’t reach the occupants, and water which reached the driver’s seat via the heating ducts. Considerable draught entered round the hand-brake, however, and towards the end of the test the steering column started to squeak. Other sounds were the ventilator fan as it was rotated by the airstream and the loud click of the reserve fuel pump. The driver’s door-catch tended to jam, having “picked-up” in its socket. After the car has been running at low speeds in traffic considerable petrol vapour is smelt and the engine “fluffs” until it is cleared by faster driving.
The alligator bonnet hinges at the front, being held open by a strut, to reveal the mysteries of the fuel-injection engine and its equally-mysterious auxiliaries. The engine is inclined to the near side to secure a low bonnet line and the width of the valve cover is impressive, and reminiscent of commercial-vehicle practice. The dip-stick is combined with the oil filler for the dry-sump oil tank and, like the coolant filler for the remote header-tank, is readily accessible.
You are now acquainted with the creature-comforts of the 300SL and require a brief introduction to its technicalities.
The chassis is a multi-tube, longitudinally-stressed, space-frame with the lightweight Sindelfingen body in unit with it. The weight of this structure is quoted as 2,556 lb. Front suspension is by wishbones and coil-springs, rear independent suspension by coil-springs and swing-axles. The 10.23-in. 2LS hydraulic brakes are vacuum-servo assisted and have wide steel drums with alloy turbo-fin coolers. The 3-litre, 88 by 85-mm., 2.996-c.c. engine has a Bosch PES 6KL 70/320 R2 fuel-injection pump and Bosch coil ignition. The overhead valves are actuated by an o.h. camshaft driven by a twin roller chain. A dry-sump lubrication system, with oil cooler, is employed, the oil tank on the near side of the engine having a capacity of 4 gallons. Pressurised pump cooling is used, with a belt-driven four-bladed fan, the total coolant capacity being 4.1 gallons, and a thermostat being incorporated. The balanced crankshaft runs in seven plain bearings. The Bosch injection pump and injectors are not visible from above, being on the near side of the cylinder block, but very imposing is the big air-intake manifold on the off side. The Bosch distributor is at the front of the engine on the near side, supplying the Bosch W280T2 plugs on the same side. The engine develops 240 b.h.p. at the clutch when not driving such auxiliaries as the dynamo, etc., but the more normally quoted output is 190 b.h.p. at 6,400 r.p.m., with 6,000 r.p.m. safe for continuous use; for example in the indirect gears. The compression-ratio is 8.55 to 1. The gearbox has synchromesh of the baulk-ring type on all gears, and axle ratios of 3.42 to 1 and 3.25 to 1 are available on request in addition to the standard ratio of 3.64 to 1, as on the car we had for test. Tyres are 6.50 by 15 and either sports or racing types are fitted. Fuel feed from the 28-gallon fuel tank is by a Bosch FP/KLA22 K1 pump, and the fuel-injector operates at a pressure of 568-682 lb./sq. in. The exhaust system is on the off side, twin clusters merging into a 2 ⅝ in. tail-pipe.
The air intake at the front of the car incorporates the three pointed star and the name “Mercedes-Benz” appears on the body on the driver’s side only. The wheelbase is 7 ft. 10½ in., ground clearance approximately 5 in., and the turning circle approximately 37¾ ft. The car comes with an excellent instruction book and some intriguing tools, including a gauge and supply of weights for wheel-balancing.
In action . . .
You have now become familiar with this Mercedes-Benz in the garage and are free to take it out on the road. Even before an opportunity arises to open it up it impresses as a real motor car — decidedly! In second there is a loud, rather rough, gear-noise, which increases to a musical howl in third, which can be held, incidentally, to nearly 100 m.p.h., after changing up at around 70. Engine speed goes up instantly and cleanly as the throttle is opened, sending the needle of the rev.-counter surging round the dial. The acceleration is “out of this world,” for apart from the power developed, the power curve is such that the thrust goes on without a break, so that even from 100 m.p.h. onwards there is this sense of being hurled forward, the exhaust note remaining constant until at 5,500 r.p.m in third gear the noise of gears, engine and exhaust is that of a true competition car. Mere figures cannot convey the vivid, continued acceleration of the 300SL, which enables 90/100 m.p.h. to be reached almost everywhere and 110/125 m.p.h. to come up along short straights. Twice we reached 5,700 r.p.m. in top gear, equal to 126 ½ m.p.h. with the standard back-axle ratio, once near Sailsbury and once on an open road in Scotland. On an arterial road near London 6,100 r.p.m., or over 135 m.p.h., was recorded. The maximum depends on traffic conditions and the driver’s disposition, up to an absolute of about 146 m.p.h. In terms of figures, this Mercedes-Benz achieves 0-50 m.p.h. in 5.7 sec., 0-70 m.p.h. in 8.5 sec., and 0-100 m.p.h. or a s.s. ¼-mile in a shade over 16 sec. Even more impressive is its ability to increase speed from 50 to 70 m.p.h. in second gear in a mere 4 sec., or to go from 60 to 80 m.p.h. in third gear in a matter of 5.1 sec., after which 100 m.p.h. is reached, in top gear, after less than 8 sec. have elapsed, and even from “the ton,” a velocity of two-miles-a-minute can be achieved after another 9 sec. have gone by.
Yet the acceleration, accompanied by a healthy power-roar from under the broad bonnet, is even more impressive than the sheer speed of the car. Rob Walker aptly compared driving a fast car on English roads with making huffs at draughts, and in a 300SL you have the best means possible of “huffing” in safety. The sense of being propelled forward with undiminished acceleration up to two-miles-a-minute if necessary, by the unleashed smooth power of an engine which feels completely reliable, is not only an exhilarating sensation for the occupants, and one which makes passing other vehicles a very fleeting, and therefore safe, operation — it looks exceptionally impressive to those you pass!
At speed the wind noise is very low, unless the ventilator windows are open, while it is possible to converse comfortably when cruising at 100 m.p.h.
The steering is accurate but heavy towards lock, pulling against the castor action, although the latter is not self-centring. There is an element not of lost-motion, for there is none, but rather of sponginess at very low speeds, but in action the steering becomes lighter and, geared 2½ turns lock-to-lock, enables the car to be placed accurately. It is rather “dead” steering, hardly any road-wheel motion being transmitted, and no column vibration. The weight distribution is such that this Mercedes-Benz needs concentration to keep it straight, for it tends to wander, and once it departs from the intended course it asks some time before the driver can coax it back. The brakes, while stopping this 24-cwt. car very reasonably from three-figure speeds, especially if aided by changing down, as the handbook recommends, are rather slow, then fierce, in action, as the servo takes effect, and consequently to apply them hard on a slippery surface is a practice to be avoided whenever possible. Too hard an application of the brakes produces a smell of hot lining within the car and tends to cause snaking. The brakes also squeaked lightly at times.
The suspension is quite soft, enabling the car to be driven fast over bad surfaces, but there is a slight penalty to pay in respect of some roll when cornering and over undulations the action of the swing-axle rear suspension could be discerned.
The clutch is light and showed no desire to slip, and the gear change is pleasant but requires decisive (and therefore not lightning-quick) movements, too hurried a cog-swap without correct synchronisation of crankshaft and layshaft speed resulting in an audible “clonk.”
The exhaust note is never objectionable and the 300SL can be driven unobtrusively through towns, only the music of the lower gears revealing to the occupants the car’s impatience for clear roads. Naturally, with nearly 200 true horse-power available it is necessary to open up with discretion on slippery surfaces after which that shattering pick-up comes in to propel you relentlessly forward to whatever cruising speed is appropriate.
Power-sliding corners is one of the joys a skilled driver can indulge in with this car, and it is significant that between Glasgow and Fort William, in pouring rain, a gale, and at night, we averaged 54 m.p.h. for an hour’s driving on roads so twisting that top gear was seldom if ever engaged, thirty miles being covered in half-an-hour of similar motoring.
Previous to this we had driven from Basingstoke to Land’s End at an average speed of better than 56 m.p.h., in spite of much lorry traffic, roads covered in places with melting snow, and a six-minute stop for petrol. The best hour’s run accounted for 63 miles and obviously, on clearer occasions, particularly late at night, the 300SL would prove capable of 70-m.p.h. averages in safety on narrow British roads. Yet should Auntie borrow it, she can drive along at 700 r.p.m in a top gear which gives 22.2 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. without anxiety on the machinery’s part, acceleration, thanks no doubt to fuel injection, being clean as soon as the accelerator is depressed. No doubt, however, she, as we were, would be awed by the width of the car — it is necessary to remember this when taking roundabouts or meeting other vehicles, for the body is appreciably wider than the track and with left-hand drive this is sometimes a little disturbing.
The 7½-in. inbuilt Bosch headlamps are adequate for using the available performance at night; they have a foot dipper.
Apart from the aforementioned “fluffing” and smell of petrol after prolonged slow running, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL functioned with entire reliability while it was in our hands, which was for a matter of 1,348 miles. In this distance five pints of oil were required and the consumption of Esso Extra, in very fast driving, worked out at 15.9 m.p.g. The engine always commenced impeccably with momentary use of the choke, and didn’t prove temperamental when hot. The fuel reserve of approximately two gallons is useful and although no warning light is provided the noise of the reserve pump working is sufficient reminder. Apart from the few items listed earlier the only faults were occasional reluctance of the screen wipers to self-park at the first movement of the switch, and momentary blockage of a squirt, which cured itself The Dunlop tyres proved silent on corners, held their pressure and the racing-pattern treads showed no wear. Incidentally, conditions during the test included dry, wet and snow-ridged roads, torrential rain, mist and gale-force winds, not to mention scores of miles of heavy traffic.
Although no cubby-hole or door pockets are provided, the wide door sills and transmission tunnel provide useful stowage and so stable is the car that small objects “stay put” in these places reasonably well, although when driven really fast this car is one of the few which, in spite of its comfortable ride, can tire a passenger by the sudden backwards, forwards and sideways movements imposed.
It is truly difficult to convey on paper the fascination, amounting almost to awe, that this car imposes on those who drive it or are driven in it. It is the modern and logical equivalent of the 36/220 and 38/250 models of the past and therefore is a typical Mercedes-Benz. It is not for Auntie because, although she could drive it slowly without harming it, that would be such a shocking waste. It is not for portly business men with fat stomachs full of good food and wine topped by a layer of beer. It is for experienced drivers who like to motor at speeds upwards of 90 m.p.h. whenever possible. There are some experiences money cannot buy but you can have a Mercedes-Benz 300SL for £4,651 . . . – W.B.
We follow this road-test report, on the 300SL with an account by R. R. C. Walker of his visit to Stuttgart to take delivery of his second of these cars, a modified version with special camshaft, lightweight body, etc.:–
I would strongly recommend this trip to the Daimler-Benz factory to any car enthusiast who is contemplating a short holiday abroad. It is very inexpensive as you can fly there for £16, and most enjoyable, but to get the full pleasure you must buy a 300SL for the journey back or, better still, take a friend with you and buy two.
Our visit took place because the factory had just made two 300SLs with special lightweight bodies, 176 lb. lighter than normal, special camshafts and harder racing springs and shock-absorbers. One was offered to Jack Atkins and one to me, at the normal price, although I believe they cost the firm quite a bit more to produce. We were both already enthusiastic SL owners, and I think this was why we had the first offer. As far as Jack Atkins was concerned, he told me that he had very few vices, he did not drink, nor smoke, and he only had one wife at a time, but he did love beautiful motor cars, and if they were sufficiently good then he liked two of them, so he did not take any time to make up his mind and say yes. Personally I only had one minor problem before I made my decision, and that was how to pay for it. I thought I could raise enough by selling my first 300SL, and if this did not work all I had to do was to mortgage the house, sell my wife’s jewellery and borrow all her money, and then all I would have to pay would be the alimony that the judge would award if it came to the Divorce Court. So it took me a good five minutes to make up my mind and accept the offer.
In about ten days time Owen Williams, of Woking Motors, my Mercedes distributor, rang me up to say the car was ready for collection. We decided that we would fly to Stuttgart and Jack Atkins’ would take Owen Williams with him, and I was going to take Stan Jolliffe, my manager and late head of our Racing Department and then the secretary of the British Racing Mechanics’ Club. We all met at London Airport and found that we were to go by Viscount to Zurich and then change aircraft for the short hop to Stuttgart. I must say that since the war I have never been very keen on flying, but this Viscount was a revelation and I had never felt anything smoother or more comfy. I noticed the odd whine the motors made at the start, so I was not surprised when just before we arrived one of the crew came out with an enormous key about 4 ft. long and proceeded to tear up the floorboards and start winding. I naturally thought that we were running on clockwork and that it needed winding up, but not a bit of it. It turned out that one of the flaps refused to go down and the key was for winding it down by hand. When I used to pilot an aircraft, if one flap came down on its own the aeroplane usually turned upside down, but now apparently nothing so entertaining happens.
After a short stop at Zurich, where you can buy almost anything in the world in the airport, and for any currency, we took off for Stuttgart and arrived 45 minutes later, to be greeted by Herr Rapp, the Daimler-Benz Export Manager for Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Siam and all stations East. Herr Rapp was in West Africa before the war and during the war he had been interned, eventually ending up in the Isle of Man, where he had learnt the British tea habit. We had been warned that tea in Germany cost £1 a pound, so we had all come armed with some as gifts. For myself, I can’t stand the stuff and when, just after the war, I was posted by the Admiralty to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, I was totally at a loss as to how to pass my time, as a non-tea-drinker is entirely misplaced in a Ministry.
On our arrival Herr Rapp packed us all into his 180 diesel, and drove us straight to the Daimler-Benz disposal factory about 10 miles out of Stuttgart, where our cars had just completed their final tests, and were awaiting us. They were not clean, I may say; this was the only black mark we awarded the factory. Although we both had 300SLs already, we had to go through each point and check all equipment before we were allowed out of the works with our cars, from whence we drove straight to our hotel, which had been previously reserved for us by Daimler-Benz.
We had an excellent dinner in the hotel and after a few beers in the bar, Jack and I decided to go to bed, whilst the other two thought they would sample the night life of Stuttgart. About 2.30 a.m. I heard somebody slip outside and, amidst shouts of “the favourite’s down,” I knew the English contingent was once more at full strength, or at any rate more or less, and above proof I guessed.
At 9 a.m. sharp the next morning Herr Rapp came to collect us and we followed him with our two cars to the Unterturkheim factory in Stuttgart, where we were to start by being allowed an interview with Herr Uhlenhaut, who is the Technical Director and manages all the racing side; although only a young man he was with the Racing Department some time before the war, and is also quite good enough to be one of the works racing drivers, but he is considered too valuable to the firm to allow him to get up to such pranks. Herr Uhlenhaut was born in England and so he speaks perfect English. He more or less started by saying ” Right, shoot, ask me anything you like and I will try to answer,” and I must say he really was extremely frank in his replies.
We asked many things but I have just picked out three of them that I consider of interest. We started off on tyres, as we found our cars fitted with Continentals and we wanted to know more about them. He told us that they would take a set on a 300SL and test it on the Autobahn, and they would then cut the tyre themselves to make the car behave just as they wanted it to, and when satisfied they would return the tyres to Continental and tell them to make their tyres to this pattern; and from my experience it certainly seems to be extremely successful, as they really handle beautifully, especially in the rain. I next asked Herr Uhlenhaut why Mercedes did not use disc brakes for racing and why they preferred the rather impractical wind brake. He replied that in the first place the Germans were not nearly as far ahead as the British with disc brakes and, secondly, even if they were they would still prefer the wind brake as it had added advantages of control. For instance, he said that if you were to take a course like the Swedish Grand Prix, where there was one corner which started as a very fast one, then suddenly tightened up on you; if you braked hard in the middle of the corner where it tightened up, with disc brakes, it would naturally tend to send the car out of control, but if you used your wind brake in the same position it would tend to give you more control and hold the tail down, rather than making it difficult; in fact it generally helped the cornering ability of the car. I must say this put quite a new light on the whole affair to me and I found it very interesting.
Our next question was could we buy a 300SLR? Personally I did not want to buy one, as I should not know what to do with it, and I don’t want piles of suggestions, either! But Jack Atkins reckoned he knew exactly what to do with it, and he was ready to fork out the lolly on the spot almost, if he could have one, but the reply was emphatically “No.” When we pressed for a reason, Uhlenhaut told us that it had a roller-bearing crankshaft and after roughly 2,000 miles this would be worn out and would probably need renewing; naturally, Daimler-Benz could not have their cars in private hands needing new crankshafts every few weeks. It rather emphasises the big difference between the 300SLR and the D-type Jaguar and DB3S Aston Martin, both of which can be sold on the open market to private owners. Also, I believe that prototypes at Le Mans are intended to be sold to the public in time, so this may be one of the reasons Mercedes are giving up racing, but I think the real ones are that they have got all the advertising they need for the moment from racing and if they continued winning for another year the public would probably get fed up with their continual successes and say they were spoiling the competition in racing, which would be bad advertising, instead of good. Also, to maintain their present superiority they would obviously need a new model and this would be very costly.
We were next taken around some of the factory and the Racing Department, and also given some interesting facts. After the war the factory was 87 per cent. demolished, but all the skilled workers came back there and said that, as their fathers and grandfathers had worked there, they wished to continue to do so and would not go anywhere else. So they were given one square meal a day for themselves and their families and a small retaining fee, and, although they were mechanics and not builders, they set to rebuild the place. They took a year to clear away the rubble and then they rebuilt a wonderful new factory, and now they turn out 260 cars a day. They are very particular that their metal comes exactly up to their specification, so it is carefully examined and 50 per cent. is returned; also every nut and bolt is crack tested and a large percentage not accepted. Everybody has started work by 7 a.m., including the directors, and Herr Rapp told me that although he was supposed to start work at 7 a.m. he was always in his office before, because he had so much work to do. If I had to get up at that hour I should not feel it was worth going to bed at all. We were proudly shown a picture of the late Managing Director, who had died aged 52, of overwork; I am rather surprised he lasted that long!
Our last visit was to their wonderful museum, where they have all their famous machinery dating back to 1886. It starts with Daimlers ranged on one side and Benz on the other and later, of course, they amalgamate. They started up an 1896 Benz and drove us each in turn around the museum in it; the driver was rather old and looked as if he had been in charge of the car since its birth. There is too much in the museum to try to describe it and it just must be seen to be believed.
We were then taken to lunch with Herr Willhelm, one of the Directors, and we went to the Senior Executives’ luncheon room, which is situated right on the roof of the factory with a wonderful view of the surrounding hills. When we walked in we found about 50 tables, but at ours there was a tiny flagstaff in the middle with a Union Jack flying from it, a most pleasing and thoughtful gesture, and just such a one that you might expect from this company. We discussed various subjects at luncheon, but one remark Herr Willhelm made particularly struck me, showing what an extreme regard they had for Stirling Moss, and his judgment. It was during the time that it was rumoured that Stirling was going to drive for B.R.M., and Herr Willhelm said that until then he had always thought that the B.R.M. was a joke, at which we all stared rather hard at our soup plates and someone muttered that if it was a joke it was a pretty poor one; but Herr Willhelm continued, saying that if Stirling was going to drive for them, then undoubtedly the car must be a good one. Well of course it turned out that Stirling is not going to drive for them, and we will have to await this season to see if the car is any good.
After lunch we followed Herr Rapp and he led us about ten miles out to the start of the Autobahn, where we said our final farewells and then set out, remembering our running-in figures, which worked out on my “clock” at 100 m.p.h. maximum for the first 300 miles and 125 m.p.h. for the next 600 miles; after that you work up the speed towards maximum. It was decided that I should lead all the way, but I don’t speak one word of German; in fact, Owen Williams was the only one in the party who did. The most frequent and important signs were Ein Faht and Frei Fajht, one-way and free-for-all, and Owen said I must not misinterpret this. At one stage I did and the atmosphere got very bad when I shot into a garage because it said Ein Faht which I later realised only referred to one way into the garage, so I shot out the other side back on to the Autobahn with the other SL faithfully following behind.
We covered the first 210 miles in exactly three hours, averaging 70 m.p.h., and I must say that it was one of the most tiring drives I have had. These Autobahns are very good but they carry an enormous amount of traffic, mostly lorries and trailers, and when you are approaching them at 100 m.p.h. they will put out their “wanger” without looking behind and pull out to pass right in front of you. We found several times we had to put on “the lot” to stop in time, and were fortunate it did not happen on some of the icy patches. We arrived at Cologne soon after dark and I handed over to Stan Jolliffe; Jack was muttering about it being time to call it a day as he wanted a bath, but I reckoned we should push on to Aachen as we had quite some mileage to do the following morning to catch the boat at Ostend. We spent a very pleasant night at Aachen and got on the road at about 9.30 a.m. the following morning. The last part of the journey was absolute heaven along the Brussels-Ostend road, which must be the best in Europe, and although it was raining we averaged 100 m.p.h. for the last 50 miles, and the only reason the average was not higher was because of the restricted speed owing to running-in the cars. Jack, in fact, got fed up for a short time with basking in my spray, and he came by flat-out. I was cruising along at about 120 m.p.h. and he came past at about 140 m.p.h., and the sight and sound was most impressive until I was suddenly obliterated in the spray. We arrived in Ostend at 1.30 p.m., just in good time to get the cars on board and have lunch. When we got back to England we were greeted by the usual November fog, so our average of 40 m.p.h. back to London seemed very slow after what had gone before. But I find these cars are really excellent in a very thick fog because, sitting on the left or near side, you can open your door upwards and feel your way along the pavement with your hand; perhaps they were especially designed for fog.
I had no choice with the colour of my car as it had been painted before it was offered to me, and it is rather a bright red. The other morning my wife was helping me wash the car when she suddenly said that it made her feel sick to look at the colour for a long time, and didn’t I feel the same? Well I always feel sick in the morning so I didn’t really feel any different, but we are having it painted white now, with dark blue underneath like the last one, and I find it makes it look much smaller and lower.
The only real “dice” I have had in the car went on for about twenty miles or more with a helicopter. Actually he cheated a bit because he would keep cutting the corners, but to make up for this he would go ahead at the major cross-roads, turn around and wait at about 10 ft. and beckon me on, then he would turn around and we would get at it again. But, try as I would, I could not beat him, either on acceleration or top speed, which surprised me as I was at times hitting quite high spots around the 120s. but it was when we came to the corners that he really made me feel a dissatisfied owner; but I bet I could beat him in a thick fog. — R.C.C.W.