Pre-War Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Cars demonstrated.
W. F. Moss drives fearlessly to win Seaman Trophies Race in his 1936 E.R.A.
PRE-WAR RACING CAR. POST-WAR TRANSPORTER.—The sight and sound of the W125 G. P. Mercedes-Benz at Oulton Park aroused nostalgic memories on the part of those old enough to remember the Auto-Union/Mercedes-Benz battles at Donington. Almost as impressive was the 300 SL 100-m.p.h. Mercedes transporter on which the W125 was driven to Cheshire!
THE Oulton Park Richard Seaman Trophies Race Meeting of the Vintage S.C.C. on June 28th was quite an occasion. Apart from the usual races and Concours d’Elegance for vintage and historic cars, two Mercedes-Benz pre-war Grand Prix cars from the Golden Age of this type of motor racing were brought to England front the Daimler-Benz museum at Stuttgart, and demonstrated to a big crowd of awed spectators by Tony Brooks and Peter Collins. This unique demonstration is owed to the initiative of Laurence Pomeroy, with the enthusiastic co-operation of Mercedes-Benz.
The Mercedes-Benz demonstration
It seemed too good to be true when the V.S.C.C. announced that it intended to have a W125 and a W163 Mercedes-Benz running at its Oulton Park Route Meeting, to honour the memory of the late Richard Seaman, who was killed at Spa in 1939 when driving in the Mercedes-Benz team. Fangio and Moss were mentioned as possible drivers but it seemed impossible that we should ever see and hear (and smell!) these fantastic cars in action again—they had, of course, shown English enthusiasts a new standard of motor racing when they, and the Auto-Union team, which beat them, raced at Donington Park in 1937 and 1938.
However, when we received an invitation to attend a party and see these cars at the Mercedes-Benz showrooms in Albemarle Street we realised that, thanks to Pomeroy and the powerful V.S.C.C., the dream was about to become reality. And there in the showrooms they stood a 646-b.h.p. supercharged 5.66-litre straight-eight W125, for which 200 m.p.h. was quoted, and a 1938/9 W163, the two-stage blown vee-12 2.96-litre engine of which gives a tool 483 b.h.p. at 7.800 r.p.m. and propells this 17.6 cwt. car at some 195 m.p.h. The W163 had the 1939-style barred radiator opening and both cars were completely original and quite immaculate.
We saw that Continental had made new Ballon tyres for the occasion—6.00-19 “Extra” for the front wheels, 7.00-19 “Special” for the back wheels of each Mercedes—and were told that Esso had mixed the required fuel, 59 gallons of it for each car. The 3-litre burns a brew of 86% methanol, 8% acetone, 4% nitro-benzine and 2% diethyl-ether, while the bigger Mercedes prefers 32% motor benzine, 4% motor gasolene, 24% ethanol and 4% methanol, so the pungent smells that once hung about the woods at Donington seemed assured.
We drove on the Thursday evening to Oulton Park, on Friday, when Tony Brooks and Peter Collins, who had finally been signed-on to drive the Mercedes-Benz (at, it was said, £850 each) were to try the W125 and W163 for size, rain was flooding from a still, grey sky. However, as we swung into the Paddock, there, on that fabulous 300SL 100.m.p.h transporter, stood the 5.6-litre car, and there was the 3-litre in a Mercedes canvas-topped lorry. Karl Kling was there, silver-haired and immaculate, to supervise unloading, preparation and practice.
After being fuelled from heavy steel churns, much of the dismal morning was spent pushing and towing head-mechanic Werner about in the W125, trying to start its engine. This would fire, then fluff out. The bonnet top being off the whole engine because soaked, but the trouble was traced to fuel-starvation and the big silver car was returned to its shed, to the consternation of a blackbird which had a nest there.
They then tried to put the 5.6-litre’s bonnet on the 3-litre, found the correct one, after which the W163 started easily. Now it was time for Brooks and Collins, who had arrived, respectively in Morris Minor 1000 and Ford Zephyr, to do some work. Collins went out first, in the unrelenting rain, and reduced his time from 2 min. 26 sec. to 2 min. 22 sec. by our timing, in filthy conditions. He used mostly second and third in the four-speed box, found power to come in with a wallop at 5.500 r.p.m. and went up to 7,000 r.p.m. “There’s enough power to take you from here to Scotland,” reflected Collins, as he resumed his Tyrolean hat on the front of his head and a windbreaker over his blue overalls. “From five-five, whoops,” said Peter. He found the steering light, which came as a surprise in view of the bent-arms driving position, and the brakes o.k.
Now it was Brooks’ turn, for although Mercedes-Benz had decided he should drive the W125, it was still sick. He lapped, by our watch, at 2 mm. 14.8 sec. on his third circuit, but, unused to a gear-change which, to hint, was wrong way round, missed a cog on lap five, dropping to 2 min. 17.6 sec. Incidentally, the drivers were unaccustomed to central throttle-pedals on both the cars.
At a Press conference Collins estimated that he had reached 115 m.p.h. (6,500 r.p.m.) in third gear along the straight. He tried fourth but got wheelspin and promptly gave that up! Neither driver used fifth speed. He thought the pre-war drivers were no more skilful then the present-day G.P. drivers, but were physically tougher. He disliked the cramped driving position and found the steering more direct than he is used to. Otherwise both drivers liked the car and found it more like modern G.P. cars than they had expected Collins saying it was similar to taming the V16 B.R.M.
All afternoon the German mechanics, wearing long blue coats, like butchers, and American peaked skull caps, toiled on the big car. Other cars arrived for scrutineering. A scruffy E-type 30/98 Vauxhall with oil drum for a petrol tank, bent dumbiron cross-member and sketchy front wings was rejected in spite of Bentley f.w.b. E.R.A., Alta, Bentley, 30/98 and exotic vintage “specials” appeared, but the Mercedes-Benz held the centre of interest.
After normal practice a broken key in the gear-type fuel pump of the W125 had been replaced, and now the big engine ran healthily, warmed-up by Werner at 1,800 r.p.m. Some aluminium paint on the bonnet caught fire, otherwise all was well. Hard plugs were put in and as Werner is not thought sufficiently fast to lap on these, we awaited the arrival of Brooks from a party in Chester. It was still wet, but Tony drove bravely, getting down to 2 min. 12.6 sec. on some consistent lappery. Kling waved his umbrella and the big Mercedes came in. Brooks was obviously greatly intrigued. He said at first he couldn’t understand the vibration, until he realised it was the back wheels spinning—they never stopped spinning, no matter in which gear! He used the three higher gears in the four-speed box. No sideways motoring was indulged in, 250 h.p. at 2.000 r.p.m. sufficing. In fact, Brooks experimented with 5.000 r.p.m. in third the rev.-counter bore a yellow line at this speed and a red one at 6,000 r.p.m. He liked the steering, found the brakes good (but wasn’t sure if the front or back wheels were locking), but was able, he emphasised, to appreciate the development that had gone into the 1938 cars.
On the Saturday morning Collins was allowed to try the 5.6-litre car. He put in a splendid 1 min. 57.6 sec. lap on the damp course, and climbed out to describe it as making the V16 B.R.M. feel like an Austin Seven. “What a vehicle” said Peter, with much feeling he had remained in second and third gears. On a drying track, Brooks, removing his blue duffle coat, had another go, first reminding the ebullient Collins that he should have tried the W163 in the rain! Kling soon brought Brooks in, but not before he had gone round in 1 min. 58 sec., or at 84.23 m.p.h.
The demonstration proper came during the afternoon. First the spectators were able to see the immaculate high-speed transporter do a lap with one of the racing cars on its back. Then Kling, wearing his cap with 1955 T.T. badge (it blew off), started out to demonstrate the W163. He got just round Old Hall Corner when the engine died.
The fuel-feed was defective again. This time the mechanics removed the pump with the car in the escape road and found that a tooth had broken. However, it was decided that the thing would work, so the Mercedes was hastily brought back to the Paddock on the transporter. In due time both Mercedes appeared, Brooks in the 5.6-litre, Collins in the 3-litre. They indulged in a mock race, waving one another by on the back leg where the spectators couldn’t see this subterfuge. Then they changed over, and this time we clocked Collins at 2 min. 4.2 sec. in the 5.6-litre car. The V.S.C.C. timekeeper has issued the following times.
It was all the greatest fun and if three Mercedes-Benz and three Auto-Unions made snore. sound and smell at Donington before the war and naturally went faster, this was a very worth-while V.S.C.C. occasion. At a presentation to Kling and the Mercedes-Benz personnel (with tankards for the drivers) at the President’s luncheon, it was suggested that the cars may be demonstrated again. Next year, perhaps, the 1914 G.P. Mercedes could be brought, perhaps to run in a cavalcade of G.P. racer, and how nice if a match-race or a time-trial could be staged between the W125 Mercedes-Benz and a V16 B.R.M. Maybe Laurence Pomeroy will even take this in his stride?
The meeting proper
First race of the day was a 5-lap handicap. There were the inevitable non-starters, including Evans’ 1925 Serivens Special, which has a genuine 1,850-c.c. Parry Thomas engine and which used to run at Brooklands as “No, No, Nanette.” Dawson’s long-stroke 12/50 Alvis was driven with plenty of spirit and lead until the last lap, from Bathe’s familiar Riley Nine tourer and Beaumont’s 1934 Riley Nine. Then the guile of the handicappers caught up with the leaders and Lord Dunleath’s fine 4 1/2-litre Lagonda won, at 69.06 m.p.h. from Dawson and Batho. The Lagonda also made fastest lap at 70.59 m.p.h. The front-wheel patter of McElligott’s 1927 Austin Seven tourer had to be seen to be believed, and Quartermain changed down in OId Hall Corner to hurry his famous 30/98 Vauxhall along. The only real accident of the day befell Nigel Arnold-Forster, who tail-slid his corners in his aluminium 1925 Anzani Frazer-Nash, beating Gahagan’s smoking G.P. Bugatti, until Nigel slid too far–we commiserate him over the damage sustained by his beautiful car.
Vintage sports cars next indulged in a 5-lap class scratch race. Burton’s 1927 4 1/2-litre modified Bentley led all the way, looking very steady (perhaps a de Dion axle suits it after all!). It won easily at 71.96 m.p.h. from McDonald’s 1927/30 4 1/2-litre Bentley, Miller’s 1927 30/98. Vauxhall holding third place, followed by Allen in the A.C.-Nash. Burton contrived a lap at 72.97 m.p.h. The class winners were Harris’ Austin Seven, Brown’s Frazer-Nash, the A.C.Nash and Burton’s Bentley.
In the next 5-lap handicap, watched with awe by Kling, Batho’s Riley led for three laps, then Gibson’s 1932 Frazer-Nash took the lead, only to be overtaken on the straight a lap from home by Richards in the scratch 2,143-c.c. Riley Special, which won at 87.61 m.p.h. and lapped at 69.91 m.p.h. Morris’ 6 1/2-litre Bentley was conducted with spirit into third place. It had passed, on the inside going into the Cascades, Gardner’s 100-m.p.h. low-chassis Invicta, which ran its bearings.
The big race of the day was the 23-lap 100-kilometre Richard Seaman Memorial Trophies Race for Vintage and Historic Racing Cars. Douglas Hull’s 2-litre E.R.A. led away and for some laps he and Bill Moss in the 1 1/2-litre E.R.A. “Remus” indulged in a furious duel, neither driver giving an unnecessary inch to his rival. On the second lap, clipping the verge, Moss got by Hull on the inside coming through the Cascades, but the bigger E.R.A. accelerated back into the lead. Eventually, however, it became clear that last year’s winner was going to win again, as Moss imperturbably lapped car after car. Walter’s E.R.A. was a lap behind and Burton’s Bentley and McDonald’s Bentley finally outpaced Chapman’s E.R.A. Little’s Alta went sick, as did Kitchener’s understeering F.W.D. Alvis, while Peter Binns just toured round silently in his 1929 Riley Nine. So Moss won easily at 76.88 m.p.h., lapping all except Huffs E.R.A., Waller third, he and Burton doing only 22 laps. Moss made fastest lap, at 80.28 m.p.h. Burton won the vintage section, at 71.27 m.p.h. (lapping at 73.09 m.p.h.) from McDonald, Tozer’s Amilcar Six third, and Miller’s fine 30/98 Vauxhall beat both Bentleys on handicap. Crowther was slow in the 2.9 monoposto Alfa-Romeo, rebuilt since Vessey’s crash last year, Lockhart’s M.G. lost a vital bolt and much oil, wisely retiring, and the E.R.A.-Delage and Rowley’s V12 Delage held fifth place before retiring. Tozer’s Amilcar hung on to but couldn’t pass Hayward’s 6C Maserati, which, as usual, was more of a 3 1/2 C.
The customary 5-lap handicap for G.N. and Frazer-Nash cars took place. There was an impressive line-up but some of the charm of this race departed when Kippax’s 1921 G.N. wasn’t allowed to start and when Davenport’s 1 1/2-litre G.N. (not Spider) was a non-starter due to a broken mainshaft. Brown’s 1930 Meadows-Nash came through to win at 67.37 m.p.h. from Gibson’s 1932 Meadows-Nash and Geoghegan’s Aston-Martin-hybrid. Vaughan’s single-seater Fane-Nash was driven by Richardson; it managed only fourth place from scratch, but fastest lap, at 73.09 m.p.h.
After the Mercedes-Benz demonstration there was yet another 5-lap handicap, won, after a dicey finish, by Peter Moore’s blue 1930 Ulster Austin, at 58.57 m.p.h., from McArdle’s 1929 Riley Nine and Lord Dunleath’s big Lagonda. Symondson was out-handicapped in his impressive 3.3 Bugatti, but had the compensation of fastest lap, at 11.92 m.p.h.
The final race, a 5-lap scratch affair for historic and vintage racing cars, was tremendously stirring. Moss was out to show how fast his E.R.A. “Remiss” really is. He drove it absolutely on the limit, doing a rousing lap at 82.41 m.p.h., to win very comfortably, at 81.15 m.p.h. from Waller’s E.R.A. Jeddere Fisher, in his first race with the 2-litre E.R.A., took third place after Harris, in Little’s 1 1/2-litre Alfa, had fallen back, misfiring.–W. B.
This wasn’t the first appearance of the W163 Mercedes-Benz since the war; Mercedes-Benz ran a team of three of these cars at Buenos Aires in 1951, after practising at the Nürburgring. They were driven by Fangio, Lang and Kling but in the two races were beaten by Gonzales’ 2-litre V12 Ferrari.
Mercedes-Benz were not so efficient at repairs as they used to be. Neubauer would have beaten the mechanics over the head for trying to file without a vice and for getting the W125’s engine so wet through sending it out without a bonnet top. But it was only a demonstration.
It is interesting that Baron von Korff, in charge of the Mercedes cars, used Neubauer’s oId training-flag for signalling to the drivers, while head-mechanic Werner wore a bronze pin presented to hint after 30 years’ service at Nürburgring.
There was an amusing incident when Chief Marshal Cunliffe forcefully told everyone to stop smoking in the Mercedes-Benz shed, unaware that a German mechanic was working on the fuel system with a cigarette alight!
When Kling announced fuel shortage as the cause of the W125 coming to rest on his demonstration run. Cunliffe motored to the spot in his 30/98 Vauxhall, which, apparently in sympathy, refused to restart.
The Mercedes-Benz mechanics were invited into the President’s tent before lunch. When asked what they would drink they said “Beer”—probably the only drink they could ask for in English!
Another “new” 30/98 Vauxhall, apart from the one mentioned previously, which didn’t run, was a rather pretty E-type with combination of original OE and Morris front brakes.
At the party in London we were allowed to sniff the “boot-polish” fuel in the W123’s tank. We suggest Essex make up scent-bottles of this brew, for presentation at their enthusiast-friends at Christmas!
During the afternoon immaculate cars successful in the Concours d’Elegance would motor past, including Brian Morgan’s very significant B.D.M. Special, a closed 8-litre Bentley into which the owner has installed a 74-litre Duesenburg engine. Altogether the Concours d’Elegance had 80 entries. The winners were
1st: J. S. Box (1918 Daimler).
2nd: P. A. Mann (1926 Bentley).
3rd: A. C. M. Miller (1927 Sunbeam).
1st: Major W. J. Rodington 1932 2.3 Alfa).
2nd: V. Stanhary (1932/4 1750 Alfa).
3rd: B. Morgan (1931 B.D.M. Special).