Another Pig

After I had written “Pig in the Middle” last May I remembered that there was a fourth Mercedes racing car transporter I could have mentioned. In 1924 Mercedes entered four of its new Porsche-designed 2-litre straight-eight supercharged cars for the Italian GP at Monza, the drivers being Christian Werner, Count Giulio Masetti, Alfred Neubauer and Count Louis Zborowski. For the first time the celebrated German company had decided not to drive the cars on the road to the race.

In 1921 Max Sailer had driven a modified 28/95hp Mercedes from Stuttgart to Sicily for the Targa Florio, overcoming the considerable hazards of the post-war unpopularity of German travellers, undurable black market tyres, sparse petrol supplies, and the very poor war-torn roads. With extra tyres and spares stacked on the car, he not only arrived but finished second to Count Masetti’s Fiat, over roads almost as awful as those he had encountered on his epic journey. However, that was not the reason why Mercedes chose to transport its 1924 racing cars in trucks, over the Alps to Italy, for the Italian GP.

These 2-litre eight-cylinder Mercedes were difficult cars to drive, as Sir Henry Birkin Bt and Raymond Mays discovered when they tried one in England some years later. In the Grand Prix Zborowski was killed and at the German GP at Avus in 1926 Rosenberger lost control of his, crashing into a timing hut and killing three of the inmates. Not only that, but the blown straight-eight engines were notably difficult to start, requiring injections of ether from cold, and they ran at very high revs. In other words, real racing cars, hardly suited to a road journey.

So they were put in trucks for the long haul and Mercedes historian Karl Ludvigsen has recorded how Ferdinand Porsche paced up and down before the Monza pits in September 1924, waiting impatiently for the first of his team of new cars to arrive for the first day’s practice. One of them, presumably in the forefront of the trio of trucks, was on a new, fast racing car transporter devised by Neubauer and Werner. It was a vee-radiator Mercedes chassis, which I think would have been known in this country as the aforesaid 28/95hp model, equipped with normal running boards and mudguards, on the back of which perched one of the valuable new racing Mercedes.

Indeed, it was a close perch. Two channel-section girders humped up over the artillery back wheels of the sports Mercedes, up which the racing car had to be manouevred, until its long front dumbirons were down beneath the bench seat of the transporter, the racer’s front wheels cupping this seat. For the practice session in question, this ingenious transporter, on which the driver seems to have had no protection apart from the windscreen, arrived late in the day, having been delayed by much tyre trouble. The mechanics then had to lever the precious racing car up and off the girders that held it. The other cars arrived later, but all to no avail. Alfa Romeo P2s finished 1, 2, 3, 4 led by Antonio Ascari. Masetti’s Mercedes broke a fuel line and after Zborowski’s fatal accident Sailer flagged off his other two cars, Werner’s, and Neubauer’s then being driven by Merz.

That was the only major non-German international race in which these tricky Mercedes took part, although Rudi Carraciola and a few other drivers managed to tame them, with good results. Whether it had been intended to build further ungainly 28/95hp transporters to carry the rest of the 1924 team cars is not known; it is more likely that Neubauer saw one as enough, for rapid transport of the leading practice car, etc. It even seems possible that, after the Monza race, the carrying girders were removed from the old chassis to enable it to resume other duties. It was, however, the first Mercedes-devised racing car transporter until the 300SL-engined one was made, 31 years later. WB