The recent recent experience of being part of the fabulous Mercédès-Benz team for the Mille Miglia carried with it experiences almost beyond the wildest imagination, from the sound of Herr Neubauer’s voice morning after morning telling us it was 5 a.m. and to be ready to leave on a practice lap of Italy, to being allowed into the very heart of the Daimler-Benz racing department.
When due to test the 300SLR at Hockenheim we drove the car the 100 miles or so, with engineer Kosteletzky showing us the way. For this purpose he used the factory 300SL that won the Pan-American race in 1952, still fitted with Solex carburetters, and we ran in convoy along the German Autobahns at a very steady 130 m.p.h. On another occasion a short trip in Italy provided the opportunity of going with engineer Uhlenhaut in his personal 300SL. This car is styled on the same lines as the production models, but the body is of magnesium, the whole car has been narrowed and lightened, while most important, the gearbox is in unit with the differential and the rear-axle layout is identical to the Grand Prix cars, with separate swinging beams and double-universal-jointed drive shafts, and, of course, fuel injection. This car was built in the winter of 1952/53 and was the prototype for the team of cars Daimler-Benz were going to build before they decided to go the whole hog and make sports-car versions of their Grand Prix car. Joining an Italian Autostrada Uhlenhaut accelerated up through the gears from a standstill to 150 mp.h. without a break, and cruised steadily at 140 m.p.h.; on ordinary roads he drove hard all the time, keeping the engine working in the 4,500-6,000 r.p.m. range all the while, and with a boyish determination that was fascinating to watch, coming from a “boffin” in his middle-forties.
After I had commented on the way he used engine and gearbox, he demonstrated that he only did it for fun, showing that this particular SL would pull in top gear at 500 r.p.m. without the use of the clutch. Then he pushed the throttle to the floor and the car went straight up to 5,000 r.p.m. still in top gear, and to really convince me he kept in top gear round some very wiggly parts in a tiny Italian village we were visiting. On another occasion he left an hotel in Brescia, in this same car, with spinning wheels, leaving two snaky black lines for 20 yards up the road. When I remarked afterwards that, this sort of SL motoring was my idea of “real motoring,” Uhlenhaut grinned and replied.” Yes, it is fun, isn’t it?” — of such stuff are the Daimler-Benz engineers made.
Before leaving the subject of Daimler-Benz, I must write about a remarkable experimental vehicle that the racing department have built. It is called Uhlenhaut’s High-Speed Transporter, and is illustrated in “Pictorial Review.” The engine is a standard fuel-injection 300SL, as are the brakes and the front suspension, while the rear axle is a similar swing-type to the Grand Prix cars, with the pivot point well below the centre line of the wheels. The engine is just behind the driving cab, while the radiator is at the rear, fed from air-scoops in front of the rear axle. It is as easy and light to drive as a 220A Mercédès-Benz and has a top speed of 105 m.p.h., complete with Grand Prix car on the back as shown, while the roar it emits would do justice to a really good sports car. In view of the performance of this “lorry” it is fitted with a disc brake on the transmission and an exhaust brake on the engine, and can be driven on the Autobahns at high speed using only the exhaust brake for slowing down for traffic conditions. Most beautifully finished in blue and chromium it is an inspiring sight and was built mainly for fun, but with the excuse in the back of the mind that it could prove useful for getting a car to a race meeting quickly, if there had been a delay at the factory, or for rushing a car back to base for any serious modifications.
It is hoped to take this “racing lorry” to Aintree for the British Grand Prix, so if a blue lorry overtakes you while on your way in your TR2 or Austin-Healey, don’t be worried, and don’t try and keep up, the brakes are exceedingly good.
I must apologise for all my articles in Motor Sport being about German cars and Daimler-Benz, but I hope later in the season someone will take me for a ride in a 3-litre Maserati, or a 3.7-litre Ferrari — even a 750-c.c. Stanguellini would make a change for the readers.
* * *
Italy is certainly the home of fascinating motor cars, and the little Alfa-Romeo Giulietta Sprint is becoming increasingly popular, being seen in all parts south of the Alps, though its more staid brother, the four-seater saloon on the same chassis parts; has not yet begun to appear on the roads. When it does it should produce some amusing rivalry for the 1,100 Fiat TV, for Italians simply love to “play bears” at all times, with anything and anybody. As the Editor remarked last month; the day of the big-engined car is fast disappearing, and the new saloon 1,300-cc. Alfa-Romeo is certainly going to prove more popular than the larger 1,900 Alfa-Romeo saloon, while the number of Fiat 600 models about Italy is almost unbelievable, many of them already covered in dozens of fancy extras that the accessory manufacturers have put on the market. At the moment most of these are decorative rather than functional, but it will not be long before special tuning parts become available.
In addition to being the land of interesting cars, Italy has another fascination and that is the enormous sporting spirit. In any day of motoring you can see signs of a bicycle race, a motor-cycle race, a rally or a car race being held, having been held, or about to be held on the normal public roads, and the public just love it and scream and shout with joy at the sight of a competition number or an open exhaust, while they are surprisingly knowledgeable over the whole gamut of sport, from Fangio to Coppi. Italy also has some wonderful scenery, mountains, lakes, beautiful cities and their film stars, but there seems to be little opportunity of appreciating them during the summer months. — D. S. J.