Mr. Philip Mann’s 1914 GP Mercedes— Winner of the French Grand Prix
PERHAPS the most exciting discovery and subsequent meticulous racing-car rebuild of the past decade has been that by Mr. Philip Mann, President of the VSCC, of the 1914 4 ½-litre Mercedes with which Lautenschlager won the French Grand Prix that year at Lyons, with his team-mates thundering in to support his overwhelming victory with second and third places.
This dramatic eve-of-war race has been described on countless occasions, and Kent Karslake has aptly referred to it as marking the end of an era. The war altered many things but after the Armistice these already historic and significant Mercedes GP cars again appeared in races, recalling to survivors of the recent conflict their great conquest of the French on the eve of hostilities. Count Zborowski acquired one, running it at Brooklands. Ralph de Palma took one to America and with it won the 1955 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, in spite of finishing with a broken valve, at the excellent speed of 89.34 m.p.h., and gained a great many other successes. Count Masetti used one of these four-cylinder 44-litre, single-overhead-camshaft cars to win the 1921 Brescia Grand Prix, and, fitted with front-wheel brakes, he brought this car home first in the 1922 Targa Florio, averaging 39.2 m.p.h. for this arduous six-hour drive (although to confuse the issue, The Autocar said he drove a 7.3-litre six-cylinder Mercedes). Two more of the six cars which Daimler-Benz had prepared for the 1914 French Grand Prix ran in this race, driven by Lautenschlager and Salzer, these, too, with the addition of front-wheel brakes and, according to William Court, with revised 4.9-litre engines. Indeed, Count Masetti’s car was run in hill-climbs by various drivers up to 1925. Successes were also obtained in the Semmering Hill-Climb with a 1914 GP engine in a Targa Florio chassis, Werner making f.t.d. there in 1924, and Caracciola in 1926, the latter’s engine, rather astonishingly, being by then supercharged. This supercharged version, now 13 years old, made f.t.d. at the 1927 Freiberg Hill-Climb and at Klausen Hill-Climb the same year, driven by Rosenberger. It seems that as late as 1929 this Mercedes clocked over 120 m.p.h. for a f.s. kilometre during the Monza Grand Prix.
There has been a great deal of controversy about the subsequent fate of these 1914 GP Mercedes, and even confusion as to which one was which as they reappeared after the First World War. I would dearly like to attempt to sort this out, but to do so might well cause even more confusion, so, for the time being at all events, I will resist temptation (see, however, the accompanying table).
We are here concerned with the car which Philip Mann has so painstakingly restored. That this is Lautenschlager’s victorious Mercedes is beyond question, and makes its discovery and re-establishment all the more exciting. It is rather droll, incidentally, that while a first class fuss was being made at the audacity of Peter Clark in selling his rebuilt 1914 GP Mercedes to America in 1950, the winning car was still reposing, unused, in England, unknown to the VSCC! It is also nice to be able to record that, as soon as Daimler-Benz were convinced that the car Philip Mann had discovered was the 1914 French GP winner, they issued a statement to the effect that the exhibit so described in the Daimler-Benz Museum at Stuttgart is clearly not entitled to that honour and that, in their revised opinion, this car is a hybrid, assembled from parts of the two cars they had entered for the 1922 Targa Florio.
For the classic 1914 Grand Prix at Lyons Mercedes built six cars. One was a reserve car, the others were driven by Lautenschlager who won at an average speed of 65.3 m.p.h. for the 466.6 miles, Wagner who finished second, at 65.1 m.p.h., Salzer who came in third at 64.6 m.p.h., Sailer who made fastest lap at 69.65 m.p.h. but retired while in the lead, on lap 6, with a broken con.-rod, and Pilette who retired with a broken propeller shaft on lap 4. The works numbering of these cars was, respectively, II, IV, III, I and V, and their race numbers were 28, 40, 39, 14 and 41. In this titanic struggle Peugeot and Delage used four-wheel brakes, but Mercedes relied on transmission and rear-wheel braking; Peugeot fitted long-tailed bodies but Mercedes were thought to prefer short tails, containing the fuel reservoirs. These are now classic comments on this historic race but the word “preferred”, applied to the manx-like Mercedes tails, is perhaps ill-chosen in the light of subsequent knowledge, for Philip Mann has shown me a works drawing dated 3/3/’14 of a body with streamlined tail (the chassis drawings were made on 24/2/’14, so the cars were presumably finalised in the very brief space of just over four months). The fact that all the Mercedes came to the starting line with manx tails Mann ascribes to nothing more sinister than lack of time to make the more complicated tails specified in the drawing—Wagner’s car started with scarcely any tail at all, Sailer’s with a noticeably abbreviated one, but Lautenschlager’s had a rather higher tail. Except on Wagner’s car, however, two spare wheels were carried in the well behind the petrol tank.
Whatever mystery the fate of the cars may constitute collectively, there is no confusion about the subsequent history of Lautenschlager’s winning No. II car. It returned to Stuttgart along with two others, believed to have been those of Wagner and Salzer who contributed to the Mercedes 1-2-3 victory, and was sold after the Armistice to Count Louis Zborowski. It is thought that the Count went to the Continent, either to the factory in Germany or some other inspection point, either convenient to him or where the car then was, and purchased the car. This bears out what the late Lt.-Col. Gallop recollected of the transaction when we discussed it. The car was shipped to England and, in spite of Zborowski’s preoccupation with his Mercedes Maybach hybrid, Chitty-Bang-Bang, he did some purposeful racing with it, after registering it, receiving the Canterbury Reg. No. FN 3392.
At the Easter BARC Meeting of 1921 Zborowski drove his new possession in the Lightning Long Handicap and, lapping at 95.59 m.p.h., won from the 350-h.p. single-seater Sunbeam, and, later that afternoon, his friend J. Hartshorne-Cooper drove the GP Mercedes and finished first in the Senior Sprint Handicap, the Count, in Chitty, being close behind over the finishing line, baulked by his own car. Zborowski had, previous to this, allowed J. H. Cooper to drive the 1914 Mercedes in the Lightning Short Handicap, which he won in Chitty, the smaller car finishing third, on its first post-war appearance, with a lap at 98.62 m.p.h. At Whitsun Zborowski lapped at 102.69 m.p.h. to finish third in the Lightning Long Handicap. At the Summer Meeting the Count got it round at 104.63 m.p.h., its fastest Brooklands lap) but lost a tyre on the next lap. Bringing the car out again for the 1922 season, he finished second in the Whitsun Private Competitors’ Handicap, behind Brocklebank’s 5.8-litre Peugeot, from the same mark, after lapping at 104.19 m.p.h., and after being unplaced in the “100 Short” he won the “100 Long”, Thomas’ Leyland being unable to make up 3 sec. on the white Mercedes.
Zborowski then sold the car to the Robinson brothers, who had raced larger Mercedes cars, and they continued to run it, but never got its lap speed above 99.01 m.p.h., although this gave A. W. Robinson second place in the August “100 Short”, only Kaye Don’s scratch Wolseley Viper passing the Mercedes. It did not appear at any of the 1923 BARC meetings, having reputedly thrown a rod, repaired by Line Bros., but, to replace his 1913 GP Peugeot which had been wrecked in the crash which killed Capt. Toop, C. G. Brocklebank later acquired the Mercedes. He tried it on the Track but never raced it and around 1927 seems to have converted it into a road car by installing the engine and body from a Berliet which was in his possession, the work probably being done by L. C. Rawlence & Co., who had worked on the Peugeot. Later still Brocklebank disposed of this hybrid touring car to Capt. 0. Pane, who had been Godfather to his son. This gentleman re-installed the Mercedes engine and, without anyone remarking on if at the time, used the winner of the 1914 French Grand Prix on the road until 1932, after which it was laid up.
Now occurred a most fortunate train of events. Philip Mann became anxious to trace the whereabouts of old racing cars and asked me to assist, so that a register could he drawn up on behalf of the VSCC. This led to Mr. Mann enquiring about the ex-Brocklebank Mercedes but as it was not for sale, its whereabouts were not disclosed. However, by some patient detective work Mr. Mann eventually tracked the car down, in 1961, to the stables of Mr. Pane’s house in Kelvedon, Essex. The Berliet body was still on the car and it was re-registered DD 982, presumably when the Robinsons, or Brocklebank, acquired it, though why this was done is obscure and, it would seem, illegal. After much persuasion, and impressed by Mr. Stanley Sears’ splendid collection of old racing cars, Mr. Pane agreed to sell the Mercedes to Mr. Sears, and, as its tinder, Mr. Mann staked a part-claim to it. Mr. Sears moved to Bermuda and relinquished his share in the historic car to Mr. Mann. The car had already been partly restored from its very sorry state by the expert work of H. J. K. Townshcnd. Later Mr. Mann moved the car to his own garage at Betchworth, where its splendid restoration has been completed, under the care of Dick Knight, who used to race Brough Superior motorcycles.
There was an enormous amount of work to do. Fortunately Mr. Townshend met Lautenschlager before he died and the old racing driver provided engineering drawings which proved very helpful. The front axle, to which front-wheel brakes had been fitted, was in poor condition, so a new axle was forged and machined. When details of the brake-actuating gear on the rear wheels, all of which had to be remade, proved baffling, Mr. Mann was allowed to inspect that on Briggs Cunningham’s car (the ex-Peter Clark car) when he was in Los Angeles. The engine, gearbox and back axle were in very good order, but the base of the Water jackets had to be strapped and the bearings were naturally replaced. A new aluminium-panelled body on a new ash frame had to be made and an entirely new polished copper inlet manifold was required, an enthusiastic coachbuilder trained as a coppersmith and introduced by John Bland who reassembled the engine making a copy of the complex Mercedes Y-shape four-branch piping with its big-bore integral balance-pipe, to prove he had lost none of his skill.
I accompanied Philip Mann on his first test run in the Mercedes after its nine-year rebuild, less than a week before he set out on the VCC 1,000-Mile Trial in the virtually untested car—which displayed his great confidence in it and in those who had helped in its restoration. It is an impressive motor car indeed, in its gleaming white paint, the wide scuttle, devoid of any sort of windscreen, tapering to the finely pointed radiator. It stands on 820 x 120 Dunlop tyres at 60 lb./sq. in. pressure on black Rudge-Whitworth wheels. The centre-lock hub caps had to be newly fabricated, but bear the authentic “Daimler Mercedes-Untertürkheim” inscription. The original Mercedes shock absorbers were scrapped before the car was used at Brooklands but André Hartfords have been adapted, correctly linked to the front axle by dual coupling arms, to damp the rear-shackled half-elliptic springs. The radiator stoneguard bears the famous racing number 28, painted by Roy Nockolds, and the fuel tank in the tail has been made up to the correct shape and dimensions, all its special ancillaries also being faithfully reproduced—the big “manhole-cover” filler with the long lever for what must have been one of the first quick-action devices, the air release valve, the two fuel feeds, the pressure pump and its long operating handle, and a manometer recording 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Hg./ Cm.
The cockpit is quite cramped , the temporary seats therein are soon to be replaced by more authentic ones with button upholstery. Instrumentation consists of a big Eliot Bros. Mk. IV tachometer calibrated every 300 r.p.m. from 600 to 2,600, which replaces the original under scuttle rev.-counter but will be retained for the time being because it also shows m.p.h., and a Cambridge thermometer which will be discarded once the working temperatures have been ascertained. Oil pressure is recorded on an English-made gauge reading from 0 to 60 lb./sq. in. and bearing no name. On the floor two apparent clockwinders stick up near the driver’s feet—in fact they adjust the brakes, the big one the foot transmission brake, the smaller one the cable-operated rear-wheel brakes. There is also 2 floor-mounted Pyrene fire-extinguisher.
The drilled r.h. gear-lever works in a conventional open gate inside the body, reverse to the left of the lower forward speeds, but the handbrake is external. A brass-framed mirror sticks up proud of the scuttle and a screw-down pump on the tits wall of the body feeds grease to the engine’s water pump. On the floor on this side there is a foot-pump which can be rotated through 180 degrees, to feed oil -either to the base of the separate cylinders and the o.h, cam-gear, or to gearbox and differential. A tap in the feed lines, under the bonnet, isolates the supply to the valve gear, if desired. Audible warning of approach is provided by a hand-cranked polished brass Klaxon outside the car, and the ignition switch on the scuttle is a period, fluted double action tumbler. The foot pedals, accelerator in the centre, are drilled, a fly-deflector is to be fitted to the scuttle as on the car in the Grand Prix, and on the Steering wheel, which is the original, are two fine toothed quadrants; for the advance and retard and hand-throttle controls. The car is wired for the minimum of electric lighting, switched on from a fluted tumbler switch on the left side of the body, but there is no dynamo.
The engine of this historic Mercedes is an impressive piece of engineering. In spite of eschewing the then-classic Henri twin-cam method of actuating inclined o.h. valves, in favour of a single o.h. camshaft and rockers, Mercedes claimed an output of 115 b.h.p. at 2,800 r.p.m. from this 93 x 165 mm. (4,483 c.c.) power unit, which gave a top speed of about 112 m.p.h. The valve stems and springs are exposed but rocker boxes cover the rest of the valve gear. Each one is stamped with the number “2” and this number was found throughout, even on the gear teeth, proof that this is indeed Lautenschlager’s car. The single overhead camshaft is driven by a vertical shaft and bevels at the back, like a Bentley engine turned about-face, the similarity to 4 ½-litre Bentley and Straker Squire Six (examples of which Mr. Mann owns) being quite significant! The horizontal water pump lives at the front of the engine and from a cross-shaft at the back are driven the two Bosch magnetos, one a ZU4, the other an eight-spark instrument, so that there are, in all, 12 active sparking plugs, these being long-reach Lodge. Below the splendid manifold on the o/s there is now a Type 48 Zenith carburetter. The four exhaust off-takes feed into an enormous exhaust pipe running the length of the Mercedes on the n/s. Sump oil level is checked by opening the drain tap, from a control on the n/s, the lubrication system being wet sump, continually replenished from a reservoir up under the left of the scuttle. The three unit oil pump comprises a sump scavenger, a very small scavenger drawing from the oil tank, and a feed-pump supplying the plain white metal main and big-end beatings and the little-ends via pipes running up the con.-rods. A small oil filler on the scuttle connects with the tank. The sump holds rather less than a gallon of lubricant but the tank takes approx. three gallons. Castrol R is used for engine, gearbox and back axle.
It is easy, to describe this quite splendid Edwardian racing car but not to convey the painstaking toil which has gone into its nine-year resuscitation. Details count, apart from the excellence of the car as a whole. For instance, the bulge in the scuttle to enable the driver’s fist to close round the gear-lever, not noticeable in photographs, is there, as are the long runs of dual upper fuel line, which emerge from the last bonnet louvre on the o/s and go along the bodyside, circling vertically round in two anti-fracture loops before going up and crossing over to the n/s of the fuel tank.
In between April showers we prepared for the initial trial run, in the area of Betchworth and Dorking. The tank was filled with 90-octane Mobil and pumped up. The engine was primed with the Ki-gass. A brief push-start and the deep rumble of the Mercedes exhaust note smote our ears. Climbing in over the enormous “expansion box” I took my seat, the clutch jerked home, the exhaust beat increased, and we were off.
We viewed the road ahead over the white bonnet and razor-sharp vee radiator as Christian Lautenschlager and his mechanic had done for more than seven crowded hours at Lyons 56 years earlier. The temporary front mudwings were not visible to me, but the top of one shock-absorber arm was just in sight. The tight fit in the cockpit precluded more than an occasional glance backwards at the air-pressure gauge, but the fuel pump handle was easy to grasp.
Very soon the proud owner was changing gear with little more than determination (the change, as on the 1924 Targa Florio Mercedes, isn’t easy). The brakes steadied the car adequately in the stream of modern traffic, and the ride was commendably level. Little noise was evident, apart from a remote hum of gears, above the strident exhaust. The tachometer went to 1,600 r.p.m., a lazy cruising gate of around a mile-a-minute, up to over 2,000 r.p.m. in the lower gears, the engine never spitting back or missing a beat. Yet in top gear it proved possible to idle with it off the dial, at 600 r.p.m. or less. Oil pressure was a comfortable 30 lb/sq. in., temperatures remained low, and with the ignition advanced the Mercedes bounded forward. . . .
What a delectable motor car, the discovery, of the decade!—W. B.