Waxen' lyrical

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The results for the 1000Km of the Nürburgring of 1957 show that a certain Erich Waxenberger took third place in the GT category driving a Mercedes 300SL. He worked for the legendary Rudolph Uhlenhaut in the test division and raced privately whenever he could. Waxenberger was involved as an engineer with the rally programme of the 1960s and when Böhringer was unwell and unable to start the 1964 Acropolis, Waxenberger took over the 220SE, finishing fourth overall. Later in the 1960s, Waxenberger was to create the V8-engined 300SEL 6.3 by building one and then letting Uhlenhaut ‘discover’ it. In 1968, two of these cars went to race at the Macau Six Hours and, when he found that the local drivers were not quick enough, Waxenberger stepped in, put one on pole and won the race.

Waxenberger proved an extremely positive and innovative team manager too. Using Mercedes dealer resources on the long-distance events taught him a lot. Radio communication, plenty of service vehicles and aerial mobility were, he considered, essential tools of the trade. Later he introduced telemetry and other technical advances now taken as the norm in modem rallying.

His crews remember Erich with admiration and respect, but to the outside world it was like watching a tornado at close quarters. He was everywhere – out on recce, testing the car, supervising the transport and service arrangements and then, during the event, on the spot ready to deal with any problem. When Arne Hertz had to be taken to hospital during the 1980 Safari, Waxenberger leapt into the vacant seat and told Mikkola to drive on.

He was the epitome of the hands-on team manager. He made sure he knew everything, and he was passionate about winning. And he knew all about the car because he drove a 450SLC almost as much as the rally drivers.

Waldegård remembers on the 1980 Portuguese Rally, Erich was at the end of the very fast five-kilometre tarmac stage in Sintra. “He asked what time I did and I told him 2min 34sec. ‘Not bad,’ he said. ‘I did 2min 36sec the other night.’ It was only as I drove away that I realised he had done his time on an open road and with no pace notes.”

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