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Regardless of whether it’s the 1930s, 1950s, or the 90s, Mercedes-Benz loves taking advantage of their situations and making the best of the best.

The German company has always been at the top of its game, no matter the obstacle bringing them down. Never mind that you don’t like Mercedes domination in Formula 1, you can’t deny that the company built from scratch in 1926 has changed the world forever in many ways than just one. We could start from the beginning, but I want to focus on the “right out of the war” era, the era that is mostly overshadowed.

Mercedes was absolutely destroyed to pieces because of World War II, which put almost everything to a halt from 1939 to 1945. And Mercedes’ misfortune was that they were in the middle of all of it, on the worst side to be on, the axis side. Seven years after the war, Mercedes desperately wanted to return to racing because that’s where their roots, DNA, and heritage lay. Although there was a problem, they barely had any resources and technology to be able to return to the motorsport and automotive industry. This misfortune led to the birth of a state-of-the-art car. The Mercedes 300sl (W 194) was stormed up onto paper by genius engineers and designers, even though Mercedes had to turn to use sedan technology to create this race car, the German marque was able to make nothing into something extraordinary. The chief engineer for Mercedes at the time was Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the man who gave that small company Mercedes their massive name that we all know today.

THE MASTERMIND BEHIND IT ALL

Rudolf is not only one of the best engineers to ever work in Mercedes, but he is also one of the best engineers and innovators in the entire automotive realm. Rudolf was a racer at heart, in fact, he was so good at racing that they had to forbid him in competitive and professional driving because of his engineering worth and benefit. Uhlenhaut has achieved more than anyone could imagine and has done more than enough for Mercedes-Benz, but his racing career still stands as a “what could have been”.

Rudolph was a real racer and a pure engineer, he understood both sides to the story in the motorsport and car industry, and was able to combine his knowledge to create something unbelievable for its time. Taking passenger cars and creating a super lightweight tubular frame, chassis, and body was all part of the plan, Mercedes was never known for its lightweight construction, which was more of Bugatti and Porsche’s forte, however, this was a completely different story. They modified the chassis heavily and were left with this tube frame, as time went on the Germans realized that the door sills were way too high to put a normal door. So to cope with this construction, Mercedes fitted gulling doors, which was to correct a problem but grew to become an iconic design in history. I mean, sometimes the best accidents create masterpieces, am I right? To throw Mercedes out into the automotive world and to give them a name for themselves, they decided to take the W194 to the most dangerous race of all time. The Carrera Panamericana.

THE MERCEDES 300 SL (W194)

The Carrera Panamericana was a border-to-border race on open roads in Mexico through every weather condition and all the terrains that Mexico had to offer. It was similar to the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio races that were held during the same time, and even though the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio in Italy were ever-so-dangerous, nothing compared to the Panamericana. Mercedes jumped for this opportunity and challenge because they knew this race would be able to prove how durable, reliable, and versatile Mercedes’ are. The German brand was able to rise up to the obstacle and create a bulletproof car that would not only succeed at this race but pave the way for upcoming cars in the future. Unlike the 1955 Gullwing, the W194 from 1952 had carburetors instead of fuel injection, because it predated fuel injection. And because it was a prototype race car, it had a 3.2-liter engine that pushed out 180bhp instead of the 3-liter motor that came later on. Fuel injection is what really made the Mercedes-Benz 300sl Gullwing a rightful supercar, while the W194 combined aerodynamic and sleek design that was in an era filled with boxy and heavy cars, it was beyond light and had sharp and agile steering. Most cars struggled to reach 100 mph, while this car can effortlessly reach that triple number with agility.

Mercedes-Benz 300SL W194 at the Carrera Panamericana

This was foolishly impressive back in the day, compared to its competition and to the other cars on the road, the Mercedes 300sl was out of this world. It is fast by today’s standards, imagine how it was driving this thing back in 1952. Since Mercedes wasn’t able to do much with its engine and create a powerful engine from scratch, the manufacturer was able to find loopholes elsewhere. Mercedes focused on the aerodynamics, the design, the shape, and how reliable it was. Unlike its other rivals, under the hood, the W194 had a sedan engine that normally would be upright, but because it had a dry-sump oil system it was titled under the bonnet. They weren’t able to extract any more power from the motor, but that was alright because they had advantages in other aspects of the car. Mercedes have always dove deep into the unknown world of aerodynamics, and their streamlined cars from the pre-war era prove that statement correct. The W194 had a very rounded and softened outlook, its grill was curved, its lines were soft and delicate and the wind slipped over it, but don’t be misled, under that light body is a brutal, durable, and strong car.

Benz might have not had the most recourses like their rivals Jaguar and Ferrari, however, this was so far ahead of everyone’s thinking and everyone else’s cars. You don’t need an abundant amount of things to create a revolutionary and fast car, Mercedes made the most out of the stuff they had available to them, and they were still able to create a revolutionary racecar that stunned the motoring world. It had glass windows, as the 1955 variant had the plexiglass windows due to the W194’s doors being much more lightweight. The Carrera Panamericana version also had rudge wheels, even though they were much heavier than the standard, rudge wheels are easier and faster to change in races. And in a race like the Carrera panamericana where time is the essence, rudge wheels were the way to go compared to the lighter standard ones. It had drum brakes all around and comfortable seating. Another difference between the two 300sl’s is that the W194 had a removable wooden steering wheel, not the folding one that is in the 1955 Gullwing road car. They might not have had the recourses or power the Ferrari’s had, but Mercedes had many things the Italians didn’t, they focused on making this race car civilized, something that the driver would feel comfortable in during a long endurance race.

It is not the type of car that wears out the driver or is uncomfortable to pilot, even though it is an uncompromised, stripped-down race car, it still has that civilized feel to it. And because the drivers were never worn out from beating on this car endlessly, they were able to perform at higher levels than their fellow competitors. There was even a built-in flap on one of the windows for one of Mercedes’ most famous racers, Karl Kling. Kling was a massive fan of Coca-Cola, and since these cars didn’t have air conditioning, and they were stuck in hot Mexico, he demanded to have a flap put in, so they can pass him a cold Cola from the window. What a clever fella he was. Most classic cars aren’t able to be beaten on and pushed to their limits anymore, but the 300SL proves otherwise. You can beat on these cars all day through mountainous roads and nothing will happen to them, they are able to take the beatings and ask for more. That’s what made this car so special, it is not a gentile car that holds back from its full limit, its Inline-6 revs endlessly and pushes you forward into the unknown, only if you want it to. It can be a civilized road car one day and a beastly racer the next.

THE 1952 CARRERA PANAMERICANA

The front windshield grill you see was put there because a vulture flew into the windshield and broke the screen in the middle of the race. Despite bleeding badly and having facial injuries caused by the shattered windshield, Kling was able to keep a consistent speed and pace to come home to a win in a fantastic way. In such a remote and menacing location with dangerous roads and conditions, this race was a test of the drivers and manufacturers. To create efficient, stable, and quick cars to be able to perform under these insane conditions. The drivers pushed these cars to their limits, overtaking and passing the other cars that were bound to due to the grueling conditions. Karl Kling and Herman Lang finished first and second, and a 1-2-3 finish may have been the final result had American John Fitch not been disqualified for stopping a mechanic to touch his car on the second to last day, but nevertheless, it was a ground-breaking victory. The 3.0L inline-6 W194 was able to come out alive in one of, if not the most dangerous race of all time.

Karl Kling and Hans Klenk won the third Carrera Panamericana ever held in Mexico in 1952 driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194).

Not even an angry vulture could stop Mercedes from taking on the automotive and motorsport world. This was the very car that lead to the famed Mercedes 300sl Gullwing, the car hailed by many as the first-ever supercar. This story demonstrates and confirms that even with little money and tools, Mercedes was still able to build a mechanical piece of art that will never go forgotten. As stated before, this was the base to the ground-breaking car that followed it, without the brave and strong W194 we wouldn’t have a lot of the technology we have today. A supercar is a car that leaves a mark, creates a stir, and is years ahead of the time period it is in. The W194 was not only impressive, but it was game-changing beyond belief, you cannot believe that this timeless car was built in the early 50s.

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