Rétromobile 2013: motor racing vehicles from Mercedes Benz

  • Premiere: three motor racing icons built by Benz & Cie appear at a show together for the very first time
  • 300 SL Register: standard reference work on all Mercedes-Benz “Gullwing” models ever built
  • From 6 to 10 February 2013: international specialist exhibition in Paris

Classic Mercedes Benz Race Car

Early Benz motor racing vehicles will be the focus of attention on the Mercedes-Benz Classic stand in hall 2.3, stand G 53 at this year’s Rétromobile show. This renowned specialist exhibition will be taking place at the VIPARIS Porte de Versailles trade fair site in Paris from 6 to 10 February 2013.

Appearing there together for the very first time will be three famous motor racing icons built by Benz: a Grand Prix racing car of 1908, the record-breaking 200 hp “Lightning Benz”, as it was known, of 1909, and a “Prince Henry” sports tourer from 1910. A further “Prince Henry” vehicle will be on display on the adjacent stand of the Louwman Museum – one of Mercedes-Benz Classic’s partner museums – from the Dutch city of The Hague. The “Prince Henry” vehicles are believed to be the only Benz models still in existence that took part in the Prince Henry rally of 1910. They will be on display in Paris to a wider audience following an extensive programme of restoration.

Mercedes-Benz Race Car History

“We shall be taking some true icons of motor racing with us to the Rétromobile show – very rare and very successful vehicles,” said Michael Bock, Head of Mercedes-Benz Classic. “It gives us an opportunity to focus on the strong sporting heritage of our precursor brand and indeed on its tremendous successes during that era – as evidenced by these original vehicles.”

New and revised: the “300 SL Register”

A further topic on Mercedes-Benz Classic’s show stand will be the “300 SL Register”, a comprehensive index containing key information about all 1,400 examples of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” model, built between 1954 and 1957. Author Eric Le Moine will be presenting the “Edition No 2”, which he has now revised with the support of Mercedes-Benz Classic. It is based on the original “300 SL Register” collated by Swiss author Hans Hürlimann in 1978, but with the addition of further factual material as well as updated information about the individual vehicles. As well as the all-important ID number, paintwork colour and interior appointments of the vehicles as delivered, the work includes – as far as they are known – their ownership history and the current whereabouts of each “Gullwing” model. The final touch is provided by numerous photographs of individual vehicles.

Rétromobile is one of the most well-known trade fairs for classic vehicles in Europe. The Mercedes-Benz Classic show stand in Hall 2.3 will this year occupy an area of 400 square metres and that of the Louwman Museum a further 100 square metres. In 2012, the show attracted 410 exhibitors and welcomed some 73,000 visitors through its doors.

The early days of motor sport: Benz in the lead

Motor racing was an important driver of vehicle sales, even in the early years of the automobile. “Win on Sunday – sell on Monday” was a maxim recognised by even the earliest automotive pioneers. Yet although the Daimler Motor Company took full advantage of this potential right from the beginning, building up a reputation for powerful and reliable vehicles through its racing and record-breaking activities, its then rival Benz & Cie was initially more cautious in this respect. Carl Benz himself appears to have been little convinced of the promotional power of motor sport. The early part of the 20th century brought a change of attitude, however, and Benz & Cie went on to take part in a wide range of notable events – achieving considerable success in the process.

Benz Grand Prix racing car, 1908

The first vehicle that Mercedes-Benz Classic will be showing at Rétromobile 2013 as a reminder of Benz & Cie’s involvement in motor sport will be an original Grand Prix racing car of 1908. Newly developed for that season, the company in fact sent three vehicles to the French Grand Prix. The result was outstanding: Benz drivers Victor Hémery and René Hanriot took second and third places, while Benz was the only brand to have all three of its vehicles finish the race. Only Christian Lautenschlager in a Mercedes was faster, winning the race and so helping to deliver a threefold victory for Germany.

Technical data

  • Year of construction: 1908
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Displacement: 12,060 cc
  • Output: 120 hp (88 kW) at 1,500 rpm
  • Top speed: 163 km/h

Benz 200 hp “Lightning Benz” racing car, 1909

One of the key goals in those early years of the 20th century was to break the then magic speed barrier of 200 km/h. Benz was the first company to do so, with a petrol-engine automobile: the 200 hp racing car took to the track at the Brooklands circuit in England in 1909, achieving an average speed of 202.7 km/h. This record-breaking racing car, with its massive four-cylinder engine, would however go on to achieve its greatest successes in Florida/USA. In 1911, Bob Burman reached the amazing speed of 228.1 km/h on the sand track at Daytona Beach, so making the “Lightning Benz”, as the model became known in the US, the fastest vehicle in the world – faster even than any aeroplane or train. It was a record that would remain unbeaten for eight years.

Technical data

  • Year of construction: 1909
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Displacement: 21,504 cc
  • Output: 200 hp (147 kW) at 1,600 rpm
  • Top speed: 228 km/h

Benz “Prince Henry Car”, 1910

In the early years of the last century, the “Prince Henry Trial” was one of the most well-known motor sport events in Germany. Automobile enthusiast Prince Henry of Prussia, brother of the then German Emperor, Wilhelm II, donated the prize money for a competitive touring car rally in 1907 and the first Trial was held in 1908. Benz took part in the third event in the early summer of 1910 with a total of ten completely new-built special tourers, four of them with a displacement of 5.7 litres and six with 7.3 litres. The vehicles featured a cardan drive system and an aerodynamically optimised body with a characteristic pointed rear end.

At this year’s Rétromobile, two of these 5.7-litre tourers will now be seen in public for the first time since their restoration. As far as is known, they are also the only two Benz vehicles still in existence that actually took part in that legendary long-distance rally. The car with the starting number 36 was driven by Fritz Erle and is owned these days by the Louwman Museum. The touring car with the starting number 38, from the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection, was once driven by Carl Neumaier. Both cars have undergone a process of meticulous restoration to return them to their original condition and now gleam once again in their original dark green paintwork. Not just one, but two vehicles from those very early days of motoring are thus once again ready to be driven and admired. Also in 1910, just a few weeks after the Prince Henry Rally, both these vehicles went on to take part in the Tsar Nicholas Rally over a distance of 3,000 kilometres from St Petersburg via Kiev and Moscow and back to St Petersburg.

Technical data

  • Year of construction: 1910
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Displacement: 5,715 cc
  • Output: 80 hp (59 kW)
  • Top speed: 126 km/h