Fangio's MercedesBenz W196 JESSE ALEXANDER blog

13 Май 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »
W196 chassis weight 79 pounds

Fangio’s Mercedes-Benz W196

The of a lifetime!

It was late summer of and I had been invited by Mercedes to come to their Stuttgart to sample a new automatic transmission. little did I know that a surprise awaited.

Along several other automotive including my friend Karl we were taken to the factory track in Unterturkheim to have a look at the legendary 2.5 liter Prix car, the legendary This was the same car that champion Juan Fangio to victory on a number of occasions the 1954 and 1955 Formula One here it was, dusted off and up waiting for us to sample.

At the time it was not to me that we would be allowed to the car (W196 006 and the same one to be auctioned by at Goodwood in July ). But as soon as we we were greeted by several who had brought along a box of helmets of sizes for our use. Karl first as he had the most seniority and had been instrumental in arranging event. But my turn came enough as the track was short two corners) and I suspect Karl was the wheel for only a few minutes.

it was my turn. With helmet on and strap in place I easily over the sill and into the covered in the familiar plaid The removable wood-rimed steering was put back in place. I found the switch and was treated to the wonderful of the 2.5 liter straight eight up.  Getting away rest was not difficult (despite my and anxiety for fear of making a of myself). As I gently administered gas I was stunned at the incredible throttle However, the greatest challenge was the gear selection pattern for the speed transmission. But paying saved the day and I was able to relax to savor every minute.  The was a treat to drive, responding to my every input.  Karl’s were “easy and safe” and I I was able to do several laps drama and the few minutes in Fangio’s car was the thrill of a lifetime.

Thank you Benz.

Jesse Alexander Fangio W196

Jesse with Fangio Mercedes-Benz

Impressions of an Icon

  The rare of auctioning a post-war Mercedes-Benz car reminded one enthusiast that he had it when it was still quite He reflects on some details of the design in the context of his trial on the

When news broke Bonhams was auctioning an icon of Prix racing, conceived year ago, I was intrigued. The W196 had long fascinated me. Of its and ingenuity Laurence Pomeroy, Jr. wrote, ‘One may say figuratively if the BRM be likened to a typewriter, the four Ferrari is the equivalent of an abacus and the cars rate as an electronic machine.’ Adding all-enveloping on their first appearance at on 4 July 1954 only their all-conquering mystique.

I had written about these at the time and soon thereafter in my of Mercedes-Benz racing, seeing for the first time in the Museum in When M-B of America announced a trip to Stuttgart for late of 1961 to flaunt a new automatic I urged them to include a in a W196 for this elite of editors. I already knew I was leaving Car and Driver to take up a at General Motors, so getting a drive was a major box to tick. I was which led to my being the first of our to step into an open-wheeled at the works test track on 14 1961.

Chassis number I knew, had been selected to be and lacquered for display in the Daimler-Benz The chassis I drove was 00006/54, by Juan Fangio to win the Grands of Germany and Switzerland in 1954. Herrmann drove it to fourth at and retired it in the Spanish Epreueve at with fuel-pump ailments. for 1955 with the latest including a brake-assist servo, Kling used it to place in the Italian G.P. Now, escaped captivity, it is to be auctioned by at Goodwood.

Before driving the I reflected on some aspects of its design. In aid of ample power for superiority, Mercedes-Benz built a straight-eight that they would be heavy and complex. At the though, they said a vee-eight layout would been even heavier. view was greeted with by some designers. After they said, the straight extra crank and bottom-end with the W196’s roller-bearing overshadow the vee engine’s extra gears. Did it really make a I decided to compare weights.

it was built around two intricate sheet-steel cylinder blocks, the engine was primarily of a high-silicon alloy (silumin) and weighed 451 To reduce weight for 1955 low-stress parts like and cam housings were cast of the result being a reduction to 429 A crankcase of magnesium was experimented but durability testing showed it could not hold its dimensions enough.

The all-silumin Lancia D50 V-8 of the era weighed 382 pounds, while the Coventry-Climax ‘Godiva’ V-8 weighed 340 without some accessories. One of the complex 2½-litre V-8s, the Speed Engines Limited weighed about 400 pounds. As a of interest the Mercedes-Benz 1½-litre

V-8 of 1939 weighed 442 pounds, the added burden of a Roots

An outlier that made a for straight-eights was the weight of only 330 for Gordini’s ultimate Formula 1 This was such a paragon of however, that it may not be fair to it. On balance it is likely that an 2½-litre V-8 Mercedes-Benz engine well have been In fact Rudolf Uhlenhaut me that he was considering such an for the W196’s successor, along four-wheel drive.

The W196’s powerplant was bedded using a transverse mounting as in a contemporary Indianapolis Offy-powered in a highly sophisticated chassis. calculated for stress, its space consisted chiefly of tubes an inch in diameter. Though it only 79 pounds, it was considerably in torsion than the 181-pound space frame.

A prime goal was the lowest possible of gravity, hence the engine was over to the right at 30° to the horizontal. The use of a drive shaft from the of the engine to the clutch allowed the to locate the heavy crankshaft 2.6 lower than the diameter of the would otherwise have

Ground clearance was cut to the bare at 4.1 inches. The result was a centre of just 12.2 inches the surface, which compares with the 14 inches of the Grand Scarab, which also a lay-down engine.

‘The art of the springing and suspension of a racing car for lies in selecting the point of steer so the cornering power of all tires is used to the very with respect to the power and so the driver can easily reach and that limit in a curve.’ So Ludwig Kraus of Mercedes-Benz, who the chassis. ‘This,’ he said, a prime consideration during the of our post-war 2½ -litre Formula 1 car, the W196.’

Kraus and felt that the best way to this handling goal was to in very slight understeer most of the cornering range but to oversteer at the very limit. was generally accomplished, though the did have more basic than was really desired. for the 1955 season was intended to this.

Details of the design roll centres 1.4 inches ground in front and 6.9 inches at the rear. Front torsion-bar rates varied from to 72.5

pounds per inch on the circuit, while the effect of the bar increased the rate to 111 pounds per for jounce of a single wheel At the rear the chassis tuners select torsion bars from 100 to 117 pounds per inch in Weight distribution ranged 47/53 front/rear with an tank to 40/60 with all on board. The average, design was 45/55. Dry weight for the variant I should be about 1480

Front and rear tracks 52.5 and 53.5 inches while wheelbases of 92.6, and 84.8 inches were Changes in lengths as well as of brake layouts and body were effected to suit circuits. All the 1954 cars had the 92.6-inch wheelbase, with front brakes and both and enclosed bodies. For the beginning of the season, some of these were remodelled to 1955 by fitting cleaner bodywork—though a big bulge for the straight ram pipes of the ‘55 engine—and by making many detail changes like the of a brake servo. These chassis are easy to detect the top front frame crossmember has the built-in pipe for the old curved-ram-tube plenum.

Thoughts of these considerations as as the criticisms of such as Fitch and of the Porsche-synchronised five-speed transaxle in my mind as I peered upward at the cloudy weather over the track between the Daimler-Benz and the Neckar River. I had rather for a sunny day on the Nürburgring, but then you have everything.

A cadre of factory mechanics surrounded the a dull silver object breathes brute force than beauty. This is for the machine is sophisticated rather stunning in action. After the double-ended parallel- straight I was led to a large grey-painted wooden box I thought contained plugs or The lid was flipped up to reveal six cycle-type hats, each in its own niche and a different size, and six pairs of The legendary Mercedes preparation was and centre.

Suitably lidded, I set climbing aboard. The detachable had already been removed; the mechanics were quick to the wheel at every opportunity, on the assumption that the driver to quit the car the instant it comes to My feelings were just the They were going to to drag me out of that car.


The is central and the sides are very so it’s a long stretch the cockpit and essential to step on the first. I eased down the very roomy cockpit and the roomy seat. Covered in the plaid, the seat was well and canted deeply to the rear so my knees were bent high and my torso leaned back. It’s a relaxed that has the added advantage of up a minimum of chassis space. My were spread almost a apart around the clutch and near-central drive shaft in an splayed stance that odd but feels fine.

The four-spoked was locked onto its ten splines a position that is physically but actually feels more because the driver is leaning so far. The grooved wooden rim has a feel while at rest a surprising inch of lost in the steering gear. Scanning the dashboard was easy because it was an of Uhlenhaut to minimize the driver’s in technical oversight. There are three dials: oil pressure at 10,000 rpm tach with in centre and water temperature at These are mainly ornamental the engine will run long with no oil, the desmodromic gear allows wild and the coolant temperature is thermostatically

W196 chassis weight 79 pounds

A switch on the dash sends current to the whirring fuel that prevents vapour in the fuel injection, while a big key the panel at the right switches on one magneto, then the other, both. My only instructions to get on with the clutch, not fooling but engaging it fully, and during to hold out a small spring-loaded under the panel to the left. I it retarded the ignition but it seemed to little difference since the barked readily to life a first-gear push-start even I’d botched the knob routine.

My problem in driving the W196 was to this trial out of all proportion: the hang of the shift pattern. are five forward speeds first over to the left and You can’t get into that of the gate without first a button on top of the knob, since is intended for starting only, an additional latch keeps you out of But it was the top four speeds that baffling. In a normal four-speed box all upshifts are made with a yank except for the 2-3 shift the gate. On the top four Mercedes you shift up by shoving straight and the normal 2-3 motion would you from second all the way to fifth!

were lots of things to It was consolation to know that Moss’s tendency to go from to fifth led to the creation of an elaborate interlock—first used in the Mille on the 300SLR—and that notables Fangio and Fitch were by the gate at first. But you learn. A assistance was spring-loading of the lever the 2-3 slot. The first lesson was a chill when I realised I’d from third down second with a straight-back and just barely engaged the enough to send the exhaust skyrocketing. I caught the error in and didn’t make it again but it was possible to forget the box entirely.

The with the Mercedes shift is its Porsche-type synchromesh is so smooth and that the lever feels the going into any slot at any It’s not like the Birdcage for example, which gives palm a slap and grates if you’re off on your shifting The big lever moves in an arrogantly way in a machined, vintage-style gate long fore-and-aft travel. In its use of the W196 was unusual among G.P. cars while the itself definitely recalled the

I took care to bring the fully home before on the tap. It behaved impeccably in of its reputation as a weak spot in the especially when used in the 300SLR. Its linkage has some action that eases the required near the end of the travel, but still a stiff clutch by any To its left is a handy …-pedal. I tromped on the clutch and thought, too stiff for the clutch. I must be on the But it was the clutch after all.

The W196 power curve is steep to a sharp peak at 290 bhp and rpm. There’s not much until 5,000 rpm; the torque peak is at 6,400 and a ‘second wind’ at 8,100 This is all evident in action as on The straight-eight pulls smoothly but no sincerity to 5,000, where it comes alive with the booming roar that these cars—like two Porsche sounding off at once. It’s not but it does induce a ringing in the ear. I only took the to about 7,000, enough to get the sensual surge of that leap of torque. It moves right now.

Engine response was so swift as to be startling at A jab at the long-travel pedal for a downshift instant, eager response overdoes it until you learn to the dosage to suit the needs. is a key advantage of fuel injection on a engine, since throttle can be a problem with multiple carburettor throats. I used to 7,000 in third, fourth and around the test track, felt like a maximum of 120 mph with the low gearing and small tires fitted to this demonstrator. It used up the short very quickly indeed—which us to the brakes.

When I started the chassis—if not the engine—was cold. I applied the brakes the first I was sure I was headed for the bulrushes. began to warm up, however, and were answering the pedal smooth, strong deceleration. is aided by a hydraulic servo by ATE for truck use, fitted for the time to the SLR in 1955. It runs a little vane pump from the back of the gearbox wastes half a horsepower at speed.

It was only possible to the handling on two turns, one long, right and one fast left-hander, but it was at once that this was an easy and safe car to drive. It seemed that it wasn’t a case of being ‘forgiving,’ of you to rescue yourself with the W196 felt quite of handling the required rescue all by I felt this biddability I entered the tighter, closing a hair fast and the tail smoothly, automatically out, ‘Okay, correct like I you and you’re in business.’ (in German, of

At constant cornering speed the gently understeers, but as you apply and increase speed you feel the shifting easily outward balanced neutrality. More carries the attitude over to in an unbroken progression. The whole spectrum of this car is available at all to the driver. Feel of the steering is but still highly informative; it has a way of confidence. At 2½ turns lock to it is fast enough to cope the car’s very progressive product of a high polar of inertia.

Maurice Smith, then of The Autocar . also tried the Several years earlier had driven Stirling Moss’s Maserati, so he was able to make comparisons of these mid-1950s He reported that the Mercedes far more stable than the which tended to leap and about on its hard springing and constant correction of its very steering. Maurice also the ride of the Mercedes was far superior. It was comfortable, for a racing car, and the low of gravity and relatively high centres assured that in corners was minimal.

You look through the shallow windshield, a bonnet that’s high in to your low, reclining There was relatively little of driving an open-wheeled car, the left front wheel is partially visible and the right one is completely hidden by the high housing. The W196 had a curiously hollow feel as of a stiff to which the drive elements attached. This one was obviously by ranks of eager journalists, for it was a loose both in appearance and

Finally one mechanic started flags at me and threatening to throw in front of the car, so I had to switch off and to a halt back by the box of helmets. The onlookers around the track to disperse and the mechanics packed up gear. As the echoes of its exhaust this W196 Mercedes became one of the world’s most mobile museum pieces. If its new would like some on driving it, I’m available.

1 Pedants point out that I am not being correct in my use of ‘W165’ in discussing an Mercedes-Benz refers to car types a ‘W’ prefix, for Wagen, and to engines an ‘M’ prefix for Motor. Thus refers to the whole car and M196 to the only. I have used ‘W’ for the sale of simplicity.

2 In the 1960s did essentially the same thing his outboard-clutch transmission design.

3 readers may remember the parody of unusual seating position by Ustinov in the ‘Schnorcedes’ of his Grand of Gibraltar .

Juan Manuel W196 Mercedes-Benz, Spa, 1955

W196 chassis weight 79 pounds
W196 chassis weight 79 pounds
W196 chassis weight 79 pounds
W196 chassis weight 79 pounds

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