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Snapshot 197 – 1939 Mercedes Benz 3-Litre GP Car

This Snapshot was taken and the story is recounted by motor racing photographer Peter McFadyen.  Please read on…

Snapshot 193 about the excellent Scammell Scarab ‘Mechanical Horse’ brought to mind a photo taken at Donington Park in July 1979 in which just such a vehicle played a supporting role.

The occasion was the International Classic Car Weekend under the auspices of the magazine Thoroughbred & Classic Cars whose editor, Michael Bowler, explained in the programme the aim of the event which was to put Britain, ‘founders of the old car movement’, on a par with the Nürburgring and similar events in France, Holland and Belgium with its own historic racing festival. The first day’s racing was organised by the Historic Sports Car Club and was a purely British national event while Sunday’s meeting was an international affair with the British Automobile Racing Club in charge. Added to the racing was the National Classic Car Concours which, after four years at Weston Park in Shropshire, was moved to Donington for the occasion.

Coinciding with the International Classic Car Weekend at Donington was the arrival on loan from the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart of one of their prize exhibits, a 300SLR sports racing car which had enjoyed a brief but very successful career in 1955. Stirling Moss’s famous Mille Miglia victory in the 300SLR’s first outing was followed by wins in Fangio’s hands at the Nürburgring and in Sweden with Moss winning the TT at Dundrod and, with Peter Collins, the Targa Florio. In all probability, the 300SLR would have won Le Mans too had the team not been withdrawn following what was euphemistically described in the Donington programme as Pierre Levegh’s ‘tragic mishap’.

The 300SLR, bearing Fangio’s Mille Miglia race number, was to be put on display in the Donington Collection for the next five months and was to be demonstrated between races by ex-Mercedes GP driver, Hans Hermann. The engineers from the Mercedes museum who accompanied the 300SLR had also brought with them one of the 1939 3-litre W163 GP cars. Three of these had been located after the war by Alfred Neubauer and, following successful test runs at the Nürburgring, were entered for two races at Buenos Aires in February 1951, Argentina being an important market for Mercedes. They were driven by Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling and the only available member of the pre-war team, Hermann Lang. The Mercedes monopolised the front rows of both races but suffered various mechanical problems, notably with carburation in the high temperatures, and Fangio’s compatriot Froilan Gonzales took both victories in his Ferrari. In 1939, Mercedes had surprised their opposition by revealing 1½-litre versions of the W163 just in time to enter – and win – the Tripoli GP, Italian territory at the time, which was restricted to this lower capacity limit in the hope of an Alfa Romeo win.

Hans Hermann’s demonstration laps in both the 300SLR and the GP car were certainly the major highlight of this first Donington historic meeting but understandably the Scammell Scarab did not venture onto the track.


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