Former European rally champion Eugen Böhringer has died, at the age of 91
“He always gave his best”, said Böhringer’s one-time co-pilot Klaus Kaiser in relation to his former partner’s success in motor racing, at a celebration held in 1992 to mark the 70th birthday of the rally-driving legend. Expressed in broad dialect and with typically wry, Swabian understatement, the comment in fact conveyed a huge compliment, while also providing the perfect motto for Eugen Böhringer’s life. Böhringer’s particular skill was his ability to pilot the heavy saloons of that era round the most gruelling of routes as if they were featherweights. It was an art that led him to win the 1962 Acropolis Rally and Liège–Sofia–Liège Rally, driving a Mercedes-Benz 220 SE (W 111), as well as the following year’s Acropolis Rally, Germany Rally and Touring Car Grand Prix of Argentina in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SE (W 112). Proving that he was just as much a master of the – at that point – new Mercedes-Benz 230 SL (W 113) sports car, known as the “Pagoda”, Böhringer also won the gruelling long-distance Spa–Sofia–Liège Rally in 1963.
“His competitors fear him, because he always takes things to the extreme limit, always risks everything, and demands the utmost of himself, of Klaus Kaiser and of the Mercedes-Benz 230 SL that they are driving in the rally, right up to the very last second”, wrote the German illustrated magazine “Kristall” in a report on Böhringer that appeared in late 1964.
Hotelier and works racing driver
In the early 1960s Eugen Böhringer was one of the most successful works drivers for Mercedes-Benz. Having originally trained as a chef, however, his day-to-day job was in fact the running of his family’s hotel on the hill at Rotenberg, above Stuttgart. Like most of his team colleagues during this era, it was as a private individual that he drove for the Stuttgart-based brand in international rallies and long-distance races.
The links to Mercedes-Benz stretched right back into Eugen Böhringer’s childhood: in 1928 his father, Gottfried Böhringer, had established a bus service between Stuttgart-Rotenberg and Untertürkheim for employees at the Mercedes-Benz plant. The family had bought a Mercedes 16/45 hp as far back as 1925, which was also driven by Eugen’s mother. Emma Böhringer was one of the first women in the Stuttgart area to possess a driving licence. So it was somehow inevitable that, as a boy, Eugen should dream of a career as an automotive technician at Mercedes-Benz. Nevertheless, the family managed to convince him to train as a chef and to take over the restaurant and hotel up on the hill.
Böhringer’s fascination for the cars that bear the three-pointed star was, however, in no way diminished by his burgeoning career in the gastronomy sector. A wager between friends ultimately led to the hotelier entering his first local and regional competitions in his own Mercedes-Benz 219 (W 105) in the mid-1950s, and soon brought him success. Amongst those early achievements was a second place in the Stuttgart Solitude Rally of 1958, a race that he would go on to win in both 1959 and 1960.
Rally victories for Mercedes-Benz
Mercedes-Benz soon recognised Böhringer’s talent and took him on as a works driver from 1960. He achieved his first success internationally as a Mercedes-Benz racing driver with a second place in the 1960 Monte Carlo Rally (with Hermann Socher as co-driver). The race, on 24 January, saw the pair in their Mercedes Benz 220 SE (W 111) “Fintail” saloon take second place in the overall ranking behind race winners Walter Schock and Rolf Moll.
The Monte Carlo Rally remained a challenge for Böhringer over the ensuing years. He took class victory every year between 1961 and 1965 in the category over 2000 cc, while also winning second place in the overall ranking several more times, but the coveted overall victory in this classic rally always eluded him. But other major triumphs on the part of the Stuttgart-born driver made up for this deficit: in 1961 he was the runner-up in the European Rally Championship, going on to win it the following year.
Böhringer then won the Acropolis Rally, the Poland Rally and the Liège–Sofia–Liège Rally of 1962. He explained his tricks for coping with the exertions of this 5500-kilometre rally to the German motoring magazine “Auto Motor und Sport” in 1982 as follows: “Our bodily fitness was ensured by glucose, milk and vast quantities of water”.
His wins in 1963 included the Spa–Sofia–Liège long-distance run, this time with Klaus Kaiser as his co-pilot in a Mercedes Benz 300 SE. As the British motoring magazine “Autosport” recorded in September 1963: “Eugen Böhringer chalked up his second successive victory in this most arduous event, he and Kaiser putting up a fantastic performance in the beautiful new 230 SL to drop only 8 minutes in an event of over 93 hours’ duration, which covered over 3430 miles”. Böhringer also won the Acropolis Rally of 1963, as well as the Poland Rally, and took second place in both the Monte Carlo Rally and the Germany Rally of that same season.
His objective in 1964 was to take victory for a third time in the Spa–Sofia–Liège marathon endurance run, but only managed to finish in third place. The organisers nevertheless presented him with a gold trophy, in acknowledgement of the fact that, especially in view of the high rate of drop-out in this “Marathon de la route”, two wins and two excellent placements in four successive years represented a tally that up to that point had been inconceivable.
Mercedes-Benz withdrew from rallying and touring car racing after the 1964 season. Böhringer entered the Monte Carlo Rally of 1965 in a Porsche 904, but this was to mark the end of his active motor racing career. All in all, 13 winner’s pins remain as reminders of his successes in Mercedes-Benz vehicles. In 2001 Böhringer, who had always remained closely associated with motor racing and Mercedes-Benz, joined other racing drivers in establishing the “Solitude Revival” association.
Mercedes-Benz commits itself to commemorating and keeping alive the memory of this remarkable man and his achievements.
Credits: Daimler AG
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