by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

60 years of SL: Mercedes-Benz 300 SL - A three-fold victory at the “Grand Prix of Bern” 60 years ago

From the outset, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194 series) was conceived exclusively for racing. Its uncompromising form caused a considerable stir at its presentation on 12 March 1952. Ten racing cars of this type were then built for the 1952 racing season. The 300 SL (W 194 series) was successful in all the well-known sports car events in the 1952 season. It bestowed its sportiness on the succeeding vehicles of the SL series – the abbreviation stands for “Super Light”. But it all began in early summer 1952.

As a complement to the Swiss Grand Prix, on 18 May 1952 the Grand Prix of Bern took place at the Bremgarten Ring on the outskirts of the Swiss capital. The competition was specified exclusively for sports cars with a displacement of more than 1.5 litres and thus appeared made to measure for the new Mercedes-Benz racing cars. So the brand presented itself in the Swiss capital city with four 300 SL cars and an illustrious team of drivers. Rudolf Caracciola, Hermann Lang, Karl Kling and young gun Fritz Riess were the pilots of the newcomer that was awaited with great expectation by the public.

The race held quite a few surprises in store for everyone. The first was the best qualifying time of Swiss sports car master Willy Daetwyler at the wheel of a Ferrari 340 America, the most powerful vehicle of all. He stood next to Kling and Lang in the first row. In the second row were Caracciola and, in an Aston Martin DB2, Reginald Parnell.

The second surprise was Daetwyler having to abandon the race right after its start due to a driveshaft malfunction that caused the car to roll languidly to a standstill after just a few metres. After a lightning start Caracciola, on the other hand, took the lead like in the old days; however, in the second lap he already had to yield this position to his old rival Lang. There followed a tension-packed chase by Kling, who managed to catch up with and overtake his teammate Lang after a tough struggle. This duel, spontaneous and in no way staged by the team direction, increased the excitement of the event.

The third surprise was the accident and consequent elimination of Caracciola, who collided head-on with a tree after a brake malfunction. For the old master, this crash meant the end, not only of the race, but of his career as a racing driver as well.

Kling, Lang and Riess finished the race sweeping up the first three places. There are two details worth remembering: Fritz Riess drove car number 0006, which was the first 300 SL with large gullwing doors – the doors of the previous cars did not reach down so far into the vehicle’s flanks. And the cars were all painted different colours chosen by Head Engineer and Member of the Board Fritz Nallinger in order to tell them apart better during the race.

Lang’s car, number 0003, with starting number 20, was painted in Daimler-Benz colour DB 120 (blue), Kling’s, number 0004 with starting number 18, in DB 229 (green), Caracciola’s car, 0005 and starting number 16, in DB 516 (red) while Riess’s vehicle, 0006 and starting number 22, was in the usual silver livery.

The triple victory in Bern was followed by other successes: a double victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a four-fold triumph at the Great Jubilee Prize at Nürburgring and a further double win in the 3rd Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, the last great adventure of the 1952 racing season. Before the Bern race, in early May of the year, the W 194 had reached 2nd and 4th places at the Mille Miglia race; of the five different manufacturers in the first six places, Mercedes-Benz was the only brand to be represented with two of its cars.

Credits: Daimler AG

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