by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

Mercedes-Benz SSK to compete in the 2013 “Elephant Race” at the Nürburgring

The supercharged sports cars with the model designations S, SS, and SSK (W 06) from the late 1920s and early 1930s are towering figures in the history of Mercedes-Benz. These model series line characterised by racing victories, technical innovation, and exclusive aesthetics have long acquired legendary status – and the legend is all set to be brought back to life with a vengeance in June 2013.

On 16 June 2013, Jochen Mass will compete for the Jan Wellem Cup in the “Elephant Race” at the Nürburgring in a Mercedes-Benz SSK from the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection. In entering the 225 hp (166 kW) SSK in the “Elephant Race”, Mercedes-Benz Classic is commemorating the historic win by supercharged Mercedes sports cars on 19 June 1927 – in the Nürburgring’s opening race. Driving the Mercedes-Benz S model, Rudolf Caracciola and Adolf Rosenberger scooped an outstanding double win which laid the foundations for numerous wins to follow.

What began in 1927 with the Mercedes-Benz S – S stands for “Sport” – was continued in the following years as Mercedes-Benz pressed ahead with its efforts to develop and optimise the sports car. The uprated Mercedes-Benz SS – for “super-sport” – duly appeared in 1928, of which only 111 were built from November 1928. The majority of these 101 specimen were produced up to the end of 1930, with a further 10 vehicles following up to September 1933. The “SS” is included in the price lists until July 1935. At the end of 1928, the Mercedes-Benz SS was modified once again for hill-climb races, giving rise to the legendary SSK model designation (German abbreviation for “super-sport-kurz”).

This modification focused primarily on a shortening of the Mercedes-Benz S chassis to a wheelbase of 2950 millimetres. In addition, the short chassis was fitted with the new 7.1-litre engine. On the basis of its actual origins, this means that the SSK should actually have been called the “SK”; on the other hand, the higher-capacity engine underscored its kinship with the Mercedes-Benz SS, prompting the SSK designation. The SSK was fitted with the 42 mm lower radiator of the Mercedes-Benz S. Like the Mercedes-Benz SS before it, however, it sports the newer version of the brand emblem – a single white enamelled star in the middle of a laurel wreath against a blue background.

The Mercedes-Benz S, SS, and SSK subsequently accounted for a major portion of the Daimler-Benz works team’s involvement in racing, and were also used with great success by numerous private drivers. The greatest success of this era without a doubt was the overall victory in the 1931 Mille Miglia for Mercedes-Benz works racing driver Rudolf Caracciola with co-driver Wilhelm Sebastian in an SSKL – an uprated and lighter variant of the SSK. Caracciola was the first non-Italian to win the 1000-mile race from Brescia to Rome and back – and Mercedes-Benz was the first non-Italian brand to win the legendary road race.

Engine designer Albert Heeß exploited the available engine potential to the full for the works team’s racing cars. An output of 310 hp (228 kW) was measured on the test bench with the larger of the two competition superchargers – referred to internally as the “elephant”. This turbocharger was designed for use over short distances, e.g. in hill-climb races. It was able to run continuously, whereas the supercharger was otherwise usually activated by pressing the accelerator down beyond a resistance point. The driver was able to activate and deactivate the supercharger on this racing variant via a linkage which was operated by means of a locking lever underneath the steering wheel.

As part of the ADAC Eifel Race, the “Elephant Race” has become established as a magnificent revival of the supercharger era at which Mercedes-Benz repeatedly makes the running with original racing vehicles. This tradition is to be continued in 2013 with brand ambassador Jochen Mass at the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz SSK, whose history extends back to Caracciola’s victory in 1927.

Mercedes-Benz SSK 27/170/225 hp (W 06), 1928

The SSK (model series W 06) is the most exclusive and fascinating of the six-cylinder supercharged sports cars belonging to the Mercedes-Benz S series. The model designation derives from the German abbreviation for “super-sport-kurz”. The car’s particularly sporty character is underscored by the shortened wheelbase and the high-capacity, high-powered six-cylinder engine. In the summer of 1928, Rudolf Caracciola won the Gabelbach, Schauinsland and Mont Ventoux races by a clear lead at the wheel of the brand-new SSK. In 1930 and 1931, he won the European Hillclimbing Championship at the wheel of the SSK. The lighter and yet more powerful version from 1931, which was also known as the SSKL (German abbreviation for “super-sport-kurz-leicht”) also scored some spectacular victories, a particular highlight being the Mille Miglia win: in April 1931 Rudolf Caracciola became the first ever non-Italian to claim victory in this race. The average speed of 101.1 km/h established a new record.

Technical data – Mercedes-Benz SSK 27/170/225 hp (W 06), street version
Production period: 1928-1930
Cylinders: 6/in-line
Displacement: 7065 cc
Ouptut: 170 hp (123 kW), with supercharger 225 hp (166 kW) at 3,300 rpm
Top speed: 192 km/h

The drivers in the 2013 “Elephant Race”

Jochen Mass
Born on 30 September 1946 in Dorfen near Starnberg.

Jochen Mass began his varied career in motor sport in 1968, racing in touring cars for Alfa-Romeo and as a works driver at Ford between 1970 and 1975. During this period, he won the Spa-Francorchamps 24-hour race (1972). At the same time, he also took part in Formula 2 (1973) and in 105 Formula 1 Grand Prix races (1973/74 with Surtees; 1975-1977 with McLaren; 1978 with ATS; 1979/80 with Arrows; 1982 with March).

After winning the German Racing Car Championship in 1985 and a stint until 1987 as a works driver at Porsche, he joined the Sauber-Mercedes team as a works driver. He drive for this team in Group C until 1991. In the new Silver Arrow – the Sauber-Mercedes C 9 – Jochen Mass won the Le Mans 24-hour race with Manuel Reuter and Stanley Dickens and achieved second place in the 1989 World Championship. Three years later Mass moved into team management in the DTM.

Sir Stirling Moss described him as “a driver with a great feeling for racing cars and a high level of expert knowledge who is familiar with all eras of racing history”. This explains why Jochen Mass is on the scene for Mercedes-Benz right up to the present day at historic events, such as the ADAC Eifel Race at the Nürburgring. From the W 165 Silver Arrow to the Mercedes-Benz SSK – Jochen Mass knows and drives them all.

Did you already know?
The history of the S-Class is the focus of a special exhibition at the Mercedes-Benz Museum from 18 June to 3 November 2013.

Credits: Daimler AG

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