Page 1 of 2 Next >> Shortly after the end of World War Two, motor racing was understandably not a priority for Mercedes-Benz. Thanks to the amazing economic turn around of the country, the German manufacturer could return to racing sooner than most expected. Their first effort was in the early 1950s with the production car derived 300 SL, which took a win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1952. Everybody knew that it was a matter of time when Mercedes-Benz would return to Grand Prix racing. There they did have to live up to impossibly high expectations as in the past they did not only dominate, but also won at their returns to the sport in 1914 and 1934. Exactly twenty years later Mercedes-Benz re-entered GP racing with the W196 and they did not disappoint. There was a more important reason for Mercedes-Benz to kick off their Grand Prix program in 1954 as it was the first year of the new 2.5 litre Formula 1 regulations. This meant that all active manufacturers also had to start with a clean sheet, giving them less of an advantage over newcomers.
In the past the Mercedes-Benz racing cars were not only the fastest, but also the most technologically advanced; a showcase of the company's advanced technical capabilities. The W196, especially its straight eight engine fitted right into that pattern. Considering the relatively small displacement of 2.5 litres, the German engineers' choice for the long straight eight engine was quite surprising. Like the great 1930s Alfa Romeo 'eight', the M 196 R was built up of two blocks of four cylinders with the dual overhead camshafts driven from the heart of the engine. This configuration meant the camshafts needed to be only half the length of the engine, preventing them from flexing under heavy loads. The valvetrain itself was a lot less conventional as it used 'Desmodromic' system, which uses the camshaft to both open and close the valves. Not needing fragile springs to close the valves meant the engine could rev considerably higher. A real novelty was the Bosch developed direct Fuel Injection system, which had already been used successfully on the 300 SL racing cars. The exceptionally advanced engine produced 257 bhp at its debut and continuous development saw that power hiked within a year to 290 bhp at an impressive 8500 rpm.
Also carried over from the 300 SL was the space-frame chassis, which consisted of a large number of small diameter tubes. It was a new approach to building chassis, which combined light weight with exceptional rigidity. Suspension was by dual wishbones and torsion bars at the front and swing axles with torsion bars at the rear. The massive drum brakes were installed inboard both front and rear to reduce unsprung weight and improve handling. To make sure the brakes were cooled properly the massive drums were equipped with fins for the so-called 'Turbo-cooling'. To lower the center of gravity and the frontal area, the straight eight engine was angled 37° on its side. Like the camshaft drive, the power take-off from the crankshaft was at the centre of the engine. Power was fed through a sub-shaft and a prop-shaft to the five speed gearbox, which was mounted in unit with the differential. Sparing no expense, the engineers developed a variety of track specific versions of the W196 with three wheelbases and two body styles. Harking back at late 1930s practice an all enveloping low-drag streamliner body was created for high speed tracks. For the more technical tracks a more conventional open-wheel body was fitted. Page 1 of 2 Next >>