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The Silver Arrows - 75th Anniversary

Long before Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn, Jean Todt and Ferrari there was a period in motor sport history where total domination was even more impressive. Instead of Schumacher and company we had Alfred Neubauer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, Ferdinand Porsche, Tazio Nuvolari and Stirling Moss.

The 75th Anniversary of the Silver Arrows was celebrated this past weekend at the Amelia Island Concouse d'Elegance and auction. We will be bringing you the  results shortly and you can visit our previous story on Amelia Island by following the link at the end of this article. For a comprehensive gallery of the best of the Silver Arrows period, click the link at right.

A brief history of the Silver Arrows

After the Wall Street Crash of 1929 a young, talented and ambitious engineer named Ferdinand Porsche found himself unemployed. Unable to find an employer to meet his requirements (from all reports he had quite an ego) he decided to set up his own company.

Around the same time Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer were all struggling with the economic situation and Auto Union was formed as a merging of those manufacturers.

Baron Klaus von Oertzen Chairman of the newly formed company decided they needed a high profile project to help launch the new brand.

Porsche had done some work for Wanderer and was commissioned to design a new racing car. Von Oertzen brought on Hans Stuck as the first Auto Union driver. Stuck, was one of Germany's most famous and successful drivers and had met Adolf Hitler before he became Chancellor.

Stuck, Baron Oertzen and Porsche met with Hitler after the Berlin Motor Show where Hitler had announced he would be financially supporting the German car industry. Hitler promised a new "Peoples Car" (a project Porsche would also become heavily involved in) and to support a high profile racing program via Mercedes. The three managed to convince Hitler to split the Mercedes racing program funding with them..

In 1934 a new race formula was launched - the 750kg class. The weight referred to the maximum allowable, and was of the few restrictions in design. Nice and simple.

Both Mercedes an Audi developed cars for what was essentially the World Championship class. Audi was first to get a car race ready and competed at the Avus track at Berlin in May of 1934 with a rear engined V16 - extremely adavnced engineering well ahead its time.

Mercedes were not ready. At scrutineering for the next race the brilliantly painted white cars where overweight, but only just. Missing a second race was not an option as there was a certain political leader that did not handle failure.

As there was no way of removing or further lightening any mechanical component, Alfred  Neubauer, the legendary Mercedes team manager through the Silver Arrows era had the mechancis completely strip the paint from the cars and buff  the bare metal. They passed the scales,  Manfred von Brauchitsch won the race and the Silver Arrows where born...... Well that is the story of legend anyway. There has been no shortage of debate and even an official Mercedes symposium to confirm the truth on the paint story.

Before the introduction of sponsorship, each nation had its own race color. Germany started out as white. Italy was and still is red, British - British Racing Green, French blue and Begium - yellow. Other German companies, like Porsche and BMW, still favour mainly the traditional white, while Audi also uses silver to carry on the tradition of Auto Union.

Two Periods

The Silver Arrows era was divided into two periods due to World War 2 and the rebuilding of Germany that followed. The first period lasted from 1934 to 1939 and the second 1954 to 1955. The second period was regrettably cut short due to the tragic accident of the 1955 Le Mans race and the subsequent withdrawal of Mercedes from racing

The engineering and design advances during the 1930's were incredible  The 1937 supercharged Mercedes-Benz W125 developed 475 kW a figure not matched in Formula One until until the 1980s with the introduction of turbo-charged engines. In 1937 the cars exceeded speeds of 300 km/h, and well over 400 km/h during land speed record runs.

The Mercedes-Benz W 154 dominated the 1938 and 1939 Grand Prix seasons with consecutive European Championships won by Rudolf Caracciola (1938) and Hermann Lang (1939).

The W 196 gained 8 pole positions in 12 Grand Prix races and in 1954 and 1955 helped Juan Manuel Fangio win back to back world championships.

Bernd Rosemeyer, Rudolf Caracciola, Hermann Lang, Tazio Nuvolari, Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio are just a few of the legendary drivers of the Silver Arrows.

1954-1955 dominance

Mercedes-Benz rejoined International motor racing in 1954 into the relatively new Formula One class with W196. The car was campaigned in both open-wheel and streamliner form.. Juan Manuel Fangio was poached from Maserati mid-season and joined Mercedes-Benz for the French Grand Prix on 4th of  July. They scored a 1-2 victory with Fangio and Karl Kling, as well as having Hans Hermann obtain the fastest lap. Fangio won three more races and and the world championship..

Fangio continued the success into 1955 with the same car and Stirling Moss joined the team. They won 6 of the 9 rounds between them and won the championship in with Fangio 1st place and Moss in 2nd.

Moss and co-driver Dennis Jenkins famously won the 1955 Mille Miglia at an average speed of  157.65 km/h over 1,600 km, in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR wearing the number 722. That car is now considered the most valuable in existence.

The 300 SLR went onto  further victories throughout Europe and  won the Targa Florio and the 1955 World Sportscar Championship season.

However while leading the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mansthey withdrew after the horrific accident Pierre Levegh. accident that killed 82 spectators. An unfortunate end to one of the most incredible eras of motor sport.

Rod Halligan