With the readmission of the German Federal Republic to the FIA in 1951, both Porsche, which had won its class at Le Mans earlier in the year and Mercedes-Benz entered works teams. The ‘three-pointed star’ marque once again relied on the strategies of Alfred ‘Don Alfredo’ Neubauer, who had directed Caracciola’s victory in 1931. Twenty-one years after his legendary victory Caracciola had returned along with fellow drivers Hermann Lang and Karl Kling. Three new 300SL sports cars were carefully prepared for the race. As if the terrible war had never happened this veteran team set upon a two month regime of preperation.
During this time they studied the course, practiced refueling and changing tires, planned their strategy and studied their potential opposition with, dare I say it military precision. On one practice run Karl Kling and his co-driver Hans Klenk were exiting a long left-hand bend at close to 100 mph when they observed a Fiat 1100 that was heading straight for them, the driver evidently asleep at the wheel. With no time left to brake the Mercedes swung to the left side of the road but its rear wheel caught a tree. This threw the German car into a violent spin and it’s rear crashed into yet another tree. After a few more slides and skids the car came to rest. After taking a deep breath the drivers realized that neither was hurt but the car was now un-drivable. Shortly afterwards Herman Lang in a sister car came upon the scene and towed the stricken car to a nearby garage. Calls were made and the 3 1/2 ton Mercedes lorry was dispatched. As the mechanics had driven a long way to meet the car Kling offered to take the wheel of the lorry. Naturally he practiced the remainder of the route racing the lorry to the consternation of the mechanics who found themselves prisoners of this maniac!
The Porsche team was led by Fritz Huske von Hanstein who had left BMW for whom he had won the Mille Miglia in 1940. Great Britain was represented by works teams from Jaguar, Aston Martin and Healey while France was represented by determined teams from Renault and Panhard who were attracted by the index of performance class introduced that year.
That the mercedes team was not awarded the race there and then was the only surprise but the world had changed and Ferrari were the new masters. Arrayed against the German might was a Ferrari works team headed by Piero Taruffi’s 300 bhp 4.5-liter two seater, a light-weight 3-liter coupe for hill-climb specialist Giovanni Bracco, a late replacement for the injured Villoresi and six 2.7-liter roadsters for Biondetti, Castelotti, Bornigia, Scotti, and the brothers Vittorio and Paolo Marzotto. It was said that Ferrari would have even enlisted the great Nuvolari himself had the Mantuan been available. Add to this a gaggle of private Ferraris, Lancias and Fiats and the Germans must have though that they had entered a hornets nest.
For the third successive year the cars were sent away in heavy rain, the first being dispatched at 9:01 on Saturday evening and the last of the 501 starters at 6:29 the following morning. New for this race was the wooden starting ramp that allowed the spectators a fine view of their heros before they took off. Taking the early lead was Bracco over Kling’s Mercedes but by the time the field reached Rome the German had turned the tables. One the return home it was Taruffi’s turn to take the lead only to fall victim to another mechanical failure when his transmission seized while tackling the Futa and Raticosa passes. Four-time winner Clemente Biondetti who was lying fourth at the time had to retire due to a vehicle fire.
What followed in the words of Ferrari was probably “the most spectacular success of all my racers.” Bracco, a man who liked to drink was two minutes down on Kling when he reached Florence but swore to his co-driver who was reputedly supply him with shots of brandy that they would be leading by the time they reached Bologna. His motto had always been, “Either it goes, or I’ll crash it”. True to his word he was now over a minute ahead. On the final sprint to Brescia he added another three minutes to his advantage. Coming in third was the Aurelia of Luigi Fagioli followed by Caracciola in fourth. Many years later, a German journalist would write that Kling never quite recovered from his Mille Miglia defeat at the hands of the hard drinking Bracco and his Ferrari. Some journalistic friends had amused themselves by calculating the consumption in liters of Bracco and his car.