Join The World's Best Iconic & Vintage Car Community >>

1921 Targa Florio – 100 years Since Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport Class Win

Targa Florio

On May 29, 1921, Max Sailer drove the Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport under the piercing Sicilian sun for a little less than seven and a half hours to complete the Targa Florio. Sailer claimed second overall, the fastest lap time, and a class win in the touring cars over 5 liters. 

He drove for more than 432 kilometers against remarkably formidable competitors who were mostly Italian drivers.

The 1921 Targa Florio race was held on a 108-kilometer circuit at the north of the Italian island on unpaved mountain roads. Drivers were required to complete four laps of the challenging track which contained around 1,500 bends, and an 800-meter altitude change.

Behind the wheel of the Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport is Max Sailer
Behind the wheel of the Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport is Max Sailer.

Since the race’s beginning in 1906, the 1921 Targa Florio was considered to be the first edition of the road race where professional works teams competed for the first time.

Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) had two of their 28/95 hp Sports cars sent to Sicily. The challenge commenced even before the race began as Max Sailer himself drove his racing car to Sicily. Even though the distance to Sicily was 1,300 kilometers away as the crow flies, it became 2,000 kilometers on the road. However, this practice was rather normal in motorsport at the time.  

Adding to the challenges were high temperatures and dust, as well as the great risk of tire punctures from hoof nails littering the road. In fact, it was this very same risk that hindered them from claiming the overall victory. In a sales bulletin from DMG on June 6, 1921, it stated: 

“Sailer had to change tires nine times, while the absolute winner of the Targa, who arrived just two minutes ahead of him in a special Fiat racing car, did not have a single flat tire.” 

What was remarkable was despite the nine punctures, the Stuttgart-bred racing driver was able to complete the Targa Florio in 7 hours, 27 minutes, and 16.2 seconds, running an average speed of 57.9kph. 

Driver Max Sailer and co-driver Hans Rieger in the Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport
Driver Max Sailer and co-driver Hans Rieger in the Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport at the Untertürkheim plant

To manage the grueling conditions of the Targa Florio, Sailer was fortunate to rely on a new technology: the Mercedes 28/95 was the first Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) vehicle that incorporated four-wheel brakes.

The new system had provided a noticeable improvement in braking power, resulting in improved driving safety and precision. The brakes used were drum brakes which were visible behind the wire-spoked wheels. 

The Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport success with four-wheel brakes’ is an excellent example of how racing directly affects new vehicle technology.

Starting June 1921, the 28/95 hp Sport was added to their range of standard models available. Their successes at the Targa Florio became a great marketing tool for the model.

A Viennese car dealer, Mercedes Auto-Palast, had a full-page ad in the Austrian “Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung” dated November 6, 1921, with the slogan “Seven races-seven victories!” The ad also announced the arrival of the model, saying, “Six-cylinder model 28/95 hp, 1921, has arrived!” 

From 1923, the production version of the top model 28/95 hp was also equipped by DMG with the “all-wheel brake system”.

1921 Targa Florio

In time, the four-wheel brake system was adopted as a standard in automotive engineering all over the world.

The difference in performance between the rear axle brakes and the four-wheel brake system was so enormous that in the mid-1920s, there was actually a discussion in Germany on establishing a warning sign on these vehicles to warn the other road users ahead of time. On September 12, 1925, the “Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung” reported this with the headline, “Caution, four-wheel brakes!” 

Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport

The Mercedes 28/95 Sport was the next step in the high-performance luxury vehicle evolution. Before the First World War, Paul Daimler designed the Mercedes 28/95 and unveiled it in 1914. 

The Mercedes 28/95 was equipped with a 66 kW (90hp) in-line six-cylinder engine that had a 7,280cc displacement, an overhead camshaft, and overhead valves that were arranged at an angle.

chassis of the Mercedes 28/95 hp
Contemporary photo of the chassis of the Mercedes 28/95 hp

By 1915, around 25 units were produced by DMG though in 1920, after the end of the war, production restarted.  

For the 1921 racing activities, the Mercedes 28/95 hp was extensively modified by the engineers that it was considered to be a separate model adding a “Sport” suffix.

Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport with a two-seater body
Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport with a two-seater body.

Some of the upgrades done included the increase of engine output to 81 kW (110hp) and reducing the wheelbase to 3,065 millimeters for better maneuverability.

The driver’s seat was lowered, as was the cooler, which was also lowered and placed further back. And for the first time in a DMG vehicle, four-wheel brakes were included in the competition vehicle.

Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport with a racing two-seater body
Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport with a racing two-seater body.

Additional development on the Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport to add a supercharged engine began in the same year in 1921, but the car was only used in the Targa Florio in 1922. With the mechanical supercharger, the racing car produced 107 kW (145hp) at 2,000 rpm.  

Further Victories at the Targa Florio

Mercedes and later Mercedes-Benz captured several further victories at the Targa Florio in later years.

In 1922, Count Giulio Masetti won using a 1914 Mercedes 115hp Grand Prix racing car which they enhanced, with Max Sailer claiming victory in the class of touring cars with displacement over 4.5-liters using the supercharger equipped Mercedes 28/95 hp.

In 1924, using a Mercedes 2-liter racing car with a compressor, Christian Werner claimed victory. His car was camouflaged with the color red which was the typical color of their Italian competitors.

In 1955, it was at the Targa Florio that Stirling Moss and Peter Collins captured the World SportsCar Championship win defeating their teammates Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling, with a one-two finish in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing sports cars (W 196S). 

[Source: Daimler]