Start of the 1954 French Grand Prix

Streamliners – Daimler-Benz Through The Decades

Streamliners – Daimler-Benz Through the Decades – Page Two

In 1937, there were more stunning battles between Mercedes and Auto-Union. Four of the W125 12-cylinder cars went to Tripoli for Lang, Seaman, Caracciola and von Brauchitsch and Auto-Union countered with five rear engine cars, all C-Types for Stuck, Hasse, Fagioli, Rosemeyer and von Delius. Lang’s W125 led home four Auto-Unions followed by three more silver cars, and only von Brauchitsch managed to retire a German machine. The Alfa Romeos and Maseratis trailed in their wake.

Three weeks later came the Avusrennen on Berlin’s famed banked track, and in practice cars were running 170 mph laps! As this race was not run to the 750 Kilogram formula, a number of special cars were entered, two streamlined Auto-Unions for Rosemeyer and Fagioli, and three W125s with fully enclosed bodywork for Caracciola, Lang and von Brauchitsch, the latter also having a new development 12-cylinder engine. The Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo team decided it was not worth going, so only two Maseratis would try to keep the Germans in sight. Caracciola and Rosemeyer finished the first heat a fraction of a second apart, with von Brauchitsch’s Mercedes leading Hasse in the second heat. Von Brauchitsch averaged 160 mph in the streamlined W125, and spectators couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

In the final, both Caracciola and von Brauchitsch had rear axle failure in the first few laps and it was left to Hermann Lang to take the victory in his streamlined Mercedes, raising the average speed to 162 mph and setting fastest lap at 168 mph.

Auto Union C-Type
This shot of the start of the final at the Avusrennen shows von Brauchitsch, the streamlined Auto Union C-Type of Fagioli (33), Hasses’s Auto Union (34) and Lang. (Photo: Daimler-Benz)
Mercedes-Benz W125
Von Brauchitsch had a special 12 cylinder engine in his number 36 W125, here leading one of the Auto Unions and Lang’s W125. (Photo: Daimler-Benz)
Mercedes-Benz W125, Avus race track
A dramatic shot of Herrmann Lang in the winning W125 on one of the cobbled, bank sections of the Avus circuit in Berlin in 1937. (Photo: Daimler-Benz)

The rivalry between the two German teams continued to increase, and even as war in Europe drew inexorably closer, greater efforts were made by each manufacturer to beat the other. Mussolini’s attempts in Italy to try and support an Italian challenge was interesting and brave, but could not cope with the might of the German effort. 1938 saw even more astounding record breaking attempts by streamlined cars which began to look more and more ‘other worldly’. The 1938 W125 record car was now putting out a massive 736 bhp and had raised speeds to 433 kph, or 270 mph.

Mercedes-Benz W125
Caracciola drives the streamlined 12-cylinder W125 on the Darmstadt-Frankfurt Autobahn 1938. (Photo: Daimler-Benz)
Mercedes-Benz W125
Caracciola passes the Frankfurt Airport on his record run. (Photo: Daimler-Benz)
Mercedes-Benz W125, Alfred Neubauer
The competition department is happy after the record breaking high speed run. Competition director Alfred Neubauer is on the right. (Photo: Daimler-Benz)

The following year saw Mercedes take the pursuit of speed two steps further. Always based on the principle of an immensely powerful engine in as light a chassis as possible, there were on-going attempts to reduce drag and improve air penetration. The 1939 W154 was another V12 with twin superchargers, but this time it was a 3-litre machine. Its 468 bhp saw Caracciola achieve 400 kph.

Mercedes-Benz W154 Streamliner
This is the fearsome Mercedes-Benz W154 of 1938/39. (Photo: Daimler-Benz)
Rudolf Caracciola, Mercedes-Benz W154
Caracciola is again behind the wheel of the W154 for a record attempt on the Dessau-Bitterfeld Autobahn. (Photo: Daimler-Benz)

In the same year, with war edging closer still, a further development from Mercedes was the T80, featuring a supercharged 4-stroke V-12 with direct injection and charged air cooling. This bizarre machine would produce 3500 bhp from its 44,500 cc and had a proposed top speed of 650 kph. It was going to be the fastest car ever seen. It never ran as the war saw the entire world change, and many people thought they would never see Mercedes Benz again.

1939 Mercedes-Benz T80
The amazing 1939 T80 that was intended to be the fastest car on earth. (Photo: Daimler-Benz)
Mercedes-Benz T80 Streamliner
The ultimate in pre-war streamlining - the body of the T80 that never ran seriously as the war put a stop to development. (Photo: Daimler-Benz)

Streamliners – Daimler-Benz Through the Decades Continued

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Show Comments (10)

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  1. Great article and love the Streamliner Replica. I’m amazed you got it through the UK IVA test – it took me 11 months to get my Maserati A6GCS Replica through, with many changes needed.

  2. Ed Great article and history lesson. Although it was not an Alfa, it is the next best thing. Saw the 300SLR # 722 at Pebble Beach last year plus the Blitzen, really beautiful cars. Thanks for the story behind the cars, what a great read!! Al

  3. Truly Awesome, what a magnificent age to be racing these remarkable cars….Have seen a few at Goodwood.
    Excellent article and lovely pictures…

  4. Thanks guys for the comments. It has been a pleasure to be involved in such an interesting project. We made our ‘competition debut’ at the Cholmondeley Pageant of Power just two weeks ago where the car was very well received, and where it put on a good show in the postwar Grand Prix class. It will be on show at the Silverstone Classic and will run again at Shelsley Walsh at the end of July as well as at the new Pentillie Fesitval in August.

  5. Ed – what a fantastic article and I really enjoyed your effort to re-create the spirit of the Silver Arrows. And yes the Uhlenhaut Coupe is just about the best shape ever put into sheet metal.

    Somewhere there is a picture of a W196 chassis, complete, with the skin off – this picture gives you a sense of the masterful engineering underneath the “Elektron” bodywork.

    anyway well done!

  6. Dear Ed,

    Great piece and lovely pictures – cannot wait to see you both in the flesh at the Silverstone Classic.

    Thank you again for a wonderful piece,


  7. I saw this car yesterday at the Pentillie Festval of Speed. What a lovely car, I must confess I was unaware of this recreation, though knew of the originals. Great achievement, MB’s own acceptance of this at their Brooklands facility justifies its creation. The Embericos Bentley tribute, was also at Pentillie, another stunning piece of craftsmanship.

  8. John
    Great you got to see the car at Pentillie. It was a real challenge on that very tight and twisty hill…not what the Streamliner was intended for. I am very flattered to have received the Retro-Speed ‘Man and machines’ Trophy for driving at the event. Ed

  9. My late father Dieter Schmitt ended his career with the factory race team in 1955 at the LeMans race crash. He helped build race engines for the W196R. Great article. Nice to revisit those exciting times for race technology.