Wings of Change – 1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W194)
1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W194).
Photo: Casey Annis
Like most German industrial companies, World War II left much of Mercedes-Benz’s Stuttgart factory in ruins. However, with time Mercedes rebuilt and returned to what it knew best, manufacturing passenger vehicles. But Mercedes-Benz also had a passion for competition on the world stage and so by 1951 factions within the company were already making noises about a return to racing. Many of the players that contributed to Mercedes’ great prewar success, like team manager Alfred Neubauer and engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut, were still with the company and itching to get back to racing. Another one of these pro-racing voices was Technical Director Dr. Fritz Nallinger, who, when asked about Mercedes intentions, shyly responded that the company was “…just opening a little window on the motor racing scene.” However, Mercedes was never known for doing anything “little.”
Mercedes’ return to racing was fraught with difficult decisions. Beyond the obvious financial cost to the company, the then current F1 rules would only allow 1.5-liter supercharged cars—like the prewar W165—until the 1954 season when the rules would change to either a 750-cc blown or 2500-cc unblown format. The W165 was no longer competitive and Daimler-Benz management couldn’t justify investment in a new, purpose-built racecar that would in reality only be good for one or two seasons before being made obsolete.
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