Other exhibits detail more recent Mercedes-Benz leadership in safety, efficiency and the environment.
But after viewing the 300 SLR, most readers would hot foot it directly to the final exhibition, that displays well over a century of dominating racing cars produced by Daimler, Benz and Mercedes-Benz.
One exhibit hall displays contemporary championship-winning Mercedes-Benz representing Formula 1, Le Mans, Indianapolis, the DTM German Touring Car Championship—even truck racing.
But for the initiated, it is the counter-balance of great racing cars from an earlier era that closed, seemingly forever, with Mercedes-Benz’ withdrawal from racing after the successful 1955 season that have drawn us to the museum.
This is a hall of immortals. The 1955 Mille Miglia-winning 300 SLR sports car “722” driven by Sir Stirling Moss with co-pilot Denis Jenkinson is sometimes described as the most important automobile in the world.
The 1952 Carrera Panamericana-winning 300 SL did much to establish Mercedes-Benz with post-war American buyers, and is the same design that won the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Tucked to the inside of the track are a pair of Mercedes-Benz W196 Grand Prix cars driven by 1954-1955 World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio and Moss. The W196 Grand Prix car was designed to new rules for 2.5-liter cars beginning in 1954.
The W196 straight-eight GP engine was made up of two, 4-cylinder blocks with camshafts driven from the center. A revolutionary desmodromic valve train eliminated the need for valve springs and allowed for higher rpm.
Other features carried over from the 300 SL sports car into the W196 GP car were Bosch fuel injection and a space frame chassis design that provided both light weight and exceptional strength.
With typical thoroughness, Mercedes-Benz developed both open-wheel and fully enclosed streamlined versions of the W196 GP. The W196 was good for than 184 mph, or 300+ km/hr. The open wheel and streamlined variations were selected—like a tire choice—as each was best suited to a given GP course.
The W196 won five of seven races entered in the 1954 Grand Prix season, beginning at the French GP at Reims in July, and five of nine races in 1955.
Only a few meters behind are the pre-war W154, W125 and W25 Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix cars of the 1930s—cars that gave rise to the name “Silver Arrows”. Earlier German race cars were painted nationalistic white, but the dominating GP cars of the mid- to late-1930s carried a simple silver finish. Apocryphally, the change was made to save the weight of the paint!
But the lasting change was to remake Grand Prix racing. With the direct support of the German government, Mercedes-Benz—and Auto Union—destroyed the competition and saw off venerable marques like Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Bugatti from GP racing. Streamlined versions of the Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix cars were also used to set records on German autobahns.