Hell for Leather: The Mercedes-Benz W196


Words by: JPS for duncan quinn

When Mercedes-Benz showed up to the 1954 French Grand Prix with their new W196, the competition knew they were Holborned, as the cockneys say.

What had them in a tizzy was the car’s new “Monza” streamlined closed-wheel aluminum body, and one look said Benz had already won. Which Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling proceeded to do, finishing first and second, with teammate Hans Herrmann posting the fastest lap. Sterling Moss also had a bit of luck in his 300SLR W196, which won 9 of 12 races entered and captured the only two world championships in which it competed.

What helped the car to victory was revolutionary tech including the first use of desmodromic valves and a mechanical direct fuel injection system adapted from the DB 601 high-performance V12 used on the Messerschmitt Bf 109E fighter during World War II. Mercedes of course was not about to rest on its laurels. Despite its fantastic success the same body was later used only three more times: at Silverstone, Monza, where it picked up its nickname in 1954, and Monza again in 1955. That’s partly down to a disastrous crash at Le Mans in 1955, but the beauty of the W196 lives on. And on….

Words by JPS for duncan quinn