A Valkyrie’s cry, say some; a banshee’s scream, say others. Whatever the metaphor, the sound of
the SSK was extraordinary. So, too, was the car – its look theatrical, its power staggering. The SSK has
since served as inspiration for such modern-day replicas as the Excalibur.
The S series had been introduced in 1927, shortly following the merger of Daimler and archrival
Benz. In turn, the S was followed by the SS. Both cars were designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche and were
successful in races so long as the road was straight. This limitation distressed race manager Alfred
Neubauer. Thus, during the spring of 1928, Porsche was directed to conjure a less unwieldy car for factory
ace Rudi Caracciola to drive in hill climbs. The SSK had the S radiator, the SS engine, an aptly named
“elephant blower” and a chassis shortened by 18 inches (“K” = kurz or short). In two years Rudi won 26 hill
As its predecessor, the SSK was both race and production car. For competition, the engine
developed over 300 hp. Although tamed for the road, the SSK remained one of the most puissant sports cars
on public sale anywhere.
Just 31 SSKs were built in three years, an insignificant number given the 9000-car annual company
production during this period. But the car’s publicity value was enormous. Many SSKs were owned by
celebrities – as this one, which was built for English sportswoman Dorothy Paget, well-known sponsor of the
Blower Bentley race team. A subsequent owner was David Scott-Moncrieff, author of the pioneering
Mercedes-Benz history, Three Pointed Star, who, it has been reported “drove the wheels” off the car.
The SSK’s ultimate flowering arrived in 1931 in the form of the SSKL (“L” for leicht or light),
which was realized by the copious drilling of holes throughout the SSK chassis to reduce weight by 250
pounds. Only handfuls were built, strictly for competition; no genuine examples survive.
The SSK had not been “lightened” by Ferdinand Porsche, incidentally. In late 1928, following a
dispute with the Daimler-Benz board of directors, the brilliant and tempestuous engineer stormed out in a
rage that purportedly was only a few decibels less cacophonous than the towering Mercedes he had created.
Dr. Porsche would, of course, soon be heard from again…
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Briggs Cunningham imported the first Ferrari to race in the US and you can see it in the museum. Learn more