This stunningly sleek and sophisticated two-stage supercharged V12-cylinder Grand Prix car embodies the highwater mark of racing car design prior to World War II.
Not only is this the very last Grand Prix car to be completed and raced by the legendary Daimler-Benz Rennabteilung pre-war, it has also survived in its type’s ultimate configuration – sporting the definitive ‘K’-series – or ‘M163’ type – two-stage supercharged 4-cam V12 racing engine, developing some 483-horsepower at an earsplitting 7,800 rpm. Maximum speed – dependent on gearing and wheel diameter fitted – could easily exceed 190 mph.
Road racing history divides conveniently into a series of eras. Most charismatic of them all is the so-called ‘Age of Titans’ 1934-39 during which the German state-supported Grand Prix teams of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union achieved total domination.
That ‘Age’ ended after two seasons in which supercharged engines were limited to no more than 3-liters capacity. Even though the ultimately 6-liter Grand Prix cars of 1934-37 had been built to a maximum weight limit of 750 Kilogrammes, and these replacement 3-liter cars had to observe a minimum weight limit of 850Kg, it was 3-liter cars such as this Mercedes-Benz W154/39 which proved fastest of all around Europe’s classical Grand Prix circuits.
This supremely significant machine made just one works-team racing appearance – in the ‘Beograd City Park Race’ or ‘Belgrade Grand Prix’ run in the Yugoslav capital’s Kalemegdan Park on September 3, 1939 – the day on which Great Britain and France declared war upon Nazi Germany.
This actual car was driven in that race by Manfred von Brauchitsch – nephew of Feld-Marschall Walter von Brauchitsch, the Germany Army’s most senior officer. Brauchitsch qualified this car on pole position. He then led the race in ‘15’ at a terrific pace before spinning in front of the French Embassy. He rejoined against the direction of race traffic, almost being struck by the Italian driver Nuvolari’s rival Auto Union as it took the lead. So it was that Tazio Nuvolari won this last race of the ‘Age of Titans’, from Manfred von Brauchitsch second in this entirely iconic machine – the absolutely ultimate ‘Silver Arrow’.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Most race cars were non-competitive after their first campaign — the 1927 Vauxhall was competitive for 23 years (1927–1950) and you can see it in person. Learn more