Mercedes Manufacturer Profile & Rally History

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Mercedes Home Country: Germany Germany

The Mercedes rally story is quickly told. First a note to who is Mercedes: The company was formed of the fusion of Karl Benz (chassis) and Gottlieb Daimler (engines) with some contribution of Wilhelm Maybach (engineer). The Mercedes name came after a daughter of one of Mercedes' first customers, Mercedes Jellinek, her dad Emil Jellinek being a French based Austrian diplomat and racing driver. In the meantime the company lost the rights to the Daimler name to Jaguar, as you can read in the Peugeot and MG Rover stories of this database in more detail. All very strange, really, and would take too long to only attempt to explain. At the same time I have the bravery to challenge Mercedes or Benz as the inventor of the first automobile, too! Hmm, doesn't seem like the author here is a proud German? But honestly, the first car that everyone seems to celebrate as Karl Benz's Patentwagen of 1886 is so remote from a car that... well even Karl Benz never called it a car but an automobile. But then again what is an automobile? A thing that is automatically mobile? Horse carriages and de Dion cars all combined with Serpollet steam engines were before. In 1769 Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot from Lorraine in France (funny enough near the German border) invented his first steam driven automobile. Although Cugnot needed until 1771 to have built a fully functional version of his car, he still beat Karl Benz by a whopping 115 years! OK, doesn't help the Mercedes-Benz story a lot, but if I tell you only things that everybody else wants to make you believe, than there is not much point reading these database stories.... ANYWAY

The Mercedes rally story is quickly told. First I note a start in Rallye Monte Carlo 1952 with the W187 and some F1 drivers, but with the best car of Rudolf Caracciola finishing only 18th this was hardly the start of a big story. That aside, it all started sensibly in the late 1950s and 1960s with their old models, in particular the 220SE, 230SL & 300SE (see also makes/model section "_ancient_, Mercedes W111” for all early Mercedes rally models). That early program was actually more initiated by the drivers Walter Schock and Eugen Böhringer. Indeed it was Mercedes dealer Eugen Böhringer who had a number of successes in his very private 219 (W105) before Mercedes joined big. The cars of Schock & Böhringer soon carried Stuttgart number plates and surely Mercedes themselves were involved when Finnish star Rauno Aaltonen and Swedish lady driver Evy Rosqvist joined the team. But, surprisingly maybe, 90% of the time the big S-Class predecessor W111 was used. The light, short hardtop coupé 230SL (W113) remained the exception, while curiously the smaller and lighter saloon 219 (W105 - a combination of small 190 model chassis with big 220SE model engine, hence 219, a car that was never a big success as for the typical Mercedes customer if you have big engine you want it to look big, but for fun and rally you don't care about looks if you have a big engine in a light and nimble car), which was also Böhringer's first choice as his private rally car, as a works car the 219 was only seen on the tough Safari Rally where in turn the bigger car would have made more sense. Such the program had quite some interesting curiosities.

I like curiosities for my database and to explain the models above at the same time: Today sadly Mercedes model numbers don't make any sense at all any more (regularly showing bigger numbers than the engines in them, sorry that's cars for people with small dicks!), but back in the days they were a clear reference to engine sizes. It is interesting to note that 220SE, 230SL & 219 all used virtually the same engine, only very slightly bored up for the 230SL. The 219 meanwhile is an unusual number for Mercedes, but it really had a much smaller shell than the S-class predecessor and with no names as S-Class, E-Class, C-Class in place yet this identified it as the smaller car despite the same 2.2L engine. (As well the smaller engined W111 was available as 220, 220S & 220SE, just only the SE version was rallied, but you see beyond the distinction they couldn't really call the W105 = 220. And with 220 = W111 too, note again that the W111 was very much the predecessor to the S-Class. The W105 = 219 should not be mistaken for the Ponton Mercedes 190 = W120/121 = E-Class predecessor as the 219 was indeed by Mercedes launched as some kind of poor people's S-Class, which however doesn't make it a bad car for motorsport.) It was a very good engine in those days as the big 3.0L (only available in the W111 as 300SE) only was 14BHP up on the 2.2L, which again explains why there was no real need to use the 300SE version. But that still leaves us with curiosities, if the technical base is all the same, why would you go and rally the biggest and heaviest shell of the lot most of the time? Well, the smaller cars seemed to be used more for marathons, if at all, while the ERC successes were near all down to the big SE models. These cars won the ERC in 1955, 1956, 1960 & 1962, but already in these days the Mercedes name became more identified with long distance, marathon style rallies, such as Argentina and the Liége-Sophia-Liége Rally which the team won in 1962 & 1963. But then it became quiet again around Mercedes and as before the make concentrated more on circuit racing.

Maybe already in that first stint at rallying Mercedes showed their character that made people overjoyed when things went wrong for them. The 1960 ERC title looked like firmly in Citroën's hands until their driver crashed on the last rally, RAC 1960. In an embarrassing display of bad sportsmanship Mercedes withdrew mid event, having the title secure now. Curiosly again, I feel like being the only rally fan who fully understands and supports team orders in certain situations, but celebrating your title by not finishing the last event on purpose and such spoiling the rally for everybody who made the trip?

By 1977 Mercedes was back and incredibly the story was not inspired by the works team but by the British Mercedes importer preparing a 280E (W123), even UK registered ULL 772R, and winning the London-Sydney Rally 1977 with it. Mercedes then entered four 280E on the Safari 1978 as full works cars, the result was however an embarrassment. So on their second works event, the non-WRC Grand Premio Sudamericana (turn Rally Argentina) 1978, they entered some huge 450SLC (W107) alongside the 280E and here the 450SLC proved faster and won. So for future years 280E & 280CE models only started occasionally as some kind of a B-team entry. 450SLC & 500SLC were basically the same car, reasoning and details you find in the according chapters. Curiously the "initiators" Mercedes UK importers went the opposite route, as they turned to the slightly smaller and lighter 280E only after an embarrassing test start of Tony Fowkes in a 450SLC on the 1976 Tour of Britain.

Anyway, following the 450SLC success in Argentina 1978, Mercedes turned to a proper and very serious WRC program. But all they proved was that they really had the wrong ideas about rallying. Just before the start of the 1981 season Mercedes pulled out and was never seen again. With the introduction of group A rallying a few 190E 2.3-16 (W201) appeared, which was actually a well handling, although underpowered RWD car, but these were in no case works supported and soon disappeared again.

Why Mercedes had the wrong attitude, why their WRC program was regarded as an embarrassment and why they pulled out very suddenly in disgust is already in detail described in the description sheet to the very characterful Mercedes 450SLC (group 4), so please look there for more detail and the wider, fairer picture.

OK, a key situation we describe to you already here: For 1981 Mercedes planned a full WRC season and they signed Walter Röhrl and Ari Vatanen both for 5(!) years. During the testing for Monte Carlo 1981 the Mercedes bosses phoned Röhrl and asked: "Is there any chance that we might not win this rally?". You and me, like everybody who remotely understands rallying, know too well that you never ever can predict anything in rallying, so Walter's answer was an obvious one - yet Walter's answer was enough for Mercedes to pull the plug on their rally program! Be honest, if that is the attitude "we won't do sport if wins are not always guaranteed", aren't you glad they buggered off?

COLOURS & TYRES:

Not much fantasy on this part. You will find that in the 1960s about every car make had their bonnets in a matt black, which was thought to reduce possible driver irritation through sun reflection. Mercedes still had that feature in the late 1970s. Otherwise the cars were just plain silver. Or more accurately silver or white, but with silver plus black bonnets being the more official colours. White with black bonnets were only the 280E saloon cars until Safari 1979 and the 500SL Monte 81 Röhrl test car. The 1980 280CE and the other 500SL prototype were silver again.

Except experimenting with Pirelli tyres on Rally Argentina 1980, Mercedes used Dunlop tyres throughout.

REGISTRATIONS:

As described the project was inspired by the UK Mercedes importer winning the 1977 London-Sydney Rally with a 280E. This being an importer's car, it was accordingly registered ULL 772R, with the L as the 2nd digit of the 3-letter-block identifying London. Altogether there were 3 UK registered "hidden-official" Mercedes. Everything that followed were proper works cars and accordingly registered in Stuttgart, Germany, indicated by areal code S before the dash. The "S-" is followed by 2 letters and a 4-digit number. This must have been a new size reg plate for Stuttgart at the time. Stuttgart is big, but by far not as big as i.e. München "M". In our database, as new Mercedes are joining in, you can see a sequential order in these reg plates ("DP", "DV", "DX", "EH"), which in the German registration system is very unusual indeed! There also are some Mercedes appearing with reg plates starting KS. This stands for Kassel and the cars actually belong to Scuderia Kassel, a motorsport minded Mercedes dealer.

Mercedes Rally Cars

Model Class
Mercedes Mercedes W107  Group 4
Mercedes Mercedes W107  Group 2
Mercedes Mercedes W123  Group 2
Mercedes Mercedes W201  Group A

Rally Honour Roll

Year Class Place Manufacturer Events
1980 WRC Open 66th. Mercedes (29pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1979 WRC Open 8th. Mercedes (35pts) 12

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar

1978 WRC Open 15th. Mercedes (12pts) 11

Season Summary | Season Points | Events Calendar