Visitors to this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed have a treat in store, thanks to Mercedes Benz. The company will give thrilling high-speed demonstrations of its celebrated W 196 R Streamliner racing car for the first time in some 40 years.
The Festival of Speed has seen numerous Mercedes cars starring in recent years. In 2001 a sky-high 300 SL "Gullwing" formed the focus of the central display, while 2002 saw 50 years of SL motoring celebrated. This year's festival marks the long-awaited return of one of the most dominant Grand Prix cars ever built.
The first formula racing car built by Mercedes Benz after WWII, the W 196 R is the car that helped legendary Argentinian driver Juan Manuel Fangio to his world championship in 1954 (his second at the wheel of a Mercedes followed in 1955). Although there was little doubt of the company’s return to competition following its previous racing success, the wait until 1954 produced emphatic results.
New regulations for 1954 meant that manufacturers could choose either 750 cc supercharged engines, or 2500 cc naturally aspirated units. Daimler-Benz, under the guidance of engineering genius Rudolf Uhlenhaut, chose the latter route. The result was the W 196 R Streamliner.
In the cars' first outing at the French Grand Prix in Reims, the team held pole and second place on the grid, led for every lap and scored an historic debut one-two at the hands of Fangio and German racing ace Karl Kling. The circuit's long straights suited the aerodynamic bodywork and powerful engine. A modified open-wheeled version of this car, without its sleek bodywork, (which wasn't suited to tighter, twisting tracks) went on to double championship glory in 1954 and '55. The W 196 R Streamliner's place in the motor sport hall of fame was sealed, though.
The car being used has an interesting history, having been used by Fangio, Kling and Stirling Moss as a test car at Monza, and raced by Hans Hermann at Reims, where it set the fastest lap (2m32.9s) before retiring. It has just undergone a six-year restoration at Mercedes Benz'S-Classic Centre in Stuttgart. Having lain dormant in the same condition in which it last left the track some 40 years ago, the Streamliner fell into disrepair. Its engine had not even run for over 25 years.
The first public outing in a generation takes place at this summer's event, but those at the Festival of Speed's launch at Goodwood House earlier this week had an unexpected treat. At the hands of ex-Formula One racer and Le Mans winner Jochen Mass, the Streamliner roared into life once again, its powerful straight-eight engine leaving no doubt as to the car's sole purpose – to win races.
Featuring a number of innovations that were set to become the norm only years later - including direct petrol injection, space frame chassis technology and two spark plugs per cylinder, the Streamliner is just as impressive today as it was at its debut, 49 years ago.
Although the top speed of over 180 mph is unlikely to be reached on Goodwood’s famous hill climb, spectators will be able to marvel at the distinctive silver bodywork, the quite incredible exhaust note, and, of course, a host of other historic Mercedes Benz racing cars.
Among the exotica on the track will be a Goodwood crowd favourite, the Mille Miglia-winning 300 SLR, piloted on 1955's record-breaking run by Stirling Moss and his co-driver Denis Jenkinson. Sir Stirling will be reunited with the awesome "722" to give a thrilling demonstration of how he remains one of the world's greatest-ever drivers.
This year's Goodwood Festival of Speed looks set to give fans of Mercedes Benz's unrivalled motor racing heritage another reason to celebrate when it runs from Friday 11-Sunday 13 July.Published 19 March 2003