Mercedes Benz World Rally Championship Efforts
Mercedes Benz is the epitome of luxurious automobiles and their inhouse AMG division creates excellent road racers, but what about rallying?
Short History of Mercedes Benz and their participation in motorsport event
Rallying is the ultimate motorsport, requiring the skill and precision of the most talented drivers as well as the reliability and performance of their vehicles with a small amount of luck. Rallying allows the drivers to experience scenic yet dangerous routes throughout the world, linking countries and sometimes even the continents.
Mercedes Benz has been involved in motorsport activities from the very beginning of its existence. Mercedes Benz was active in Formula One, Formula Three, 24 Hours of Le Mans, rallying, and European Championship events. Nowadays, Mercedes Benz is only active in Formula One, Formula Three, and Formula E.
Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) was founded by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1890. Through many hurdles, the DMG made a name for high-performance petrol engines under the leadership of Wilhelm Maybach. In 1926, the DMG merged with Benz and Cie to design, produce, and sell vehicles under a common brand, the Mercedes Benz.
Soon, the Mercedes Benz was involved in Grand Prix Racing events and the development of Silver Arrows that went on to dominate Grand Prix events throughout Europe.
After WW2, Mercedes Benz returned to motorsport events with their Formula One efforts for the 1954 racing season. Juan Manual Fangio and Karl Kling soon went on to win many Grand Prix events and Fangio won the 1954 Formula One Championship. In the 1955 racing season, Fangio and Stirling Moss went on to win the first and second places of the championship.
However, at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, disaster struck when just two hours after the race began at the Le Mans circuit.
Jaguar driver Mike Hawthorn pulled to the right side of the track in front of Austin Healey driven by Lance Macklin and started braking from his pit stop, forcing Maclin to swerve out from the slowing car into the path of a Mercedes Benz 300 SLR driven by Pierre Levegh which was travelling at over 150mph. Levegh clipped the Austin Healey driven by Lance Macklin, overriding it and launching his own car through the air, skipping over a protective earthen beam at speeds of over 125mph and crashed, sending large pieces of debris including the engine block and front suspension into the spectator area, killing over eight people and injuring more than a hundred. Mercedes Benz withdrew from factory-sponsored Formula One motorsport events and didn't return until 2010.
Mercedes Benz decided to focus primarily on non-circuit racing instead.
Mercedes Benz 300 SL
Karl Kling and Hans Klenk won the Carrera Panamericana in 1952
Mercedes Benz 300 SL (W194) was developed by Mercedes Benz to take part in endurance racing events and it was equipped with the all-new M186 engine, which is shared with the Mercedes Benz 300 Adenauer (W186) saloon and the Mercedes Benz 300 S tourer (W188).
The Mercedes Benz 300 SL W194 took part in the 1952 Mille Miglia and finished it with the second-overall. It won all the top three finishes at the Bern Sports car prize. It won the first two places at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
1952 Mille Miglia
At the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, Karl Kling and his co-driver Hans Klenk drove a Mercedes Benz 300 SL W194 alongside their teammates Hermann Lang, and John Fitch also driving Mercedes Benz 300 SL W194 cars. These cars were packing 175hp and the low aerodynamic drag and light weight construction made them faster.
At the second stage at over 200 km/h, a bird smashed through the windscreen of the car driven by Karl Kling and hit his co-driver Hans Klenk on the head, and left him with a bleeding scalp wound making him lose consciousness briefly, but Karl Kling managed to bring him around by shaking him violently. Karl Kling asked whether he needed medical assistance but Hans Klenk insisted to continue despite the massive wound. The duo finished the stage at third. At the stage finish, Hans Klenk was given medical care and the car was fitted with a windscreen and four vertical metal bars on each side for extra protection.
After enduring eight demanding stages, the duo finished the race with a thirty five minute lead infront of Lang and Grupp in second place. This is considered as one of the most important victories of the Mercedes Benz motorsport heritage.
For 1953 racing season, the Mercedes Benz 300 SL W194 received fuel injection and sixteen-inch lightweight wheels. The gearbox was now installed on the rear axle for better weight distribution. The body was completely made out of Elektron, a magnesium alloy to save weight.
Mercedes Benz decided not to race the car as they decided to participate in the Formula One events from 1954 onward. Later variants received further aerodynamic enhancements to further lower the aerodynamic drag and had the transmission rearranged.
Mercedes Benz 220 and Mercedes Benz 190 SL
1959 algiers cape rally
In January 1952, Karl Kling, Rudolf Caracciola, and Hermann Lang driving their Mercedes Benz 220 (W 187) were awarded the trophy for the best team in the Rallye Monte Carlo.
From 1955 onwards, Karl Kling was appointed as the Head of Motorsport division of Mercedes Benz. He was responsible for planning and strategy. Karl Kling was part of the Formula One team before he was chosen as the head of the motorsport division. Being a successful race car driver, he successfully led the factory team to win several rallying campaigns in 1960s and sometimes drove the cars himself.
In 1959, Karl Ling and Rainer and co-driver Rainer Günzler drove a Mercedes Benz 190 SL (W121) to win the African Rally Raid Méditerranée-Le Cap.
Mercedes Benz 220 SE (W111)
1960 Acropolis Rally
In 1956, Walter Schock drove a Mercedes Benz 220 Ponton at the Rallye Monte Carlo and finished with second-overall, 1.1 seconds behind the winner.
Walter Schock and his co-driver Rolf Moll drove a Mercedes Benz 220 SE fintail (W111) to win the 1960 Rallye Monte Carlo ( top three finishes were Mercedes Benz), Acropolis Rally, Polish Sestrière that year. He also finshed the Tulpenrally with a third-overall. This secured him the European Rally Championship title.
In 1961, Karl Kling won the Algiers Lagos Algiers rally. Eugen Böhringer became the European Championship runner-up.
On 4 November 1962, Ewy Rosqvist and her co-driver Ursula Wirth won the Touring Car Grand Prix of Argentina after completing 4626 kilometres in their Mercedes Benz 220 SE.
Ewy Rosqvist and co-driver Ursula Wirth won all six stages of the rally in succession becoming the first single vehicle to do so. Their lead over the second-placed Boris Stipic was over three hours. The average speed was measured at 126.87 km/h, a new record.
Ewy Rosqvist and Ursula Wirth finished the event in 1963 with a third-overall in a Mercedes Benz 220 SE.
1962 Ewy Rosqvist and Ursula Wirth Touring Car Grand Prix of Argentina
Ewy Rosqvist and Ursula Wirth won the 1963 Women's Cup of the Monte Carlo Rally, driving a Mercedes Benz 220 SE fintail.
1963 womens cup
Mercedes Benz 300 SE
In 1963 and 1964, Eugen Böhringer/Klaus Kaiser won the Touring Car Grand Prix of Argentina, driving a Mercedes Benz 300 SE.
Mercedes Benz 280 E (W123) and Mercedes Benz 230 SL Pagoda (W113)
In 1962, Eugen Böhringer driving a Mercedes Benz 280E (W123) won the Acropolis Rally, the Poland Rally, Liège - Sofia - Liège rally, securing the 1962 European Rally Championship.
For 1963 racing season, Mercedes Benz decided to develop a rally car based on the compact 230 platform. The new car was nicknamed "Pagoda" because of its dome shaped hardtop and it was suppose to be the successor to the Mercedes Benz 190 SL (W121) and Mercedes Benz 300 SL (W198) models.
The Mercedes Benz 230 SL Pagoda (W113) had reinforced suspension and larger fuel tank suitable for endurance racing events. The engine displacement was 2.6-litre instead of the 2.3-litre displacement of the stock engine. The maximum power output was 170hp.
Eugen Böhringer won the Marathon de la Route for the second consecutive time in 1963 in the wheels of the new Pagoda, the debut event of the car.
1963 Spa–Sofia–Liège rally
In 1963, Eugen Böhringer won the Liège - Sofia - Liège rally again, becoming the only driver to win the event twice in succession, driving a Mercedes Benz 230 SL Pagoda. The second, third, and fourth places went to Andrew Cowan, Colin Malkin, and Mike Broad in their Mercedes Benz 280 SE (W123) cars.
In 1964, she teamed up with co-drivr Eva Maria Falk in a Mercedes Benz 300 SE and finished the Touring Car Grand Prix of Argentina with a third place again.
1977 London to Sydney Rally winning car
In 1977, Andrew Cowan and Anthony Fowkes and their crew won the first place and the second place of the London to Sydney rally, a 18600 mile long endurance rally, both driving Mercedes Benz 280 SE (W123). London to Sydney Rally was considered as the toughest rally event of its time, and this victory highlighted the reliability and engineering prowess of the Mercedes Benz.
1978 Safari Rally S Zasada and B Krupa
1978 Safari Rally S Zasada
Back in 1978, Mercedes Benz was looking for a way to expand its Rally Championship efforts. Their main hurdle was the lack of a small compact car in its range. The smallest cars they had in their lineup were the Mercedes Benz 450 SLC and the C107 SLC coupe. The C107 SLC coupe was too heavy and too large.
The management of the Mercedes Benz Motorsport division finally decided that it was time to compete in the rally stages to bolster the performance image of the Mercedes Benz 450 SLC coupe.
Mercedes Benz 450 SLC Rally
Erich Waxenberger was tasked with the development process and his team worked on the stock 450 SLC coupe to turn it into a competitive rally machine.
They settled on the stock single over head cam M117 4.5-litre V8 engine and the standard three-speed slush-box automatic transmission unit. The power output was measured at 227hp.
The stock car recieved skid plates, extra lights for improved visibility, a roll cage, and all mandatory safety requirements. When the car was unveiled to the public, many smiled at the idea of a big luxurious Mercedes Benz competing in the rallying stage.
The all-new rally spec Mercedes Benz 450 SLC made its debut at the 1978 Vuelta a la América del Sud and competed against the likes of Fiat, Ford, and went on to win the event. Andrew Cowan and Colin Malkin led Sobieslaw Zasada and Andrzej Zembrzuski with Timo Makinen and Jean Todt finishing fourth.
Mercedes Benz 450 SLC 5.0
This totally unexpected debut rally victory further bolstered the confidence of Mercedes Benz Motorsport executives. With a bigger budget, the development of a new 5-litre variant of the M117 began. This all-new all-aluminium V8 engine delivered 290hp.
The new rally cars also gained aluminium hood, boot lid, and the doors. It also featured flared wheel arches to make room for the wider BBS alloys.
To comply with the FIA Group 4 homologation requirements, they also had to manufacture and sell atleast 400 units of the car. Also the engineers had to de-stroke the engine from the production 5025cc to 4973cc to comply with 5.0-litre class regulations.
Mercedes Benz produced and sold Mercedes Benz 450 SLC 5.0 coupes (C107.026), featuring all-aluminium 5.0-litre V8, aluminium alloy hood and boot lids, a small front lip spoiler and a black rubber rear spoiler to improve aerodynamic efficiency. It also featured the flared wheel arches to house the wider wheels. The flared wheel arches and spoilers could be deleted as an optional extra. Mercedes Benz 450 SLC 5.0 was sold until 1980, when the 350 and 450SL models were discontinued.
To test the car, Mercedes Benz focused on the African rally stages in 1979 racing season. Hannu Mikkola, who was driving for the Ford Motor Company was signed up along with his co-driver Arne Hertz to drive the car at the 1979 Safari Rally. The entire World Rally Championship fanbase was shocked when they learned about the durability and performance of the car when Hannu Mikkola finished the race with a second-overall.
Hannu Mikkola and Arne Hertz then went on to win the Lombard RAC Rally, retired from the Pohjola Rally, and won the Rallye Bandama Côte d'Ivoire in the wheels of a Mercedes Benz 450 SLC.
The Rallye Bandama Côte d'Ivoire victory was the first ever World Rally Championship win for the Mercedes Benz. Bjorn Waldergaard and Hans Thorzelius finished the race in second place, Andrew Cowan and Klaus Kaiser finished with a third-overall, and Vic Peterson Junior along with Mike Doughty finished in fourth. All were driving the Mercedes Benz 450 SLC cars and this dominant victory showcased the capabilities of the car.
These victories contributed to Hannu Mikkola's second-overall position in the 1979 Driver's World Rally Championship.
The success of the car convinced the Mercedes Benz executives to further evolve the car to compete in the World Rally Championship events.
Mercedes Benz 500 SLC
Mercedes Benz 500 SLC
Erich Waxenberger and his team developed the Mercedes Benz 500 SLC, an improved and more capable variant of the 450 SLC 5.0. It was prepared to compete in the modified Group 2 Touring car class events rather than the previous Group 4 Special Touring car class. This meant that the Mercedes Benz had to manufacture and sell atleast 1000 units of the new car.
The production car was fitted with M117 engines, delivering 300hp maximum when mated to a four-speed automatic transmission unit. The maximum power output was raised upto 329hp by the end of the production.
Driving the Mercedes Benz 500 SLC, Hannu Mikkola and Arne Hertz went on to finish the Rallye de Argentina with a second-overall and the Rally New Zealand with a third-overall. Meanwhile, Vic Peterson Junior along with Mike Doughty went on to finish the East African Rally with a third-overall.
1980 500SLC WRC Björn Waldegård
Bjorn Waldergaard and Hans Thorzelius won the Rallye Bandama Côte d'Ivoire ahead of Jorge Recalde and Nestor Straimel. With Mercedes Benz 500 SLC winning the event with first and second overalls, Mercedes Benz was elevated to the fourth position in the Manufacturer's World Rally Championship.
1980 Rally New Zealand Bjorn Waldegаrd Hans Thorszelius
1980 Rallye de Portugal
1980 Rallye Bandama Côte d'Ivoire
Mercedes Benz 500 SL
Merceds Benz 500 SL
To compete in the 1981 racing season World Rally Championship events, Erich Waxenberger planned to develop a new car based on a shorter and lighter convertible SL platform to improve overall handling of the car. This car featured the same four-speed automatic transmission unit.
The most notable differences were the Lexan glass to reduce weight, high raised handbrake for better reach, and an aluminium roll cage instead of the previous steel units. Ari Vatanen and Walter Röhrl were signed up to drive the car.
However, the development of the car and further involvement in the World Rally Championship events came to an end when Mercedes Benz cut funding to the rally program. What happened was as follows.
Daimler Benz director board told Erich Waxenberger to justify the cost of the development project. He was then told that they would fund just enough to run one car in the upcoming season to which he replied that he would rather not run at all rather than competing with just one car before storming out.
With only four prototypes developed, the Mercedes Benz 500 SL project came to a sad end.
Mercedes Benz 190 E Cosworth (W201)
1984 Nürburgring Race of Champions
The W201 project came to life when Mercedes Benz decided to focus on Group B rally efforts. Cosworth was tasked with the development of an all-new engine to power the car. This Cosworth engine delivered 320hp maximum.
The Cosworth engine was based on the 2.3-litre inline-four M102 unit. Cosworth developed new cylinder heads and rings was made out of lightweight alloy using Cosworth's inhouse casting process. It was initially planned to replace the conrods, bearings and bearing caps, but it was found out that these components were strong enough as standard and left as it was.
Dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder for a total of 16 valves completed the package. The over square 95.50x80.25mm bore and stroke dimensions meant that the car could easily rev upto the 7000rpm rev limiter. Kugelfischer fuel injection completed the package.
The road going production variant of the Mercedes Benz 190 E Cosworth engine was reconfigured with reduced inlet and exhaust port sizes, no dry sump configuration, and different camshaft profiles. The Bosch K Jetronic fuel injection system with 10.5:1 compression ratio replaced the Kugelfischer unit of the touring car.
The production Mercedes Benz 190 E Cosworth packed a maximum of 187bhp at 6200rpm and maximum torque of 174 lb-ft at 4500rpm. The stock engine delivered only 136hp in comparison.
The US spec car had a slightly reduced fuel compression ratio of 9.7:1 instead of the 10.5:1. Maximum power output was measured at 167hp at 5800rpm and the maximum torque was measured at 162 lb-ft at 4750rpm.
0-62mph was achieved in 7.5 to 8.0 seconds and the top speed was measured at 143mph or 230 km/h.
1984 Nürburgring Race of Champions
The rear-wheel-drive front-engine layout remained unchanged. When Audi introduced the all-new turbocharged all-wheel-drive Audi Quattro, Mercedes Benz realized that their new rally car stood no chance against it.
Mercedes Benz then focused on German Touring Car Championship instead. The 190E cars used in this championship were based on the production variant with a detuned variant of the Cosworth engine. The highest spec Mercedes Benz 190 E Cosworth 2.3 16V was unveiled at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show.
Three Mercedes Benz 190 E Cosworth cars set three world records in August 1983 at the Nardo testing track in Italy, recording a combined average speed of 154.06mph over 50,000Km endurance test. This test also established twelve international endurance records.
A 16V AMG power package was later introduced for the Evolution I models, increasing power output to 224hp maximum at 7200rom and maximum torque of 181 lb-ft at 5000rpm. The top speed was 155mph or 250km/h. The later variants developed upto 350bhp.
1984 Nürburgring Race of Champions car engine
At the 1984 Nürburgring Race of Champions, an event featuring former and current Formula One drivers at the wheels of identical Mercedes Benz 190 E 16V cars. A lesser known driver at the time called Ayrton Senna took the first place beating the likes of Lauda.
1984 Nürburgring Race of Champions Niki Lauda versus Ayrton Senna
Private teams such as the AMG entered the 2.3-litre Mercedes Benz 190 E 16V in Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters.
An enlarged 2.5-litre engine was introduced in 1988 as the replacement for the 2.3-litre engine. This engine also featured double-row timing chains allowing easy fixing of the snapping single chains on early 2.3-litre engines, increasing power output upto 195bhp from its original 187bhp along with a slight increase in torque.
1985 Mercedes W201 190E 2.3-16 group A
Mercedes Benz 190 E 2.5 16-Evolution I
At the 1989 Geneva Auto Show, an Evolution variant was introduced as a limited production model. The Evo came with a factory installed traction control, adjustable Bilstein suspension and self levelling rear end, electric Recaro leather seats, limited slip differential, driver's SRS airbag, headlight washers, and cruise control as standard.
The 2.5-litre (2643cc) Cosworth engine now featured many redesigned internal components such as a shorter stroke and a bigger bore allowing a higher rev limit and improved power output. The dry sump lubrication system and cam timing were also improved. The maximum power output of the Mercedes Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution I was rated at 202hp.
Mercedes Benz decided to produce Mercedes Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution I to comply with the homologation requirements of the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters tournament. With a six figure price tag, only 502 units were produced and sold.
A PowerPack version was introduced for the customers seeking more power. This package included a larger diameter throttle body, more responsive ignition system and fuel management system, improved intake and exhaust systems. This package increased the power output by 30hp over the original 202hp.
Mercedes Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II
In 1990, at the Geneva Motor Show the Mercedes Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II. This car featured the same short stroke 2.5-litre inline-four engine with the same Mercedes Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution I. The power output was measured at 232hp at 7200rpm and maximum torque was 181 lb-ft at 5000rpm.
The Brembo brakes featured four-piston calliper discs with the same diameter as the brakes on the Evolution I.
This car featured SLS adjustable suspension allowing the driver to adjust the ride height with the press of a switch from the inside. Another distinct difference was the radical aerodynamic tweaks such as the adjustable rear wing, rear window spoiler, and side skirts. This body kit was designed by Professor Richard Eppler of the University of Stuttgart and it reduced the aerodynamic drag to 0.29. It also increased the downforce.
Evo II variant was introduced with aggressive aerodynamic tweaks and lightweight alloy wheels. Only 502 units were made and all of the units were sold before it was officially unveiled.
Photo Credits: Mercedes and Pinterest