Mercedes-Benz W196 #10 – Premium ClassiXXs

1955 Mercedes-Benz W196
Pilot: Juan M. Fangio
Team: Mercedes-Benz
Race: 1st place, 1955 Belgium GP
Premium ClassiXXs - 18081 (resin) 

Published 08/20/19

After WWII, the AIACR became the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), with the objective of reorganizing world class racing. FIA created new racing categories and in 1950, the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship. Major manufacturers were slow to embrace F1, so to stimulate things they changed the rules for 1954. The new rules allowed a choice in engines, either naturally aspirated (< 2500 cm³) or supercharged (< 750 cm³). In the early 50’s Mercedes-Benz was only focused on passenger cars and didn’t even have a racing program anymore. However their engineering department presented a study where they could develop a race-legal competitive engine. Thus, the board of directors decided that Mercedes would participate in the 1954 F1 Championship.

The W196 was much easier to handle than the W196R.

To get back to racing, Mercedes needed a racing department. So the first order of business was forming a new Rennabteilung. Rudolf Uhlenhaut would be the director and responsible for the new W196 project. Mercedes’ Silberpfeile traditionally had supercharged engines, but with the engineering department’s study, the new engine had to be naturally aspirated. That was the only way to make the engine powerful enough while fuel efficient. Therefore Uhlenhaut developed the M196, an atmospheric inline-8 displacing 2496 cm³. The big deal about it was that it had desmodromic valves and direct fuel injection. That promoted fuel efficiency and allowed the engine to deliver 257 hp in race tune. And to improve weight distribution, the engine sited longitudinally just behind the front axles. The chassis was a welded aluminum tube spaceframe chassis covered by an ultra-light Elektron magnesium-alloy bodywork. 

Wire-wheels and realistic exhaust – Premium ClassiXXs did a FANTASTIC job!

FIA was adamant about engine size and that the car had to be a single-seater. But not much else was specified. In fact, there was nothing in the book saying that the car had to be an open-wheeler… So in a bout of poetic license, Mercedes developed the W196 Stromlinienwagen. Also known as the W196R, it had the same engine and chassis but covered in a streamlined body. The full body made the car heavier, but the trade-off would be higher speeds due to better aerodynamics. And for faster circuits it truly worked. On its first race in July 1954, at the French Grand Prix in Reims, Juan M. Fangio’s # 18 came in first place. However, in tight circuits things were a lot different. At the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Fangio struggled to keep the car in line during curves. 

Nimble × Fast: in the end, Mercedes went with the more conventional W196.

The W196R performed so badly that Mercedes traded the streamlined version in favor of an open-wheeled version. This “new” car was the so-called W196 Monoposto – same engine, same chassis but with an open-wheeled body. From the next race (Nürburgring) onward, Mercedes only used the W196 except at Monza. Mercedes dominated the season, and Fangio was crowned world champion long before the end of the season. Both the W196R and W196 were extremely fast and very reliable, but they were difficult cars to handle. For the next season the W196R was abandoned, and only the W196 raced. This #10 is the car Fangio drove to victory at the Belgian Grand Prix. Held at Spa-Francorchamps on June 5, 1955, it was an easy win for Il Maestro.

The first and the last of the Mercedes Silberpfeile.

The W196 is a milestone in my collection. If the W25 Prototyp is the alpha, this is the omega to my Silberpfeile. So in theory I now have the first and the very last of the Silver Arrows. Well, at least to what I consider to be true Silberpfeile. Not counting Brumm and Whitebox, until a few months ago I only knew of Spark’s version of this car. But that one has a VERY big problem – it has a pilot figurine in the cockpit. And I don’t do pilot figurines in the cockpit because I think the model looks silly on the shelf. No way I would get Brumm’s or Whitebox’  crappy versions, so it was a model that I wouldn’t buy. 

But then I found out that Premium ClassiXXs also makes it, and my models from them are great. So I bought one “sight unseen” and here it is. I’m glad I did, because as you can see, it rocks. REALLY rocks. Honestly, this is one of my best Silberpfeile, easily as good as a Spark. Thus, I’m confident it’s a fitting representation in scale of the last of the Silberpfeil.

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