Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


A FABULOUS car, the 1954 Ex-Juan Manuel Fangio Mercedes-Benz W196 Grand Prix machine, recently changed hands for a fabulous price—$29.7 million. This Bonhams sale, at Goodwood Festival of Speed on July 12, 2013, set a record for a car at auction.

Indeed, a little more than a month later, on August 17, 2013, a Ferrari 275 GTB/4*S Spyder with North American Racing Team heritage approached this price in an auction sale of $27.5 million. And, while we’re talking money, I note that private transactions of $30 million have been reported for exchanges of Ferrari 250 GTOs.


The Mercedes-Benz W196 Grand Prix car at Bonhams, Goodwood Festival of Speed. Image from Bonhams.

But it isn’t the money that interests me here. It’s the technical wizardry of the Mercedes-Benz W196, something this car will retain despite any future auction exuberances.

The World Drivers’ Championship started in 1950, with varied displacements of cars for the first few years. Italian machines dominated, initially Alfa Romeo, then Ferrari and Maserati, the latter through the artistry of El Maestro, Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio. For the 1954 season, engine regulations called for displacements of normally aspirated 2.5 liters or supercharged 750 cc.

Returning to Grands Prix for the first time since the 1930s (when their engines were invariably supercharged), Mercedes-Benz studied both options and concluded, as did the competition, that unblown 2.5 liters offered more potential. However, their engine design was far from ordinary.


The W196 engine’s direct fuel injection evolved from that of the Daimler DB 600 aircraft engine powering the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. Image from Bonhams.

The W196 engine is a straight-eight, but fabricated as a pair of four-cylinder blocks, each with integrated head. Output and gear drive for its twin overhead camshafts come from the middle of the engine, between cylinders four and five. This mid-engine output mitigates any flexing of its lengthy crankshaft.


Engineering drawing of 300 SLR engine (same desmodromic drive as W196’s; different block construction). Image from Daimler-Benz A.G.

A conventional cam lobe opens each valve; a dual-finger rocker arm returns it to the closed position. This desmodromic hardware eliminates valve spring float. (Ducati motorcycles have featured desmodromic valves since 1956.)

Angling the engine to 60 degrees from vertical reduces its height and, thus, height of the bodywork. For optimal fore/aft weight distribution, the engine resides completely aft of the front wheel centerline. Typical of the era, the W196 chassis is a space frame of small-diameter tubing.


W196 packaging: front-mid engine, tubular space frame, huge inboard-mounted front and rear drum brakes. Image from Daimler-Benz A.G.

Brakes are bi-metal finned drums. (Discs were not yet ubiquitous in Formula 1; Jaguar was exceptional in having them in its sports cars.) To minimize unsprung weight, the W196’s drums are mounted inboard, acting on the front wheels through substantial shafts, those at the rear on either side of the differential.


Mercedes introduced the W196 with fully enveloping bodywork, but drivers preferred the open-wheel version. Here, at Monza in 1954, Fangio is followed by the Ferrari of Froilán González.

Engineers recognized the aerodynamic benefits of enclosed wheels, and W196 Stromlinienwagens placed 1-2 in their debut at the 1954 French Grand Prix at the high-speed Reims circuit. Even Fangio, though, crumpled bodywork at England’s Silverstone circuit, and open-wheel variants were produced in time for Nürburgring’s German Grand Prix. The Stromlinienwagens reappeared at Monza, another open high-speed venue, where Fangio placed first.


Mercedes factory team cars carry this plaid upholstery. Image from Bonhams.

In the 1954 and 1955 seasons, W196s won nine of the 12 races entered. The Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, in many ways a two-seat W196, took the 1955 World Sportscar Championship as well.

The Bonham sale W196 was Fangio’s winning car at the 1954 German and Swiss Grands Prix. See for a wonderful Bonhams video.


El Maestro in the process of winning the 1954 German Grand Prix.

The car was consigned to the Bonhams auction by the Emir of Qatar; its buyer was “an overseas bidder on the telephone.” One who evidently didn’t mind the cost of the call—but what a fabulous outcome! ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

6 comments on “MERCEDES-BENZ W196 EX-FANGIO

  1. carmacarcounselor
    September 3, 2013

    I enjoyed your article very much. I was unaware that that basic architecture was used in three different configurations.
    I have some images of SLR 722 taken at Pebble Beach on the 50th anniversary of the Moss/Jenkinson victory in the Mille Miglia (and a video of it running at Laguna Seca with Sir Stirling at the wheel). I was unaware until I gazed through the right front wire wheel on the vintage transporter that the brakes were inboard.
    I am fond of commenting to any one who will listen that if the pair had run that race a hundred times they’d have been killed in 99 of them.
    For some musings on “record prices” see my blog “Another Record Falls; A Little Perspective”
    Dick Stewart

  2. carmacarcounselor
    September 3, 2013

    Reblogged this on Carmacarcounseling Blog and commented:
    A welcome complement to my blog on “Record Prices” –

  3. jonathan
    February 21, 2014

    Hello, nearing completion of the rebuild of my original Aston Martin DBR 2, DP 166 chassis back into his former glory, I am now trying to obtain drawings and any information on the 300 SLR engine as I would like to build one from scratch! Can you please help?

  4. May we inquire about a progress report on DP166? I have seen one, perhaps two replicas in the USA, most likely done by Tojeiro.

  5. Pingback: Mercedes W196 streamliner : l’unique F1 à la carrosserie complète – RANGÉ DES VOITURES

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


This entry was posted on September 3, 2013 by in Classic Bits and tagged , .
%d bloggers like this: