Mercedes 300 SL

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6th OA at the 1956 Buenos Aires 1000KM

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Unquestionably the most iconic sports car of its era, Mercedes-Benz’s 300 SL Gullwing was a car far ahead of its time. Tracing its origins to the W194 race car which saw success at events including the Mille Miglia and 24 Hours of Le Mans, U.S. distributor Max Hoffman convinced a road-legal version of the W194 could be lucrative.

Built on a spaceframe chassis constructed of welded tubular steel, the construction of the chassis itself necessitated its characteristic roof-hinged doors, which became a staple of the car’s design. At its heart was a 3.0-litre OHC straight-six engine making 240 bhp at 6,100 rpm fitted with fuel injection, making this the first fuel-injected road-legal automobile. Boasting a 161 mph top speed, it was the fastest production automobile of its time.

Thanks to the car’s incredible performance and styling, Hoffman’s intuitions proved to be right and the 300 SL Gullwing was an instant hit. For the ‘in’ crowd, it was the ‘in’ car and 300 SLs found homes not only with celebrities and barons of industry, but also a handful of racing drivers, once again proving the 300 SLs performance credentials. Owners included the Shah of Iran, Sophia Loren, Briggs Cunningham, and John von Neumann and many more.

This wonderful 300SL was ordered new by Mr Edouardo Kovacs, a personal friend of Juan Manuel Fangio. It was ordered new directly from the factory with Rudge wheels in DB166 Blau-Grau and delivered in 1955.

With the withdrawal of Mercedes from Sports Car racing following the Le Mans tragedy, Kovacs was persuaded to enter his car into the 1000kms of Buenos Aires the first round of the 1956 World Sportscar Championship.

On arrival in Buenos Aires, Mercedes had flown a support crew with parts to meet him. The team asked Mr Kovacs if they could fit their latest sports exhaust, but as reported in the Motorsport Magazine at the time, Mr Kovacs declined, stating that he would then not be able to hear the radio!

Kovacs fellow drivers included Fangio, Moss, Collins, Castellotti, Musso, Jean Behra, Gendebien and Phil Hill with the works Maserati and Ferrari teams arriving in full force.

At the end of the thousand kilometres the Maserati 300S of Stirling Moss and Carlos Menditéguy took the chequered flag from the Ferrari 857S of Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien, in 6th place was the Gullwing of Kovacs and co-driver Raul Jaras, one lap ahead of the favourite, Juan Manuel Fangio and Eugenio Castellotti in a Scuderia Ferrari 410 Sport. In doing so, Edoardo Kovacs secured the first and only point in the 1956 Sports Car championship for Mercedes Benz. A feat which was acknowledged by a letter and personal gift from Alfred Neubauer, the Director of sport at Daimler-Benz. This letter remains with the car to this day.

March 10, 1956

Alfred Neubauer

Director Daimler Benz Aktiengesellschaft

Senor Eduardo Kovacs

Santiago of Chile

Dear Mr Kovacs,

As former Director of Racing and present Director of Sport at Daimler Benz AG, I would like to take the opportunity to extend warm congratulations from our team and from me personally with regard to your recent success in Argentina.

When we received news of the 1000KM Race of Buenos Aires, we were already aware that you were participating in the race with a handicap. Our model 300SL, in regard to its construction technique and its classification in international sport, is a large touring car and even with the excellent qualities of a superior driver, would find it difficult to compete against the technical advantage of cars found in international competition.

Nevertheless, we heard with great pleasure that you had taken sixth place in the race. Our representative in Argentina; Baron von Korff and a Director in Santiago, Chile; Mr. Walter Kaufmann, emphasized your magnificent effort, and above all not only your success in the race but also your great journey by road from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires to participate in the race.

My sincere thanks for your effort which gave great credit to our marque and achieved for you a beautiful and considerable victory. With your journey, you demonstrated not only the speed, but also the great durability of our model 300SL, which, though not precisely a race car, demonstrated by its performance during the long journey from your home that it could accomplish what the other cars participating in the race could not have done.

I have instructed our Export Department to send you a gold Mercedes Benz pin in recognition of your achievement.

I wish you the greatest success in the future and send you the most cordial salutations.

Alfred Neubauer

As remarkable a feat as the cars 6th place finish in Buenos Aires undoubtedly is, what is yet more incredible is that the two young Chilean gentlemen had driven the car from Valparaiso on the east coast of Chile, over and across the Andes to Buenos Aires on the west coast of Argentina ahead of starting the race. After finishing 6th, they then drove the car all the way back again. A round trip of almost 3,500kms on little more than dirt roads, which at various points reaches heights of 3,200M - as high as any ski run in the whole of Europe!

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  • Mercedes 300 SL
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