Keeping a Nose Ahead – Mercedes’ Push to the Line in ’55

Keeping a Nose Ahead – Mercedes’ Push to the Line in ’55 - Racing Daydreams by Colin Johnston

Hasta el rabo, todo es toro

UNTIL THE TAIL, EVERYTHING IS BULL

To regular readers it is no surprise that I love a mystery to solve. A car that never raced. An avenue partially explored, that perhaps was ahead of its time.

I have spoken before of possibly my favourite Mercedes-Benz – certainly my favourite 300SL – the experimental W153 #11…

…and how it reminds me of the Porsche 959, from three decades later.

We’ve looked at the “lost Tripoli streamliner”. A set of W154 aero parts from 1938-40, that were separately photographed by Earl and Monkhouse in 1946-47. The whereabouts of which are currently unknown.

But what if I told you that in 1955 Mercedes-Benz continued their development push right up to the last Grand Prix they would contend? That their aero experiments previewed solutions from the 1960s & ’70s?

Hold on to your socks, racing geeks!

Mercedes-Benz W196 Streamliner, Monza 1955
Mercedes-Benz W196 Streamliner on the Monza banking, 1955 test

Say ‘hello” to the W196 Monza streamliners you never knew existed! This series of photographs – from the Mercedes-Benz Public Archive – are undated, but tagged as the ’55 Italian Grand Prix. My hunch is that they are from the extensive pre-event testing Mercedes carried out on the new Monza layout – including the new banking.

There appears to be two designs being considered, and they look rather familiar to me. This first design hints at the 1960s? A curvaceous suggestion of the Porsche 904?

Mercedes-Benz W196 experimental, Monza 1955
Mercedes-Benz W196 experimental, Monza 1955

The second experimental nose… well, no doubt to me… this is a 1970 Matra-Simca MS650, no?

Mercedes-Benz W196 experimental, Monza 1955

Of course, we know that Mercedes-Benz stuck with the more familiar streamliner and open-wheel W196 for the race at Monza, and duly secured their second World Drivers’ Championship. After this race they immediately left for Belfast, and a very important victory in the RAC Tourist Trophy. But, kudos to Mercedes-Benz. The Daimler board may have already cancelled the racing programme, but still they pushed extreme developments of their machines.

Two questions. One, rhetorical… what could Mercedes-Benz have achieved in 1956, ’57 with such a forward-thinking attitude? The second, a genuine question… if this is what we can find in the public archive, what does the Mercedes Museum have in storage? What do they have marked ‘Secret’?

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