I love a ‘Ripping Yarn’ – a ‘Tall Tale’ – a ‘Shaggy Dog Story’… and a myth or legend is a nice angle for marketing. Just ask the folks at Loch Ness. So let’s talk about ‘Grand Prix Nessie’ – the myth (?) that Alfred Neubauer of Mercedes-Benz ordered all the paint be stripped off their brand-new racing car before the ’34 Eifelrennen.
The summary is: The brand-new Mercedes W 25 Grand Prix car had a dry-weight of 751kg. In order for it to be legal, 1kg has to be shaved off. This is achieved, the night before the 1934 Eifelrennen, by stripping-off all the white paint and racing in bare aluminium.
The simple riposte is: The Eifelrennen wasn’t run to the Grand Prix formula, it was a Formula Libre race. As such you could run anything. 751kg, 500kg, 2 engines… you name it… fill yer boots! But let’s look a little deeper and, perhaps, disprove the myth.
While the ’34 Eifelrennen was the new Mercedes’ first race start – and win – it wasn’t their first race meeting. The W 25 was entered, and practiced, alongside Scuderia Ferrari and the new Auto Union at the AVUS-Rennen the week before.
Mercedes-Benz were entered, equipped and ready for their race debut with the W 25 at the AVUS – also a Formula Libre race. But it wasn’t to be. They had fuel feed issues in practice, and with a 7kph deficit to Auto Union, they left the meeting early to sort their fuel pump problems.
So the W 25 at AVUS were painted white?.. No, not according to contemporary press reports. They were reported to be ‘silver’ bare aluminium, as Auto Union were. Here’s a W 25 at AVUS in a picture dated as 1934, which I don’t believe to be a later visit.
Mercedes-Benz left Berlin – with a fundamental issue to sort on their car – on Saturday 26/05/34. They travelled to Nürburg, having addressed their fueling problem on three cars, and were private testing at the ‘Ring before official training… which began on Thursday 31/05/34.
The only pre-Eifelrennen training photo I can find of the W 25 is this one. Compare it with the photo of the winning car, at the top of the page, which we know is bare aluminium. I don’t think that’s a white car… but even if it’s inconclusive let’s look at what has to happen to make true the myth.
For The Paint Story to be true:
•Mercedes-Benz needs to have been content to run in ‘silver’ in Berlin, but have changed their mind, ‘going forward’.
•Have considered this colour change to be as important as addressing the problems that caused their embarrassing DNS at AVUS.
•They must not have been aware of the weight of their car at AVUS(!!)
•Between Sunday 27th & Wednesday 30th the team has returned to base(?) – dealt with fuel pump problems – prepared the cars – painted 3 cars – travelled to Nürburg.
•At the most basic level the painting will have required degreasing, etching, blowing a coat of white, letting the cellulose gas-off enough so they can reassemble and handle the cars.
Therefore, I would suggest that there never was a white W 25 at the ’34 Eifelrennen. From before the AVUS-Rennen, Mercedes had deemed it acceptable or desireable to run in ‘silver’, rather than old-fashioned white.
Even if they had changed their mind, there was no time to paint the cars before the Eifelrennen… particularly with the pressing need to make the car ‘work’ at the Nürburgring.
But, perhaps most importantly, in a formula built around weight – a project so important for Mercedes-Benz – I refuse to believe that Alfred Neubauer didn’t know the exact weight of ‘his’ cars at AVUS.
So, what have I missed? I’m wrong? Perhaps the Mercedes-Museum & archive has the evidence?
A postscript to this piece is the reply I received from the always accommodating, good folks at the Mercedes-Benz Museum:
“Hi Colin, we really liked the way you followed the events of the race, thanks for this! Our documentation is limited as you can imagine so our story line goes like that: With the advent of the W 25, Mercedes-Benz also introduced a new colour for the bodywork: silver. The car’s first appearance should have been at the Avus race in Berlin in May 1934, but participation was cancelled at the last minute due to technical problems. And so it was that the new car did not make its debut until a week later, on 3 June at the International Eifel race on the Nürburgring. The W 25 went to the starting line in silver livery – so the story goes – after the racing cars were stripped of their white paint at the Nürburgring to reduce weight. Although this race was not held according to the new 750-kilogram formula, the team were clearly keen to present a vehicle that already met the new rules. Long but we wanted to give our version.
We’ll be waiting for your visit!“
My conclusion? Let’s just enjoy the Tall Tale for what it is – a fun way to engage with new fans, and visitors to the amazing Mercedes-Benz Museum… just don’t tell me it’s true!