It’s been almost 90 years since the famous race on the Berlin Avus. This racing spectacle is well known to all who love this sport because it is place where the incredible dominance of definitely one of the most famous racing cars ever made was seen. It is a Mercedes-Benz SSKL that was truly revolutionary during that time, above all in terms of design. Up to that point SSKL wasn’t so competitive, however, after the change of body design, things had completely turned.
The famous streamlined body was the main thing that set Mercedes-Benz apart from the competition. For such a design, Mercedes was able to thank the great Reinhard Freiherr von Koenig-Fachsenfeld-a former motorcycle racer who understood the principles of aerodynamics and created a very successful racing car. After the magnificent victory in Berlin, the people who attended the race named SSKL as “gherkin” before the event, but the real name for the car was given by radio reporter Paul Laven. He is the creator of the now famous Silver Arrow. That name was even the inspiration for the prototype car that Mercedes introduced last year as well as Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport F1 Racing Team. So, Silver Arrow has had an impact on the automotive industry for almost 90 years.
That 22 May of 1932, the Mercedes-Benz SSKL was driven by Manfred von Brauchitsch who is officially the first racer to ride the new Silver Arrow. But what was so impressive about this racing car? Sure, the design was revolutionary, but there’s something under the glossy hood.
What made the first “gherkin” so dominant?
As we said, first of all, it was an aerodynamic body that really improved the performance of the powerful Silver Arrow. In addition, the body was made entirely of aluminum, which certainly had the effect of reducing weight and subsequently maximizing speed. Mercedes-Benz SSKL a.k.a. Silver Arrow powered by a supercharged 7.1-liter SOHC I6 engine, was able to reach an incredible speed of up to 230 km/h. Compared to the standard SSKL model, it was as much as 20 km/h more, and the light aluminum body had a major impact. So, this racing car was in every way perfectly designed so that the victories couldn’t but to be achieved.
The Berlin race was a turning point in the design of the car as the streamlined bodywork of Silver Arrow completely changed the way designers looked on the vehicle’s aerodynamics. Interestingly, without this design, the Mercedes-Benz SSKL would have to have 59 kW more to deliver identical fascinating performance. However, we cannot but mention the main star of the race on the Berlin Avus. It was a young Manfred von Brauchitsch who, at just 26, showed he had excellent driving skills. His success is even greater if you consider the fact that he had Rudolf Caracciola, one of the best drivers of the time, as his opponent. After this race, nothing was the same as before. Manfred von Brauchitsch became a professional racing car driver and a permanent member of the Silver Arrows.
It is impossible not to talk about as perfect the design of a race car as the Mercedes-Benz SSKL. Without the technologies we know today and which help greatly in designing and refining the body to make it even more aerodynamic, the designers in the early 20th century showed the incredible skills creating a car that is still a symbol of racing sport today. Michael Plag, project manager of the Mercedes-Benz Classic also talked about this:
“The vehicle boasts an impressive weight distribution. We actually measured the car twice. The holes in the frame are accurate and the weight distribution is 49.4 to 50.6-perfectly balanced.”
The balance of the vehicle was fantastic and made it great on the track. The selection of parts for SSKL is also interesting. According to Mr. Plag, the cost of producing four cars in 1931 cost 150,000 Reichsmark, which was really a large amount of money for that period.
“An SSK from our collection provided the basis for a streamlined car for which we had individual parts specially fabricated.”
Specially manufactured are a fan and intake manifold, racing conrod, engine block, elephant compressor, vertical shaft as well as the oil pump.
Inside the driver’s cab is a lever that is used to start the car as well as to stop it. The aforementioned compressor has made great improvements in terms of power and speed. Inside is a 7.1-liter M 06 RS inline six-cylinder engine that could produce a power output of 176 kW without a compressor. With the addition of this unit, the number has been increased to 220 kW. The aerodynamics were undoubtedly influenced by the changes in the “Super-Sport-Kurz-Leicht” bodywork that led to a completely redesigned appearance. The only thing that looked similar was the front axle. At the front, the main thing was a huge cooling air intake to make cooling as efficient as possible.
The interior has also been redesigned to as low kilograms as possible. In the end, the vehicle weighed only 1,444 kg with the most minimal interior. Literally, there are only essentials inside such as two leather seats, instrument panel, accelerator, and clutch pedal. And of course, a large steering wheel.
The Race in Berlin
We cannot but mention that legendary race when the dominance of the Silver Arrows was led by Manfred von Brauchitsch. Beside him, Hans Stuck also drove SSKL but not with a streamlined body. Definitely the most famous man to drive this race was Rudolf Caracciola, who was the driver of the Mercedes-Benz team in the previous 1931 season. However, in 1932, he was a member of the Alfa Romeo racing team. The race on Avus took place on a 294-kilometer-long track. The circuit consisted of two parallel sections that were joined at the ends to give a circular shape. Each of these two sections was 9.5 kilometers long and the race took a total of 15 laps. From the start, it could be seen that there would be a big fight between Manfred von Brauchitsch and Rudolf Caracciola. Caracciola excelled in curves with his Alfa Romeo, while von Brauchitsch dominated the straight parts. Amazing piece of information is that the average SSKL speed was as much as 194 km/h. It was very interesting and tense until the very end because Caracciola led the whole race. However, Manfred von Brauchitsch didn’t allow the advantage to be too great, otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to catch rival. The last lap brought the most excitement when von Brauchitsch managed to bypass Caracciola and win. The final time he achieved was 1:30.53 hours. Even more impressive is the fact that 16 racing cars started the race, however, only 5 managed to drive the entire 294 kilometers. Among those 5 magnificent, there were two Mercedes-Benz SSKLs.