Home Vintage Vehicles At The 1952 Le Mans 24 Hour, Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Succeeded 70 Years Later

At The 1952 Le Mans 24 Hour, Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Succeeded 70 Years Later

by Tatiana Sandlewood
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

After the Second World War, Mercedes-Benz made a triumphant return to the world of motorsport with their brand-new 300 SL racing car, and they won the 1952 Le Mans 24 Hours as well as taking first and second place.

This was especially noteworthy because developing the new SL was a difficult task given how economically catastrophic the war’s aftermath had been for Germany. Being able to go to Le Mans and win on the first try was amazing, and it set a pattern of success in many different types of motorsport for years to come.

The Le Mans endurance race, which has a history that is rapidly approaching 100 years, is the most thrilling race in the entire world. Manufacturers have made sizable investments in order to support their cars because they are so determined to win here. It’s not just about the victory; it also effectively promotes the brand to a global audience because, after all, everyone is watching.

This was the first race in which both of the podium’s top spots were filled; Mercedes-Benz followed this up with the Sauber C 9 in 1989 and won with just as much panache. But because there wasn’t really enough money to go racing, the first one was made even more special.

Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Rennsportwagen (W 194). Foto vom 24-Stunden-Rennen von Le Mans, 14./15. Juni 1952. Links die späteren Zweitplatzierten Theo Helfrich/Helmut Niedermayr (Startnummer 20), rechts Karl Kling/Hans Klenk (Startnummer 22). (Fotosignatur der Mercedes-Benz Classic Archive: 55462)Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194). Photo from the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 14/15 June 1952. On the left, the eventual runners-up Theo Helfrich / Helmut Niedermayr (starting number 20); on the right, Karl Kling / Hans Klenk (starting number 22). (Photo index number in the Mercedes-Benz Classic Archive: 55462)

Mercedes’ primary goal was to rejoin Formula 1, but in 1952 it was decided against doing so due to a lack of funding. It had already been declared that 1954 would see new rules.

The Mercedes-Benz 2300 was used as the basis for the development of the new race car’s axles, transmissions, and engine (W 186). A brand-new feature is a light-weight tubular frame that is incredibly torsionally rigid and is encased in a sleek light-alloy body. The elevated framing above the doors has the effect of making the doors hinge upward and open on the roof. Due to a lack of other options, gullwing doors were created.

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A one-two-three triumph at the Swiss Grand Prix of Bern and a double podium finish at Le Mans demonstrated the new car’s immediate success. The top four finishes of the Jubilee Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, as well as the Mexican Carrera Panamericana.

Victory in the 1952 Le Mans race for Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
24 Stunden von Le Mans, 1952. Mit der Startnummer 22: Karl Kling / Hans Klenk auf Mercedes-Benz Rennsportwagen Typ 300 SL (W 194).24 Hours of Le Mans, 1952. Karl Kling/Hans Klenk in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194) as No. 22

Hermann Lang/Fritz Rieß and Theo Helfrich/Helmut Niedermayr’s driver pairings took home the first and second place finishes at Le Mans, respectively.

The original car, chassis number 5, that Hermann Lang and Erwin Grupp drove to second place in this year’s Carrera Panamericana, behind the winning 300 SL, was on display at the Le Mans Classic. 

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The same car also competed in the Mille Miglia with legendary racing driver Rudolf Caracciola and Peter Kurrle placing fourth.

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Carraciola had already won the Mille Miglia for Mercedes-Benz in 1931.

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Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

Ten 300 SL vehicles were produced for the 1952 racing season in order to stage the comeback. Testing on the 4 km-long Tertre-Rouge straight and the Mulsanne curves, where drivers had to reduce their cars to roughly 50 km/h from the fastest speed on the circuit, took a full year to complete in order to be ready for Le Mans.

The cars would continue to do this lap after lap, placing an extreme strain and heat burden on the brakes. At first, it was thought that a retractable aluminum aileron could be added to act as an air brake, but this idea was eventually thrown out. 

Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Rennsportwagen (W 194). Aufnahme vom Training zum 24-Stunden-Rennen von Le Mans, 14./15. Juni 1952. Das aerodynamische Hilfsmittel der sogenannten Luftbremse wird im Rennen nicht eingesetzt. (Fotosignatur der Mercedes-Benz Classic Archive: 54690) Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194). Picture taken during practice for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 14/15 June 1952. The aerodynamic aid in the guise of the so-called air brake was not used in the race. (Photo index number in the Mercedes-Benz Classic Archive: 54690)

Hermann Lang unofficially established the record for the fastest top speed during practice, clocking in at 150 mph on the 4 km (or 3 mile) straight. Ascari in his Ferrari was only one tenth faster than him on his quickest lap, which he likewise set at 4 minutes and 40 seconds. Both lap records were 20 seconds faster than Cunningham’s official lap time from 1951.

Each car’s nose had a color and was placed around the radiator to help identify the vehicles of the various teams.

Theo Helfrich and Helmut Niedermayr’s cars, chassis numbers 0009 and starting number 20, had red bands, whereas Karl Kling and Hans Klenk’s cars, chassis numbers 0008, had green bands. Hermann Lang and Fritz Rieß’s winning drive in car number 21, chassis 0007, featured a blue band.

Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
24-Stunden von Le Mans, 1952. Mit der Startnummer 21: Sieger Hermann Lang / Fritz Rieß auf Mercedes-Benz Rennsportwagen Typ 300 SL (W 194, 1952).24 Hours of Le Mans, 1952. Winners Hermann Lang/Fritz Riess in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194, 1952) as No. 21

Alberto Ascari and André Simon each established new lap records when the stars of Ferrari and Jaguar took the lead. However, just two hours into the race, the clutch on Ascari’s Ferrari 250 fell out, giving the lead to Simon in the Ferrari 340 “America” ahead of Robert Manzon and Jean Behra’s 2.3-liter Gordini.

By the evening, the French duo had taken the lead. However, Kling and Klenk’s Mercedes 300 SL experienced alternator failure, necessitating a ten-minute pit stop and a second 17-minute delay an hour later. At 12:30 a.m., Hans Kelnk finally took his leave.

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After pit stops, Pierre Levegh’s older-style 4.5-liter Talbot pulled ahead by 65 km, followed by the two SLs of Helfrich/Niedermayr and Lang/Riess.

Levegh was still in the lead and refused to let colleague Marchand pass him at lunchtime on Sunday, when only 19 cars remained in the race. Levegh had to drop out of the race between Arnage and Maison Blanche because his car’s connecting rod broke 70 minutes before the end of the race. 

Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
24 Stunden von Le Mans, 1952. Mit der Startnummer 20: Theo Helfrich / Helmut Niedermayr belegten mit dem Mercedes-Benz Rennsportwagen Typ 300 SL (W 194) den 2. Platz.24 Hours of Le Mans, 1952. Theo Helfrich/Helmut Niedermayr took second place with their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194) as No. 20

The two 300 SLs were now far in front of the rest of the field. Due to a minor driving mistake that caused a damaged wheel and dropped them to third place overall, Helfrich lost his lead position to Hermann Lang.

Prior to Helfrich and Niedermay, the victorious team of Hermann Lang and Fritz Riess crossed the finish line.

Images Source : Thejalopy | Wikipedia

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