The Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows are celebrating their 75th anniversary this year, having first blazed to victory on the world’s racetracks back in 1934. Their drivers became legends, with names like Rudolf Caracciola and Manfred von Brauchitsch, yet neither the Silver Arrows of yesteryear nor those of today rolled to the racetrack under their own power. The high-performance vehicles, whether for Formula 1 or endurance races, need transporters and these are no less spectacular than the racing vehicles they carry.
In 2010, the F1 transporters will once again be used in the Formula 1 by Mercedes Grand Prix.
For the 2009 season, a comfortable driver’s lounge was provided in the racing transporters. Pass through a glass door in the neck of the semi-trailer and the area serves as a recreation room and a refuge for the racing drivers. A locker has room for a helmet at the top, while shoes can be stored at the bottom, and the race suit in between. A cosy round suite is great for relaxing, and cooled drinks are kept in the refrigerator.
Today’s transporters are not only a means of transport but also serve as sophisticated lounges. In the 1930s and ’50s, drivers of the Silver Arrows did not have it quite so nice. This was highlighted when three generations of transporters gathered for a family. Together with its semi-trailer, the current Actros truck is 13ft tall and 54ft long and has a 5.9 liter V8 turbodiesel engine. Compared to this giant, its predecessors appear petite like toys.
Alongside side this giant is the Mercedes-Benz Lo 2750 from the 1930s. The vehicle has arched fenders, an angular cab, and a chrome radiator grille with a Mercedes star proudly placed on top. The number “2750” refers to its payload capacity. When it was built, the vehicle was designated as a 2.75-ton vehicle, in keeping with its payload. Today, the Lo 2750 would be declared a 6.5-ton truck in accordance with its gross vehicle weight.
The third truck lacks an official designation but was known by its nickname of “The Blue Wonder”. The reason why this famous 1955 transporter bears this designation is its crouched blue body, forward-positioned cab and sleek lines that show it’s a sports car disguised as a transporter.
At the request of racing manager Alfred Neubauer, the Mercedes-Benz prototype department developed the fast transporter specifically to carry urgent loads. The only stipulations were that the vehicle should be fast and able to transport a Grand Prix car or a racing sports car. The result was a one-of-a-kind vehicle that is as fascinating today as when it was built. The platform consists of the lengthened tubular frame of the Mercedes-Benz 300 S luxury coupe. The powerful engine was taken from the 300 SL sports car, while body components such as the doors, fenders and some of the interior appointments were from the Mercedes-Benz 180 standard saloon.
It must have been an impressive sight with its valuable cargo. It measures 22ft in length, is 6.5ft wide and as tall as a man. In addition, it was incredibly fast for its time.
After Mercedes-Benz withdrew from motorsport at the end of 1955, the transporter initially served as an exhibition vehicle in the USA, followed by ten years of service for Mercedes-Benz test drives. Rudolf Uhlenhaut, who managed the motorsport department during its “active” period had the unique vehicle scrapped in 1967.
Decades later, Mercedes-Benz rebuilt the spectacular transporter from old photographs. It brings back to life the era of motorsports legends such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Karl Kling and Hans Herrmann and famous vehicles which the racing car carrier transported, such as the Mercedes-Benz W 196 Grand Prix racing car and the 300 SLR racing sports car.
As early as the 1920s, Mercedes-Benz discovered the advantages of a low frame, making it easy for passengers and cargo to get in and out. The company used such frames as a platform for its racing transporters. Trucks began carrying racing cars in 1934, the year in which the Silver Arrows were introduced. Large white letters on the wooden sides of the Lo 2750 spelled out the words “Mercedes-Benz Rennabteilung” (Racing Department).
A brochure published at the time optimistically stated the vehicle possessed a “wealth of appointments”. Among other things, this meant the instrument panel had switches for the lamps and the electric turn signals, as well as a speedometer and kilometer counter, an oil indicator display, a fuel regulator, a glow plug and start switch, and a socket for a hand-held lamp. Comfort as we would define it today cannot be found in the Lo 2750.
Despite this drawback, this type of carrier transported a number of winning vehicles. In June 1934, the new W 25 Silver Arrow with a supercharged engine won the International Eifel Race on the Nürburgring, marking the beginning of a series of victories that would continue until 1939. The transporters were always on hand. After each victory they proudly paraded the Silver Arrows on their loading platforms through the streets.
The Lo 2750 shown here is based on a truck from 1936. In time-consuming restoration work, the former water-spraying truck from the Munich municipal sanitation department was converted into a racing transporter that matches the historical models.
The current Mercedes-Benz Actros has also transported winning cars. In Formula 1, for example, they have carried the racing cars of Lewis Hamilton, who became the world champion for Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes in 2008.
In the upcoming season, they will be performing their crucial services for the new works team, Mercedes Grand Prix. The Actros racing carriers also transport the AMG Mercedes C-Class cars of German Touring Car Championship (DTM) drivers like Paul Di Resta, Ralf Schumacher, Bruno Spengler and Gary Paffett to racetracks throughout Europe.
Today, the transporter driver climbs up five steps to reach the spacious cab, where he sits above the traffic in his own world. A far cry from its predecessors, the truck boasts an onboard refrigerator, air conditioner and parking heater. What’s more, a high-quality bed provides the driver with the sleeping comfort of home. And for his morning wash, he has a mirror and towel rack.
Like today’s racing cars, the Actros is extremely safe. In addition to the array of standard safety equipment, the Mercedes-Benz racing transporters also feature an extensive safety package that includes stability control, roll control and a lane assistant, as well as a proximity control system that comes with Active Brake Assist. This emergency assistant automatically initiates braking if a rear-end collision is imminent. No racing car currently has such technology, and when viewed from the perspective of 1934 or 1955, the electronics are pure science fiction.
The upper level of the Actros trailer has room for two racing cars, which are lifted in and out of the truck on a platform. The lower level has room for toolboxes, some of which are rolling so that they can be removed at the racetracks. The wall can be folded down as well, and additional material is stowed in externally storage compartments. The racing transporters of 2009 are still wonders, except they no longer happen to be blue.