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The very first Silver Arrow.

This is it – the very first Silver Arrow. Radio reporter Paul Laven lent the Mercedes-Benz SSKL a name that would later write automotive history when the car won the Berlin Avus racing event in 1932.

The SSKL with its streamlined body was, then, ultimately the first Silver Arrow and celebrated a magnificent victory at Avus in May of that year. The people of Berlin named the silver racing cigar “gherkin” after the initial training runs as a result of its somewhat awkward appearance. This gherkin, however, which featured an aluminium body, went on to literally drive away from the competition on the fastest German race track at the time. On the afternoon of 22 May 1932, the star of two men rose up to the occasion in the form of a very special SSKL as the streamlined body designed by former motorcycle racer Reinhard Freiherr von Koenig-Fachsenfeld turned the not so competitive SSKL back into a winner again.

The radiant winner of the Avus race on 22 May 1932: Manfred von Brauchitsch.

The radiant winner of the Avus race on 22 May 1932: Manfred von Brauchitsch.

Manfred von Brauchitsch crossed the finish line in the first actively used Mercedes-Benz SSKL racing sports car with streamlined body, finishing ahead of Rudolf Caracciola.

Manfred von Brauchitsch crossed the finish line in the first actively used SSKL racing sports car with streamlined body, finishing ahead of Rudolf Caracciola.

The world’s fastest “gherkin”.

The world’s fastest “gherkin” achieved a top speed of 230 km/h – an entire 20 km/h more than the standard SSKL – thanks to the lightweight, streamlined aluminium body. The victory at the Berlin Avus represented an obvious breakthrough in aerodynamics – not only in a racing context – because without the lightweight, aerodynamic body, the car would have required an additional 80 PS (59 kW) to achieve the same level of performance. No race can be won without a daredevil pilot, however. Manfred von Brauchitsch, just 26 years old, relegated established star Rudolf Caracciola to second place ahead of the world’s very best racing drivers and in doing so paved the way to the long-awaited move to professional racing. Overnight, Manfred von Brauchitsch became a revered young star at the wheel of Silver Arrows.

Fascinating look.

Over 85 years after its initial race, the SSKL has lost none of its fascination. This holds true with regard to not only its impressive appearance, but also the racing technology it embeds. “The vehicle boasts an impressive weight distribution,” explains Mercedes-Benz project manager Michael Plag from Mercedes-Benz Classic. “We actually measured the car twice. The holes in the frame are so accurate that the weight distribution is 49.4 to 50.6 – perfectly balanced.” The SSKL had been rebuilt by the Classic Center in Fellbach over the course of several months. 

In 1931, there were four original vehicles, which were manufactured at a total cost of 150,000 Reichsmark. “An SSK from our collection provided the basis for the streamlined car, for which we had individual parts specially fabricated,” Plag adds. The engine block, vertical shaft, racing conrod, oil pump, fan and intake manifold as well as the large elephant compressor with its 18 ribs are, however, original. As was the case with the former SSKL – and in contrast to SS and SSK standard vehicles – it can permanently run alongside the engine. 

On the road with the legendary Mercedes-Benz SSKL streamlined racing car on 17-Mile Drive.

On the road with the legendary SSKL streamlined racing car on 17-Mile Drive.

Streamlined aluminium body.

A lever below the steering column switches it on and off. The power output of the internally designated M 06 RS inline six-cylinder engine with 7.1 litres of displacement was increased to 176 kW/240 PS without the compressor and 220 kW/300 PS with it. Thanks to its streamlined aluminium body, the world-famous “Super-Sport-Kurz-Leicht” (super sport short lightweight) was no longer recognizable, however, but all the more spectacular to behold.

The angular shapes of the SSK disappeared, leaving only the front axle design to reveal what lurks beneath. The rear suspension was also completely covered and tapers off at the rear just as pointedly as the rear end of the racing “gherkin”. Meanwhile, the front is dominated by a gigantic cooling air intake, and a deflector shield only minimally protects the cockpit of the streamlined SSKL. 

The SSKL is born.

To open the bonnet and gaze at the long-stroke inline six-cylinder engine, you first need to remove the aerodynamically contoured cover at the head hinge. The cockpit is identical to that in the SSKL, which means there are two leather seats, a dominating steering wheel and spartan interior to minimise the weight as far as possible at just 1,444 kilograms. Next to the dashboard is the central accelerator pedal, with the clutch at the left and the brake at the right. 

At the race itself, Manfred von Brauchitsch competed as a privately funded driver. Due to the continuing global economic crisis, Mercedes-Benz decided at the time to pull the plug on its own motorsport activities, which had already been running on the back burner since 1931. 

The cockpit of the Mercedes-Benz SSKL streamlined car is almost unchanged compared to the standard SSKL.

The cockpit of the SSKL streamlined car is almost unchanged compared to the standard SSKL. 

With the supercharger on, the 7.1-litre inline six cylinder engine produces 221 kW / 300 PS.

With the supercharger on, the 7.1-litre inline six cylinder engine produces 221 kW / 300 PS.

Average speed: 194 km/h.

The brand with the star did back Manfred von Brauchitsch, however, who started on his own, as well as Hans Stuck, who was at the wheel of a SSKL with the standard body, at the race held at the Avus high-speed track. Avus comprised two straight sections – each 9.5 kilometres long – which were connected by two bends to form an oval. During the race, the drivers had to cover this stretch 15 times, for a total distance of 294 kilometres, all the while the turbocharged six-cylinder engine roared out of the mighty exhaust tailpipe on the right side. The average speed achieved by von Brauchitsch back then was nothing short of an unbelievable 194 km/h.

Head to head for nine laps.

From the second lap on, favourite and star driver Rudolf Caracciola, who started with Alfa Romeo in 1932 as a result of the withdrawal of “his” Mercedes-Benz team, and Manfred von Brauchitsch in the SSKL streamlined racing car, competed directly against each other and finished in first and second place. Caracciola, who led the race in his more agile Alfa Romeo, kept increasing the distance into and immediately out of the corners when accelerating, while von Brauchitsch caught up with him in his big SSKL on the straights. 

Von Brauchitsch was tactically clever and did not overtake Rudolf Caracciola in his Alfa Romeo until the last lap, winning after 1:30.53 hours on the home straight – a race for eternity – a feat that is not only attributed to the Silver Arrow. Only five out of the 16 cars that had started actually crossed the finish line, including the two SSKLs.

Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert CO₂-Emissionen kombiniert Stromverbrauch im kombinierten Testzyklus

Product may vary after press date on 19.09.2019.

1 Die angegebenen Werte wurden nach dem vorgeschriebenen Messverfahren ermittelt. Es handelt sich um die „NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 1 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

4 Angaben zu Kraftstoffverbrauch, Stromverbrauch und CO₂-Emissionen sind vorläufig und wurden vom Technischen Dienst für das Zertifizierungsverfahren nach Maßgabe des WLTP-Prüfverfahrens ermittelt und in NEFZ-Werte korreliert. Eine EG-Typgenehmigung und Konformitätsbescheinigung mit amtlichen Werten liegen noch nicht vor. Abweichungen zwischen den Angaben und den amtlichen Werten sind möglich.

6 Stromverbrauch und Reichweite wurden auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Stromverbrauch und Reichweite sind abhängig von der Fahrzeugkonfiguration. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

7 Angaben zu Stromverbrauch und Reichweite sind vorläufig und wurden vom Technischen Dienst für das Zertifizierungsverfahren nach Maßgabe der UN/ECE-Regelung Nr. 101 ermittelt. Die EG-Typgenehmigung und eine Konformitätsbescheinigung mit amtlichen Werten liegen noch nicht vor. Abweichungen zwischen den Angaben und den amtlichen Werten sind möglich.