Eight exquisite examples of the Mercedes-Benz W 06 model series are loosely grouped as if picturesquely draped around the bubbling fountain in front of the Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg, impatiently awaiting their day trip on such a beautiful morning: an S model, three SS and three SSK models, and an authentically manufactured SSKL replica. Also joining them is a sole K model – the predecessor, as you’re probably already aware. These chirpy 90-year-old machines are archaic alternatives to the vehicles of our times, 183 years after the birth of Gottlieb Daimler and 173 years after that of Carl Benz; alternatives to everything which defines the near future: silent electromobility and the growing emancipation of vehicles from their users.
“The design is such that, during driving, the driver need only operate the steering, the foot brake, the signals and the foot-attached accelerator lever, which simultaneously controls the fan, with no further action required,” is the noble and complex take on things in the Description and Owner’s Manual for the Mercedes-Benz S models. As if all that wasn’t enough! “A German oak tree of a car” is how Grand Prix legend Rudolf Caracciola once described the gnarly, indestructible piece of cultural heritage known internally at Daimler-Benz as the W 06. And he was right. He knew what he was talking about – at the latest when he won the Mille Miglia in 1931 in the SSKL.
And in front of the charisma of these glorious eight vehicles, the appeal of all other vehicles in the convoy or those left standing in its wake suddenly appears to fade. Be it a 300 SL Roadster or the former Jaguar XK 140 of the buxom actress Anita Ekberg; even an almost six-metre- long Daimler 420 DS in an astoundingly fresh condition has nothing on them. The 230-kilometre course around the Rhineland region serves two good causes: it supports the ‘Stiftung schwerkrankes Kind’ foundation for critically ill children, as well as commemorating the German racing legend Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips in his childhood home town and final resting place of Horrem, near Cologne. In May this year, he would have been 89 years old.
Different times, different emotions – when Graf Trips died on 10 September 1961 in Monza following a racing accident, his passing shocked many Germans. Among them was Hans Herrmann, one of the few racing drivers of the wild 1950s still alive today and a friend of Trips – even after so many years, he is still deeply moved by the events. Whenever the Mercedes-Benz Kompressor- Club heads out on a journey, the journey itself is the destination. During the autobahn stages on the A4, A61 and A1, the voluminous six-cylinders happily cough out their soot. Even at 170 km/h and a steady 2,900 rpm in fourth gear, the engine leaves no doubt about it: the vehicle features a multitude of mechanical components which powerfully cooperate with one another to deliver a concerto grosso for the tough men and women on board.
These straight sprints are counterbalanced by the picture-perfect passage through Germany’s Eifel region between Satzvey and the Ahr Valley near Kreuzberg, before the convoy heads on toward Bad Münstereifel, home of German Schlager singer Heino, and the Effelsberg radio telescope deep down between the wooded hilltops. “By reason of its special design principle, the car is especially calm on rough roads and when cornering,” confirms the Owner’s Manual. And it was right: “The road was well suited to our cars,” praises Franz Maag, a prominent face of the German Kompressor scene at the end of the day. With 4.5 bar in the front tyres, a two-tonne car like this is particularly easy to steer, even through the sweeping bends of the Ahr mountains. At the end of the journey, his SS model had drunk 50 litres of fuel out of the reservoir, corresponding to roughly 20 litres per 100 kilometres.
Roads also lead to destinations. Power needs feeding – even in such nimble classics. But the special registration plates for classic cars serve almost as an official letter of excuse for the car’s thirst. Roads also lead to destinations. The first one of the day: Trips’ Hemmersbach Castle at the edge of Horrem. Trips expert and biographer Jörg Thomas Födisch stands in the gallery between the wing-shaped entrance steps and speaks of the life and death of the German sporting hero from the late 1950s, who was dubbed “the last knight”. He talks of a rather aloof nature, but also of chivalry and inner nobility.
Meanwhile Hanno Jager, once a mechanic for the racing driver, also shares anecdotes with the group. In his small workshop nearby, he serviced and cared for the Earl’s private vehicle and even had to knock a few dents out of it. A short walk leads to Villa Trips, which houses all sorts of memorabilia and keepsakes, which were all highly sought after at the time. The excursion, or rather immersion, into a world of sports ends at the other side of the town at the Trips family mausoleum. Hans Herrmann holds back. He placidly explains that it was all a bit too much for him today. The day was varied and eventful, bringing in 20,000 euros for the good cause.
Driving in the Mercedes-Benz W 06 model series is always a very special privilege, and a challenge. Coming up to that challenge gives drivers a certain nobility: “Cars with the class and pedigree of a Mercedes require tactful driving, as they are valuable instruments – thoroughbred creations which can only deliver their all at the hands of a dignified driver,” comes the almost poetic description from the Owner’s Manual. That’s still true 90 years on.