The “secret car” in Kyalami.

The excitement was tangible 30 years ago in South Africa, that was a mecca for racing enthusiasts: what was all the fuss about a “secret car” that Mercedes-Benz was bringing to the invitation race of the German Touring Car Championship in Kyalami in the winter of 1990?

That particular Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II was flown in from Germany on a cargo aircraft at the last minute. AMG fielded four more “EVO IIs” in the race. From 1991, AMG took over the entire development of the DTM touring race cars from Mercedes-Benz st – sport-technik.

In 1990, Mercedes-Benz and AMG signed a cooperation agreement. This was a crucial step towards the merger with the company in 2005 as a wholly owned subsidiary and the establishment of Mercedes-AMG.

The “secret car” from Stuttgart: AMG of South Africa landed a media scoop with the intensive coverage of the EVO II, which had been registered for the race at the last minute.

Engineer and race winner: project manager Gerhard Lepler (left) and racing driver Roland Asch during the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) invitation race in Kyalami, South Africa, in the winter of 1990. 

ABS for the racetrack.

The secret of the winning car was an anti-lock braking system (ABS) developed jointly by Mercedes-Benz and Bosch especially for racing. It was only completed shortly before the Kyalami event, which meant it had to be flown in by plane. This pioneering solution for active driving safety had been available in Mercedes-Benz production vehicles since 1978: it had premiered in the S-Class model series W 116. However, the standard assistance system was not suitable for motorsport because it was less effective when the car passed over bumps at high speed.

A control unit developed together with Bosch provided the remedy. Under the management of Mercedes-Benz engineer Gerhard Lepler, the Mercedes-Benz st – sport-technik works department equipped an EVO II with this system as a works test vehicle. This racing touring car, internally coded “M7”, was flown out to South Africa for the DTM invitation race. The vehicle was even prepared for the special climatic conditions on a climatic test bench, recalls project manager Lepler.

Success of the “Swabian Arrow”.

Racing driver Roland Asch at the wheel of the DTM touring car confidently clinched the race, the “Yellow Pages 200”, in Kyalami: pole position, second place in the first heat, victory in the second heat and overall winner at the end. That was the dazzling result achieved by the “Swabian Arrow”, as Asch was called by his fans, in Kyalami.

Asch started his DTM career in 1985. Twice he was DTM runner-up in racing touring cars of the Mercedes-Benz 201 model series: in 1998, he was successful in a Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16, and in 1993 in an AMG-Mercedes 190 E Class 1.

A happy winner: Roland Asch at the DTM invitation race in Kyalami, South Africa, in the winter of 1990.

Mercedes-Benz Classic Brand Ambassador Roland Asch at the Classic Days in Schloss Dyck. A portrait from 2017.

Victory achieved in the test car.

Roland Asch was the perfect choice for this car, which was nicknamed the “Camel Car” because of its livery in the colours of a cigarette manufacturer: at that time, he ran nearly all the tests for Mercedes-Benz’s DTM developments.

The “Swabian Arrow” was passionately enthusiastic about the way the racing touring car handled with the ABS system: “I can concentrate fully on driving and only have to brake at the very last moment,” the racing driver recalled. And, with a smile, “Klaus Ludwig couldn’t believe it when I cut him up!”

Asch won the 1990 race in front of 48,000 spectators in sold-out grandstands in Kyalami. Today, that car is part of the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection. At events, the racing driver continues to thrill fans today by appearing together with this very special “EVO II”.

Technology for motorsport.

The ABS system developed for the EVO II in 1990 keeps the vehicle steerable during maximum full-stop braking. As in a normal car, it is activated by pressing the brake pedal. But here it can be switched on and off using a switch on the dashboard. The premiere in Kyalami showed what the system was capable of and, during the DTM/ITC racing years from 1991 to 1996, Mercedes-Benz equipped its racing touring cars with ABS.

Today, ABS is also used successfully in the GT3 and GT4 categories of many national and international championships. Opinion at the sports car and performance brand on the current customer sports cars Mercedes-AMG GT3 and GT4 is clear: “The newly developed ABS system is adjustable in many ways and ideally adapted to the specifications of the current generation of tyres.”