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  • Premiere of the Mercedes-Benz SS at the Nürburgring 90 years ago.
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    Sensational “Super-Sport” victory.

    Premiere of the Mercedes-Benz Type SS (“Super-Sport”) at the Nürburgring 90 years ago.

Threefold triumph at the premiere.

A great triumph: On 15 July 1928, the new Mercedes-Benz SS (W 06) cars scored a dominating victory in their first official race, the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. The triple victory of the brand from Stuttgart was spearheaded by the team Rudolf Caracciola and Christian Werner (race number 6) ahead of Otto Merz (race number 5) as well as Christian Werner and Willy Walb (race number 4).


Race win for Mercedes-Benz: Christian Werner driving a Type SS saw the checkered flag of the III. German Grand Prix on 15 July 1928 as the winner.

Race win for Mercedes-Benz: Christian Werner driving a Type SS saw the checkered flag of the III. German Grand Prix on 15 July 1928 as the winner.


Before the start of the German Grand Prix on 15 July 1928: Mercedes-Benz SS.

Before the start of the German Grand Prix on 15 July 1928: Mercedes-Benz SS.


Exhausting battle in the heat.

In the hot July of that year, the race in the searing heat turned into an exhausting battle on the South and North Circuit of the racetrack in the Eifel that had opened just the year before. The race went over 18 laps of 28.27 kilometres each, translating into more than 500 kilometres that the powerful and heavy compressor vehicles had to be driven.

Rudolf Caracciola, the great talent of the Mercedes-Benz racing department said about the Type SS: “It wasn’t easy to drive this German oak of a car.” The works racing cars came to the starting line painted white. A black stripe across the bonnet identified them as vehicles of the class above three litres displacement (Group 1).


Advancement of the successful model.

The Mercedes-Benz SS (the abbreviation SS stands for “Super-Sport”) was an advancement of the Mercedes-Benz S that had been so successful in 1927.

Compared with the engine of the Type S, the Mercedes-Benz engineers increased the bore by two millimetres and improved the gas exchange of the engine by using large intake and exhaust valves with a diameter of 52 millimetres each. The Type SS in standard specification already produced 118 kW (160 PS) from the 7.1-litre six-cylinder engine. With the compressor switched on, the output was 147 kW (200 PS) at 3,300 rpm.

Show piece: the winning car of the 1928 German Grand Prix.

Show piece: the winning car of the 1928 German Grand Prix, on display at the 1928 International Automobile Exhibition in Berlin. Rudolf Caracciola and Christian Werner spearheaded the triple victory of the brand from Stuttgart with this Mercedes-Benz SS (race number 6).

The 1928 team: drivers, management and employees of the Mercedes-Benz racing department at the German Grand Prix on 15 July 1928.

The 1928 team: drivers, management and employees of the Mercedes-Benz racing department at the German Grand Prix on 15 July 1928.


“Super-Sport” car.

The Type SS thrilled with race victories. And at the same time, it was compelling as an especially powerful and luxurious sports car for discerning private customers – simply a real super sports car of its time in the most literal sense. It set itself apart from the other models of the S family by having a different radiator, amongst other things: it comprised eight blocks and was 42 millimetres taller than on the Type S (seven blocks). The SSK derived from the Type SS for hill climbs also had a lower radiator.


The brand from Stuttgart.

Initially, the Type SS was only available as sport four-seater. The brand from Stuttgart competed in the German Grand Prix also with four-seat vehicles with the rear seat bench enclosed by a cover. Other ex-factory models such as the four-seat Special Four-Seater (1929) and the Special Cabriolet as well as the Roadster (1932) were added later.


How exclusive the Type SS was, was evident not least in its price: in 1934, the vehicle as a four-seat touring car cost 35,000 Reichsmark and even 44,000 Reichsmark as a Special Cabriolet. By way of comparison, the Mercedes-Benz 170 (W 15) mid-size model presented in 1931 sold for 4,400 Reichsmark as a car with interior driver’s seat (saloon) that same year.


The big moment before the start of the German Grand Prix: the racing cars before their start at the Nürburgring.

The big moment before the start of the German Grand Prix: the racing cars before their start at the Nürburgring.


Home game for Caracciola.

Caracciola, winner of the inaugural race of the Nürburgring in 1927 in the class of sports cars with more than five litres displacement, knew the track in the Eifel well. And he appreciated the performance of his vehicle: “The large, massive Mercedes-Benz SS, the largest and heaviest racing car of that time”, recalled the racing driver later.


Track record.

But Caracciola also knew: Bugatti especially was a strong competitor in the 1928 German Grand Prix. He already got a sense of this in the practice duel with Louis Chiron. Caracciola later described the fast ride as if he was commenting the race: “The car rushes into space ... shoots up the mountain road that seems to lead into the sky straight as an arrow, and zooms back down into the valley ... bashes through a series of S-turns at an outrageous speed [...] when all of a sudden a ghost appears next to my car, a speeding blue shadow [...] turn, hill, trees, the blue shadow there for seconds ... this butterfly-causing anxiety for seconds – just don’t get too close ... slowly the mighty white Mercedes-Benz inches ahead.”


15 July 1928, the day of the race. The sun beat down relentlessly, the thermometer hit 35 degrees Celsius. The mighty racing touring cars reverently called “white elephants” were in the front rows. Six of the vehicles in all competed in the 1928 German Grand Prix. Each racing driver was accompanied by a mechanic as a co-driver. Caracciola had a good start and kept increasing his speed continuously. In the first lap, he had an average speed of 104.8 km/h, by lap five he had upped it to 111.6 km/h: track record! A short while later, Mercedes-Benz proudly promoted this feat on the poster on the race victory: “Caracciola in the new record time of 15:13⅕ = 111 km average speed.”


Cool-off: a break for Rudolf Caracciola, who is showing the effects of the heat, at the Mercedes-Benz box during the 1928 German Grand Prix.

Cool-off: a break for Rudolf Caracciola, who is showing the effects of the heat, at the Mercedes-Benz box during the 1928 German Grand Prix.


Setbacks for Mercedes-Benz.

But the team from Stuttgart also suffered setbacks: Willy Walb ran off the track in lap two and crashed down an embankment in his Mercedes-Benz SS. The racing driver remained unhurt. He headed back to the box on foot – eight kilometres away. Christian Werner retired in lap nine. He had won the inaugural race on the Nürburgring the year before in the class of racing cars with up to two litres displacement. The reason for his retirement was severe pain in his shoulder from the heavy shocks of the steering. Racing director Neubauer looking back in 1959 wrote: “Back then – those were these damned heavy hunks that weighed 33 hundredweight, this heavy steering system that is hardly dampened at all. It can happen that the lurching front wheels literally rip the steering wheel out of the driver’s hands, tear the arm from the joints.”


Sunstroke and blisters.

Rudolf Caracciola was hit next: he had to give up in lap twelve – with a suspected sunstroke and blisters on the soles of his feet from the overheated pedals. Caracciola recalled the ordeal: “Tropical searing sun, blinded, roasted by the heat, thirsty, worn-out – on top of that, the car’s incredible weight, which on every lap had to be forced through 180 turns.” But the German Grand Prix continued for Mercedes-Benz. Because at the time, it was customary that a racing car was driven by several drivers in a race. Willy Walb, who made it back to the box from his march in time, was the first to take over Werner’s vehicle with race number 4. Werner filled in for Caracciola despite his injured shoulder. Rubberised insulating tape from the tool box kept the joint in place. Werner drove the Type SS with race number 6 for two laps, then Caracciola took over again for two laps, before Werner finally crossed the finish line as the winner with an average speed of 103.9 km/h. Merz and Walb finished in second and third place.


Rudolf Caracciola and Christian Werner won the 1928 German Grand Prix.

Rudolf Caracciola and Christian Werner won the 1928 German Grand Prix.


Celebrated triumph: the victorious cars back at the factory. Behind the wheels (from left): Rudolf Caracciola, Otto Merz and Christian Werner.

Celebrated triumph: the victorious cars back at the factory. Behind the wheels (from left): Rudolf Caracciola, Otto Merz and Christian Werner.


Solo effort in the Eifel.

The big constant in the race was Otto Merz. He finished in second place with an average speed of 103.3 km/h. Due to a defective tyre, he had to surrender his lead to his teammate Christian Werner in the last lap by a hair.


Ten out of 41.

Of the vehicles at the start of the hard race, 31 out of 41 retired. Mercedes-Benz soundly put Bugatti, the major rival of the day, in its place. Chiron crossed the finish line in sixth place, more than a quarter of an hour after Christian Werner. The official racing premiere was a sensational success for the “Super-Sport”. However, even more important for the brand from Stuttgart in the late 1920s and early 1930s was the further advanced Type SSK (“Super-Sport-Kurz”, German for Super-Sport-Short) fitted with a shorter frame. It saw its debut a little while later on 29 July 1928 in the ninth Gabelbach hill climb near Bad Ilmenau in Thuringia. The winner in the sports car category with a new track record: Rudolf Caracciola.


Winning team: Rudolf Caracciola (left) and Christian Werner won the 1928 German Grand Prix.

Winning team: Rudolf Caracciola (left) and Christian Werner won the 1928 German Grand Prix.