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  • When silver was the new white.
    1

    When silver was the new white.

    Vividly depicting the era of the first Silver Arrows like no photographer has ever done before? The Czech artists Petr Milerski and Jan Rambousek made this possible with computer graphics and a love of detail.

    Text: Jochen Fischer | Illustrations: Unique & Limited

The premiere for the new W 25 formula racing car.

The Eifel race marked the premiere for the new W 25 formula racing car. With this vehicle, in 1934, Mercedes-Benz entered the new Grand Prix formula racing, which saw vehicle weight restricted to 750 kilograms (without operating fluids and tyres). At the weigh-in on the eve of the race, the W 25 was found to be one kilogram too heavy. To this day, the legend that the paint was sanded off during the night in order to reduce the car’s weight can neither be confirmed nor refuted. It is based on stories told by those involved. The fact of the matter is that two W 25 vehicles started on 3 June in the colour of the aluminium bodywork instead of the usual German racing colour white. Manfred von ­Brauchitsch registered a start-to-finish victory.


Bad luck was a true companion.

From 1934, works racing driver Manfred von Brauchitsch was seen as the racing team’s jinx. The letters DNF (“did not finish”) appeared so often in his results at Grand Prix races that it was thought they were part of his name. But it wasn’t just bad luck — von Brauchitsch pushed the engines and tyres to the limit. On this particular day, however, he was not to blame: the three-litre compressor engine of the W 154, newly developed for the 1938 season, consumed masses of fuel and so the drivers had to refuel more often. At the second pit stop, the tank overflowed and the fuel ignited. The fire was quickly extinguished and von Brauchitsch could drive on — for a single lap. Then he was forced to retire following an ­accident. It seems bad luck really was a true companion of his.


Like gigantic ­manta rays.

The races on Berlin’s AVUS track built in 1921 were real spectacles, drawing in hundreds of thousands of spectators. The breathtaking steep curve at the northern end of the high-speed track, used for the first time that year, was only outshone by the streamlined vehicles from Auto Union (in the foreground) and Mercedes-Benz, which were also celebrating their premiere. Like gigantic ­manta rays, the horsepower-hungry monsters loudly held their line.


Mercedes-Benz entered formula-free races with three streamlined cars: two based on the new W 125, and a W 25 with the V12 engine from the record-braking car of 1936 developing around 600 hp. The race was the world’s fastest to date, with Hermann Lang averaging 261.7 km/h to win in his W 125.


The spectators were looking forward to an Italian victory.

Libya had been an Italian colony since 1934. The new Grand Prix track at the Mellaha salt lake, built the previous year, was one of the most modern and rapid tracks of its time. The stands opposite the race management tower had space for 10,000 spectators. It was a hot day; sand was blowing across the track, making it dangerously slippery, and it even got into the engine compartments. The spectators were looking forward to an Italian victory. As the German brands dominated racing back then, many people’s hopes rested on two drivers: Achille Varzi (Auto Union) and Luigi Fagioli (Mercedes-Benz). But in the end, the upcoming European champion was first across the line: Rudolf Caracciola beat the two Italians after covering 502 kilometres at an average speed of 121 km/h.


Situations which a ­photograph is incapable of depicting.

At the beginning was an idea: doing something comple­tely new, something completely different. Jan Rambousek and Petr Milerski run a successful adverti­sing agency in Prague. Rambousek is an expert in creation and photo­graphy, while Milerski focuses on image processing and computer-generated imagery, in other words creating virtual pictures on a computer. Completely new: to develop an art form which looks extremely realistic without resembling a photo. Completely different: “We want to develop our project without time pressure, without an order from a customer that would otherwise influence the final result,” explains Jan Rambousek.


Our agency had many orders from the automobile industry; we know how to work with cars. Motorsport is sexy, full of stories, and dramatic,” says Petr Milerski. The project finally took shape: they both wanted to capture legendary scenes that had never been photographed before — and situations which a ­photograph is incapable of depicting.


That was it!

To ensure the racing scenes had an epic effect, they chose an extreme format: almost twice as wide as it is high. The scenes shown in Mercedes-Benz Classic magazine therefore had to be cropped a little around the ­edges. “Maybe it wasn’t the brightest of ideas to tackle the Silver Arrow motif from the onset,” says Jan Rambousek with a smile. Research, staging and execution of the first twelve motifs, initially planned as a calendar, took three years. “But the result was so impressive that we just knew that was it!”


“We were very meticulous about the details.”

All vehicles and buildings in the scenes were three-dimensionally reconstructed on a computer ­— or “rendered”, as the tech-­savvy among us would say. The close-ups of people were photographed using film extras and then processed on the computer. “We were very meticulous about the details. For the fire involving von Brauchitsch, we searched long and hard for a pair of racing ­goggles which precisely matched the original ones,” says Petr Milerski.


When sex was safe and motor racing bloody dangerous.

The pair have since abandoned their advertising agency and now market their art under the brand name Unique & Limited. The third person in their team is Isabell Mayrhofer, who takes care of exhibitions. The picture book shows 21 legendary racing scenes that have never been seen ­before in such impressive form. Among them are the twelve Silver Arrow motifs with which everything began.

Making of: Tripoli Grand Prix.

The racing track near ­Tripoli had no longer existed for quite a while. During reconstruction, it was helpful that some early colour photographs of a later race had been made. The race management tower and the roof of the stand were created digitally. Behind the couple at the right-hand edge, the artists integrated a lottery placard into the image. The Tripoli Grand Prix was connected with a lottery; each racing driver was assigned a ticket number. The person who drew the winning driver’s ticket number was among the winners of the lottery.


The people in the background are computer-generated, but those in the foreground were photographed. “At the photo shoot in the studio, it wasn’t easy to obtain the right lighting conditions. The race started on a cloudless day at 3 p.m. and the spectators stood under the shade of the roof. We wanted the props and clothing to be perfect,” recalls Jan Rambousek. Even the palm tree in the foreground was photographed, while the horizon was created on the computer.


Making of: When Manfred von ­Brauchitsch caught fire.

There are quite a lot of photos of this event and even a video sequence that shows how the car and its driver caught fire. Based on these sources, the pits and the advertising boards were able to be reproduced exactly as they were — as too were the wheels stored in the pits and the positions of the toolboxes. For the clothing and equipment of the people depicted in the image, the artists worked together with a film studio from Prague. “Because so many historical films have been shot in the Czech Republic, the studio is well equipped with appropriate props,” explains Jan Rambousek.

What proved more difficult, however, was finding exactly the right driver helmets and goggles. They searched for a long time for a pair of goggles with a small adjustment screw in the middle, like that which von Brauchitsch wore. Even the authentic depiction of the tyre profile was a challenge. The requirement was that the tyres of the W 154 appear as worn as they were after a few laps of the original race.