From V-twin to GT3: 130 years of Mercedes-Benz in motorsport

10th July 2024
Adam Wilkins

At this year’s Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard, Mercedes-Benz will be celebrating 130 years of competitive motorsport. From the V-twin engine that powered French cars to victory in the first ever motor race, to modern endurance racers, it’s a graphic illustration of the evolution of racing technology.

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The German firm was there right at the beginning in what is considered the first race organised for motor cars in July 1894. French newspaper Le Petit Journal held a race from Paris to Rouen, and the joint winning cars were a Peugeot and a Panhard & Levassor. At this point you may wonder why it forms part of the Mercedes-Benz celebrations. Both cars were powered by a V-twin engine built under licence from Daimler.

Christian Werner won the gruelling Targa Florio road race in 1924 aboard his supercharged Mercedes 2-litre. This 100-year anniversary has been marked by Mercedes-Benz with the recommissioning of an extensively restored example.

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In 1934, the new Mercedes-Benz W25 750-kilogram formula racing cars made their debut in the Eifel race at the Nürburgring. Co-drivers Manfred von Brauchitsch took victory on the weekend which the nickname Silver Arrows was coined, a tag that continues to endure for Mercedes-Benz racing cars.

Mercedes-Benz made its return to Grand Prix racing in 1954, and the following year Juan Manuel Fangio claimed the World Championship title. The W196 R ran with either conventional open wheels or an unusual full body depending upon which circuit it was competing on. With the full body, it looks more like a sports racing car but for the central driving position.

Sometimes it’s not just during the race that speed is of the essence; there were occasions when getting the competition cars to the venue was urgent. And in the days when the law allowed such things, the 1955’s ‘Blue Wonder’ could cover ground at more than 100mph, propelled by the engine from a 300 SL Gullwing.

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Mercedes-Benz returned to endurance racing in the Group C era. The C11 claimed a double title win in 1990, with drivers including Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and Jochen Mass. Mercedes-Benz’s endurance activities were arguable even more successful in 1998. The CLK LM was undefeated, winning every race it entered in FIA GT Championship. It simultaneously took Bernd Schneider to his driver’s championship. Finally, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 was a successful customer sports car, and the car at this weekend’s Festival of Speed led a one-two-three victory at the 2012 Dubai 24-hour race.

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The 2024 Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard takes place from the 11th-14th July, and you can watch every moment of the action on our live stream right here on GRR! 

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