- The silver-coloured body of the W 25 gave this nickname to the racing cars from Mercedes-Benz
- Successful new development by Mercedes-Benz for the
750-kilogram racing formula
- Manfred von Brauchitsch drove the W 25 to victory and established a new track record for Nürburgring
It was a debut in sparkling silver, and it ended with shining gold: the first race at Nürburgring with the completely newly developed Mercedes-Benz W 25 racing car on 3 June 1934 was won by Manfred von Brauchitsch with an average speed of 122.5 km/h (76.1 mph) – a new track record. However, the victory was almost outshone by the sensational fact that the new Mercedes-Benz racing car took to the track with its aluminium body in shining silver rather than with the classic paint finish in racing white. According to the legend, the metallic silver skin was only exposed during the night before the race, by grinding off the white paint to bring the starting weight of the W 25 down to the limit prescribed by the race rules. In subsequent years, this first appearance by a Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow founded a glorious tradition of great motor racing victories with racing cars and racing sports cars that continues to this day.
Premiere, victory and track record: the International Eifel Race on 3 June 1934 was dominated by the new Mercedes-Benz W 25. Manfred von Brauchitsch drove to victory at the Nürburgring on the first appearance of the racing car developed from 1933 for the 750-kilogram (1,653 lbs) formula applicable from 1934. Thus began an unrivalled series of successes achieved by the W 25 and subsequent Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows in the years up to 1939. After the Second World War Mercedes-Benz followed up on these outstanding successes, initially in the 1952 season with racing sports cars, and then with two Formula 1 world championship titles in succession from 1954.
A new star on the horizon
Unemployment and an economic crisis – the year 1932 was not an auspicious time for motor sport activities in Germany. Even the racing department at Mercedes-Benz, whose supercharged model K, S, SS, SSK, and SSKL touring cars had dominated the European motor sport scene in the late 1920s and the start of the 1930s, was closed.
Yet there was hope for the future. Because in autumn 1932 the motor sport authority AIACR (Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus) in Paris announced a new formula for Grand Prix racing that would apply from 1934: cars were permitted to weigh a maximum of 750 kilograms (1,653 lbs) without fuel, oil, coolant, and tyres, but there were no other design restrictions. In 1933, Mercedes-Benz decided to develop a completely new racing car for the new formula. The racing team for 1934 was to include Manfred von Brauchitsch, Rudolf Caracciola, Luigi Fagioli, Hanns Geier, and Ernst Henne.
The intention of the AIACR’s 750-kilogram formula was to limit the speed of racing cars compared to the previous generation: the rulemakers clearly assumed that only small engines with a low output could be installed in lightweight racing cars. However, they also underestimated the technical advances that had meanwhile been made: the W 25 developed in Stuttgart for the new formula was an extremely powerful racing car. And during the period of the 750-kilogram formula (1,653 lbs) up to 1937 alone, the engine output of Mercedes-Benz racing cars would almost double up to a maximum of 475 kW (646 hp) thanks to continuous further development.
A powerful race-winner
Compared to the Auto Union with its mid-engine, the W 25 with a front-mounted engine appeared to be relatively conservative in design. However, this combination of a slim bodyshell, mechanically supercharged 3.4-litre in-line eight-cylinder engine, independent suspension and transmission directly over the rear axle produced an absolute race-winner. This already became apparent during the first test drives in Monza from February 1934, and on the motorway between Milan and Varese. The 235 kW (320 hp) car (later 260 kW/354 hp with a new fuel mixture) achieved top speeds of up to 280 km/h (174 mph).
For the W 25, Mercedes-Benz opted for a paint finish in the new silver colour for the first time. How the racing car acquired this livery, which would later give rise to the generic term “Silver Arrows,” is one of the great stories from 120 years of motor sport at Mercedes-Benz: the legend relates that before the race, the new W 25 cars weighed just one kilogram too much to meet the conditions for the 750-kilogram (1,653 lbs) formula. During the evening before the race, racing manager Alfred Neubauer had a brainwave: the white paintwork had to be removed, which would produce the necessary weight saving. In his book of reminiscences “Men, Women and Engines,” published in 1958, Neubauer described the nighttime scene in the pits: “Throughout that long night, the mechanics scrubbed the beautiful white paintwork from our Silver Arrows. And when they were put on the scales again next morning – they weighed precisely 750 kilos (1,653 lbs).”
Triumph in the Eifel
The International Eifel Race at Nürburgring was one of the greatest motor sport events of the 1934 season. On that day in June, the popularity of motor racing as a mass phenomenon became very clear. In his memoirs entitled “No victory without a fight,” published in 1964, Manfred von Brauchitsch remembers the flood of spectators that made the pilgrimage to the Nürburgring: “Numerous special trains brought the crowds to the small Eifel town of Adenau. Thousands of motorcycles, buses and trucks wound their way along the country roads to the Nürburgring. They came to the Eifel from Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, and Cologne, from the entire Ruhr region, from Munich, Hamburg, and Berlin, in excited expectation of a titanic battle between engines. 200,000 spectators lined the track. Many had already put up tents during the night at the Hatzenbach bend, the ‘Carousel,’ the ‘Fox tube,’ the Wehrseifen valley stretch, and at the ‘Swallow’s tail,’ to secure a good vantage point.”
The starting flag was lowered in the afternoon, at approx. 3 p.m. The start had actually been planned for 1 p.m., after two motorcycle races, however bad weather delayed the start for the racing cars. Mercedes-Benz was represented by two vehicles: von Brauchitsch had start number 20, and Fagioli was at the wheel of number 22. The total line-up was 44 vehicles. Fagioli and von Brauchitsch took an early lead in the W 25, followed by Hans Stuck (Auto Union) and Louis Chiron (Alfa Romeo). Fagioli having been forced to retire in the 14th lap – the last but one – von Brauchitsch took the victory for Mercedes-Benz, followed by Stuck and Chiron.
The spectacular rise of the Silver Arrows
The victory in the International Eifel Race ushered in a whole series of wins and placings: in 1934, at the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz W 25, the drivers in the works team won the International Klausen Race (Caracciola), the Coppa Acerbo in Pascara (Fagioli), the Italian Grand Prix (Caracciola/Fagioli), and the Spanish Grand Prix (Fagioli). In addition, there were numerous top placings.
For Manfred von Brauchitsch the 1st place in the Eifel Race was the only victory in the 1934 season. Instead the success of the W 25, which competed in Grand Prix races until 1936, was dominated by Rudolf Caracciola. In the 1935 season, Caracciola won a total of six Grand Prix races at the wheel of the W 25, with Fagioli achieving a further three victories. In 1935, Rudolf Caracciola became European Champion after already winning the German Championship. When Auto Union racing cars proved dominant in the 1936 Grand Prix season, Mercedes-Benz developed the new W 125 Silver Arrow for 1937, the last year of the 750-kilogram formula. It was with this car that Caracciola once again won the European Championship.
Over the subsequent years and decades, the success story of the Silver Arrows was continued by numerous Mercedes-Benz racing cars. During the classic era of the Silver Arrows, these legendary cars included the W 154 (3-litre racing car, 1938 and 1939), the W 165 (1.5-litre racing car for the 1939 Tripoli Grand Prix), the 300 SL racing sports car (W 194, 1952), the W 196 R (2.5-litre Formula 1 racing car, 1954 and 1955), and the 300 SLR racing sports car (W 196 S, 1955). In the late 1980s, the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows initially returned to the circuit in Group C. Since 1994, the racing cars from Stuttgart have once again competed in Formula 1 – initially in partnership with Sauber and McLaren, and since 2010 with a newly established Formula 1 works team.
The Mercedes-Benz W 25 750-kilogram racing car
The W 25 was the first Mercedes-Benz racing car for the new Grand Prix formula valid from 1934. This formula prescribed a maximum weight of 750 kilograms for the vehicle (without service fluids and tyres) – in this way the organisers wanted to limit the power output of the racing cars and thus the top speeds that were possible. The designers at Mercedes-Benz opted for a classic vehicle architecture: the front engine drove the rear wheels via a transmission on the rear axle. The in-line eight-cylinder engine originally had a displacement of 3.4 litres and featured the supercharging that had fully proven its worth in racing; the displacement was later increased to a maximum of 4,740 cubic centimetres. Depending on the version, the engine output was 260 kW (354 hp) to 363 kW (494 hp), allowing a top speed of up to 300 km/h (186 mph). Painted in the German racing livery colour of white, the W 25 weighed in at the Nürburgring 1 kilogram over the limit, just a day before its first deployment in the International Eifel Race. The legend holds that the mechanics scraped the paint off, allowing the racer to shine in the silver colour of its unpainted bodywork. With Manfred von Brauchitsch at the wheel it won the race, founding the unique success story of the Silver Arrows. The W 25 raced between 1934 and 1936 and was continuously further developed and enhanced during this time. In 1935, it helped Rudolf Caracciola to win the title in the European Championship, and two Grand Prix victories in 1936: in Tunis (Algeria) and Monaco.
The Mercedes-Benz racing drivers in the 1934 Eifel Race
Manfred von Brauchitsch
Born on 15 August 1905 in Hamburg
Died on 5 February 2003 in Gräfenwarth near Schleiz (Thuringia)
Manfred von Brauchitsch was born into a family with decidedly military roots, but invested his own efforts into motor sport. He drove sports cars from Mercedes-Benz with the help of wealthy sponsors – and very successfully too. Between 1934 and 1939, he was engaged as a works driver for the three-pointed Mercedes star. In addition to his victory in the 1934 Eifel Race that marked the debut of the W 25, the highlights of his career were first places in the 1937 Monaco Grand Prix and the 1938 French Grand Prix. After the Second World War, Manfred von Brauchitsch lived in the former GDR (East Germany). He was active for many years as president of the society for the promotion of the Olympic ideal. He had difficulties in adapting to the further changes brought about by German reunification in 1990, and very little was heard from him until his death.
Born on 9 June 1898 in Ósimo (Italy)
Died on 20 June 1952 in Monte Carlo (Monaco)
Luigi Fagioli was born near Ancona in 1898. Affectionately known by his friends as “the old Abruzzan brigand,” he came to motor racing rather late. He was already 28 years old when he competed in his first race, winning for the first time in 1930 – in the Coppa Principe di Piemonte, in a Maserati. In 1933, Fagioli became Italian Champion in an Alfa-Romeo. Behind the wheel he made a name for himself for his consistency and active enthusiasm. These attributes led to an invitation to join the 1934 Mercedes-Benz works team. Fagioli returned the favour with two Grand Prix victories in Monza (together with Rudolf Caracciola) and Lasarte, Spain, and in 1935 capped these with 1st place in the season’s first race in Monaco. Success in the Coppa Acerbo in Pescara (1934), on the Avus (Automobil-Verkehrs- und Übungs-Straße) in Berlin (1935), and in Barcelona (1935) confirmed the correctness of the choice. His contract expired in 1936. He subsequently drove for Auto Union and for Alfa Romeo after the Second World War. Here he was counted as one of the “three big F,” Fangio, Farina, and Fagioli, who substantially shared Formula 1 victories amongst themselves in 1950 and 1951. During practice for the 1952 Monaco Grand Prix, he collided with a stone ballustrade. “The old Abruzzan brigand” died three weeks after this accident.