Historical SLs in the wind tunnel

  • Measurements on the 300 SL (W 194 series) and 300 SL (W 198 I series) as well as comparative measurements on the 300 S (W 188 series)
  • The results of the two SL measurements are unexpectedly close
  • The Mercedes-Benz 300 S has a significantly better drag coefficient than expected

New cars are constant objects of study in the wind tunnel. They are subjected to tests in order to optimise them in different ways – for example, to reduce fuel consumption, but also to improve wind noise or splash water flow.

Historical vehicles, on the other hand, are seldom indeed guests in the wind tunnel, for their development has long since been finished. However, the values measured in the wind tunnel are not always available for them, or sometimes there are indeed measured values, but these cannot be compared with the figures obtained in today’s tests. For reasons of historical interest, in January 2012 Mercedes-Benz Classic thus examined two SL model series in the company’s own wind tunnel at its Stuttgart-Untertürkheim plant using modern-day measuring methods– the first SL (W 194 series) from 1952, and the 1954 series-production 300 SL (W 198 I series) sports car. In order to have a contemporary comparison vehicle, a 1951 Mercedes-Benz 300 S (W 188 series), a luxurious, sporty touring car, was also examined. This vehicle had lent some of its technology to the first post-war Mercedes-Benz sports car.

300 SL (W 194 series, 1952)

The most important results: the 300 SL (W 194 series) racing car has a drag coefficient cD  = 0.376. It is thus around 20 per cent better – that is, considerably better – than its contemporary comparison vehicle, the 300 S (W 188 series), for which a value of cD = 0.462 was obtained. This result underscores the efforts of the engineers and designers back then to attain a low drag coefficient as an important prerequisite for the SL’s racing success – which the car then went on to achieve in the course of the 1952 racing season at different international motorsport events, for example at Le Mans or in the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico. The 300 SL (W 198 I) series-production sports car returned a drag coefficient value of c= 0.389.

300 SL (W 194 series, 1952)

The wind tunnel in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim itself is historical: it hearkens back to the 1930s and the legendary FKFS-Institut (Forschungsinstitut für Kraftfahrwesen und Fahrzeugmotoren Stuttgart) or Stuttgart Research Institute for Automotive Engineering of Stuttgart Professor Wunibald Kamm, who enjoyed similar fame for his importance in the field of aerodynamics. The tunnel is based on the so-called Göttinger design principle with a three-quarter open test section. In the mid-70s the then Daimler-Benz AG took over the wind tunnel. Today it is one of several test installations of its kind in the Group.

Exciting beyond measure …

  • Three historical vehicles in an historical wind tunnel
  • The results of the two 300 SL (W 194 and W 198 I series) are similar

Morning of the 23rd of January 2012: the three cars are standing at the ready. Little do the workers and employees at the Mercedes-Benz Untertürkheim plant suspect of the bustle of activity going on behind the walls of the wind tunnel facilities. For eight hours the 5-Megawatt electric motor will set the fan blades in motion to drive the vast volume of 9000 cubic metres of air.

300 SL (W 198 series, 1954 to 1957)

The object is to determine the relationship among the three study objects in terms of their surface and air resistance values – the three cars are closely related technically: the drive system of the W 194 is based in part on that of the W 188, while the W 198 is based on the W 194.

So as to compare them more directly, the three vehicles were measured without underbody panelling. Today these three classics are usually driven in normal road traffic without underbody panelling in any case, in order to permit easier access to service points and so that the vehicle interior does not heat up.

The following programme is scheduled: 10 point measurements of the cD values with wind velocities of 130 km/h (81 mph) and 200 km/h (124 mph). In addition, the vehicle frontal area (A) as well as the coefficients of lift at the front axle (cAF) and at the rear axle (cAR) were determined.

300 SL (W 194 series, 1952) compared with a model 300 S (W 188 series, 1951 to 1958)

The day promises to be exciting. With the first measurement, that of the 300 S, the most diverse figures, guesses and estimates buzz around the hall – all of the estimates high because of the vehicle design, which presents a relatively large surface to the wind. The frontal area of the 300 S with exterior mirror, 2.28 square metres, is thus no surprise. No-one yet suspects that no guess or estimate will hit the mark. At the wind tunnel control station tense concentration dominates the scene.

When the first values measured for the 300 S come from the ticker and are printed out, they reveal an average drag coefficient of cD = 0.468 at a blown wind speed of 130 km/h (81 mph) and cD = 0.482 at 200 km/h (124 mph): a murmur of approval goes through the room. For comparison: the 190 SL (W 121 series), which appeared in 1955 and thus four years after the 300 S, achieves a drag coefficient cD of 0.461 with a hard top, while the 1963 Mercedes-Benz 230 SL (W 113 series), the famous “Pagoda,” has a drag coefficient cD of 0.515. This shows the Mercedes-Benz 300 S in a very good light indeed.

For the 300 S, the cD × A value, the product of the frontal area A and the drag coefficient of the vehicle body cD, results in 1.067 at a wind speed of 130 km/h (81 mph), and 1.100 at a speed of 200 km/h (124 mph).

As the coefficient for lift at a wind speed of 130 km/h for the front axle (cAF = 0.268) is virtually identical to that for the rear axle (cAR = 0.270) there is no pitching moment and consequently a stable vehicle attitude. At a wind speed of 200 km/h the 300 S experiences a stronger load relief of the front axle with a resulting front axle lift coefficient cAF = 0.293 and rear axle lift coefficient cAR = 0.267. However, both these values lie in the realm of purely theoretical knowledge since the 300 S has a top speed of 175 km/h (109 mph).

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