“Waxenberger always finds a way”
Born on: 9 April 1931 in Miesbach/Bavaria
Engineer Erich Waxenberger had a sound theoretical base and yet was always a pragmatic man, too. At Mercedes-Benz vehicle testing he worked on several SL series, starting in the 1950s. Later he supervised, among other things, the company sports activities.
Erich Waxenberger was born into a passionate automotive family. Together with his sister, his father managed a DKW dealership in the town of Miesbach in the south of Bavaria. Waxenberger senior ran motorcycle races from spring until autumn, and in winter raced on the frozen lakes of his southern Bavarian home region, and he passed on the DNA of the fearless racer to his son. Tinkering and striving for optimum technical solutions were interests that gripped the son at an early age, too. His father and family were more than just an example for him; they also created the necessary freedom for his development, because in his family, learning skilful movement was fostered and developed from a very early age. He learned to ski at the age of four, and this awakened in him the joy of swift movement. And it never abandoned him.
After finishing secondary school, Waxenberger studied at the Academy for Applied Technology in Munich, finishing his course as both second-youngest and second-best graduate. On 11 June 1953, a Friday, the mechanical engineering student sat his last exam. On the very next Monday the freshly-minted engineer started work at Daimler-Benz in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim in Passenger Car Testing, concentrating on assemblies. Daimler-Benz remained the only employer for the Bavarian in Swabia for 43 years, in retrospect a parallel with Rudolf Uhlenhaut, his later boss. By no means the only one, though: driving fast cars, skiing and sailing were other interests they had in common.
Two years after he started working at Daimler-Benz, he was to follow in the great footsteps of Arthur Mischke, Head of Testing, who had been called to a higher office in the Group. In 1956, Waxenberger was officially transferred to the chassis development department. In actual fact he was primarily concerned with the three SL series of those years, the 190 SL, the 300 SL in its gullwing version, and the 300 SL Roadster, that was then in its development stage. The development of another SL, the W 127 series, was added to the previous series seamlessly. This was a 190 SL with a 2.2-litre six-cylinder engine and petrol direct injection, a vehicle that never saw its market launch, though. There were also other interesting cars among Waxenberger’s test objects, for instance a 190 SL with a three-litre injection engine, or the W 104 series, a 220 S with a three-litre injection engine and automatic transmission. Test drives to the Stelvio Pass or the Grossglockner alpine route were part of the standard programme during the summer months and were absolutely to the liking of the young engineer. However, less exciting tests concerning weight comparisons and axle-load distribution in the different SL variants were also part and parcel of his job.
With the genesis of the W 113 series (“Pagoda”) SL that was launched in 1963, the fourth SL series came to bear upon Waxenberger’s career. He also supervised this model in the testing department for its use in rally racing in 1963 and 1964 and prepared the model especially for these competitions.
The most exciting of the “Pagodas” was created under Waxenberger’s aegis: a 230 SL with the 6.3-litre M 100 V8 engine from the Mercedes-Benz 600 (W 100). Waxenberger, “inventor” of the 300 SEL 6.3 (W 109) powered by this engine, saw it as a great challenge to install the eight-cylinder engine in the SL as well. On the old Nordschleife (North Loop) of the Nürburgring and using racing tyres he clocked a best time of 10:30 minutes. However, the chances of series production for this project remained barred, for the high front-axle load due to the heavy engine as well as the single-pivot swing axle (which was already being phased out) prevented it.
Waxenberger was not exclusively a theorist: he was an extremely pragmatic engineer – a fact that rapidly drew attention to him. Once, in the course of a test drive a car broke down: Waxenberger got down under the car to repair it so that it could continue the test drive. Among those standing about waiting was Head Engineer and Member of the Board of Management, Professor Fritz Nallinger. There were critical murmurings and questions as to whether the vehicle would go again. Hearing them, Nallinger replied drily: “Let him be, Waxenberger always finds a way.” This compliment from his highest-ranking superior naturally made the young engineer happy, but irritated many who had already been eyeing with distrust the direct connection their young colleague had to Head of Testing Rudolf Uhlenhaut, who in turn reported directly to Nallinger.
Uhlenhaut, though, valued his young spirited employee not just because of his daring driving style but also for his technical talent and unconventional, direct way of approaching everything and calling things by their name. Erich Waxenberger, a typical Bavarian, had all the hearty, sturdy directness that characterises Bavarians. With great commitment he accompanied the rally activities that Mercedes-Benz began to develop in the late 1970s with the 123 and 107 model series, and achieved success with them. Erich Waxenberger retired on 1 July 1996.