In the middle of the 2013 edition of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the annual motorsport party that takes place in Great Britain, the Bonhams auction house finished off a very particular car: the Mercedes-Benz W196 that Juan Manuel Fangio used in the season 1954 Formula 1 race. Although Bonhams were optimistic about the value such a jewel could reach, the $ 29,6 million paid by an anonymous buyer left them speechless.
From one day to the next, the Chueco de Balcarce made news again and set a new record since the machine with which it won the German and Swiss Grand Prix of '54 became the most expensive car in the world by overcoming the brand that had imposed a 250 Ferrari 1957 Testa Rossa sold in 2011 for $ 16,39 million.
The Mercedes-Benz W196 was designed by Hans Scherrenberg with the aim of greening the laurels of the German brand after World War II. The team consisted of seven pilots. Fangio's companions were the Germans Karl Kling, Hans Hermann and Hermann Lang, the Englishman Stirling Moss, the Frenchman André Simón and the Italian Piero Taruffi. During the 1954 and 1955 tournaments two versions of the W196 were used: one with faired wheels for extremely fast circuits and the other with open wheels for the rest of the tracks.
With this model, Mercedes became the first manufacturer to use fuel injection in its engine to achieve the widest possible range of useful revs. Until that date, competition engines developed their strength until they reached 50 or even 70 percent of their maximum speed.
This system also had the additional advantage that each cylinder received exactly the same amount of fuel, thus avoiding an uneven distribution of the mixture, as occurs with the carburettor. This necessarily resulted in a marked reduction in fuel consumption and smaller fuel tanks, which in turn resulted in less weight.
During the first races the engine power was 257 hp at 8.250 rpm; while in the end he had already exceeded 290 horses. This meant that the Mercedes engine was the most powerful on the Grand Prix stage in the mid-50s.
The chassis consisted, as was usual at that time, of a resistant tubular structure in which elements such as the engine, gearbox, brakes and numerous tanks and pumps were located. The chassis tubes were 20 and 25 mm in diameter, and the wall thickness varied between 0,8 and 1 mm. The chassis could withstand accelerations of up to four G without breaking. Despite this, his weight was only 36 kilos.
The front wheels were anchored by double transverse bars, fixed to the wheel hub by spherical joints. In the hollow bearing there were constant velocity joints that through an intermediate shaft linked the wheel with the brakes located inside. On the lower crossbar there was a torsion bar and also a hydraulic telescopic shock absorber, an almost revolutionary innovation (Ferrari and Maserati still carried the cross springs).
Also the rear axle gathered unusual details. At Mercedes they did not decide on the De Dion construction that all other brands used, but instead mounted a swingarm with a lower center of rotation. This oscillating axis thus moved the center of rotation to a point less than two centimeters from the ground.
How good was this car? The answer was given at the time by Juan Manuel Fangio himself: "From the first test I had the feeling of being on a perfect car, the kind that drivers dream of all our lives." A reflection that, without a doubt, the anonymous buyer will have had when paying such a fortune.
Engine: Eight cylinders in line inclined 60 degrees with respect to the vertical axis. Weight 204 Kg.
Food: direct mechanical injection, with in-line Bosch pump.
Bore x Stroke: 76 x 68,8 mm.
Displacement: 2.496 cm3.
Maximum power: 290 hp at 8700 rpm.
Compression ratio: 9:1 - 9,5:1.
Combustion chamber: hemispherical.
On: 2 spark plugs per cylinder and magneto.
Crankshaft: Hisch type with cranks on rollers.
Distribution: desmodromic, 4 shafts at the head, two for every 4 cylinders controlled by a cascade of gears with tapping in the center of the crankshaft, giving movement to the suction valves and others to the exhaust valves.
Camshafts: four at the top (two for every four cylinders).
Valve command: Desmodromic.
Number of valves: 16.
Food: Normal aspiration and Bosch injection.
Refrigeration: by water, with centrifugal pump and radiator.
Bodywork: Grand Prix Monoposto.
Type: Tubular structure of triangulated steel pipes.
Wheelbase: 2.350 mm.
Front gauge: 1.320 mm.
Rear gauge: 1.350 mm rear.
Weight: 750 kg.
Maximum speed: 280 km / h (the latest versions reached 300 km / h).
Transfer: Five-speed synchronized manual gearbox.
Clutch: A single dry disc.
Dampers: front and rear telescopic.
Front suspension: independent to deformable parallelogram and torsion bar to superimposed triangles with torsion bar and hydraulic telescopic shock absorbers.
Rear suspension: Oscillating single-joint rear axle with articulated semi-shafts below the differential, guided by longitudinal arms, with torsion bars assisted by a hydraulic cylinder and a spring.
Brakes: with drum, with hydraulic control with servo on the four wheels - ventilated. Large diameter front mounted on the chassis. Centered in front of the engine and located behind the radiator. The rear ones also located on the chassis at the exit of the differential. Both in lightweight material and turbo cooled.
Fuel tank: 230 liters.
Tires: Continental 6.00 x 16 front - 7.00 x 16 rear