similar to the ones used in M-B’s land speed
record attempts. Problems with valve
bounce necessitated a less aggressive cam
profile for the early races of ’ 38, yet the
M154 still came out of the crate with
427hp at 8,000rpm. That would rise to
474hp as reliability improved, but the
W154 was still fitted with a five-speed
transmission to compensate for its reduced
power and torque compared with W125.
On the chassis side, engineer Max
Wagner wanted a lower, more streamlined
car, so the engine was tilted over to allow
the driveshaft to run offset to the right,
with the driver sitting low and to the left.
A lower, wider radiator was key to a
reduced frontal area, and the overall
result of the car’s low-line configuration
wasn’t just a reduced center of gravity,
but significantly less drag, too.
On the minus side, the high-revving
M154 gorged on fuel and oil, so a 140-liter
saddle tank was fitted over the driver’s legs.
Added to a 240-liter rear tank capacity, the
W154 was capable of running a grand prix
distance with just one stop – good enough.
With Wagner improving torsional rigidity
of the basic chassis by 30 percent, early
testing was impressive, and that was borne
out by the W154’s results in 1938. As well as
winning three of the four grands prix
counting for the European Championship,
with Caracciola, von Brauchitsch, Lang and
Richard Seaman finishing 1-2- 3-4 in the
Detail changes on the 1939-spec W154
included (LEFT) cooling fins on the
brake drums and (ABOVE) a two-stage
supercharger on the new M163 engine.
THe end OF An erA
The star of RACER ’s photo shoot,
1939-spec chassis 15, was one of two
Mercedes-Benz W154s to start the
Belgrade City Race, Sept. 3, 1939 – two
days after the start of World War II.
Manfred von Brauchitsch (nephew of
the German army’s commander-in-chief)
put it on the pole, but decided a much
better plan than racing would be to fly to
neutral Switzerland. Team manager Alfred
Neubauer apprehended him at Belgrade
airport and convinced him to take part.
Von Brauchitsch duly led the early laps,
ahead of Tazio Nuvolari’s Auto Union, but
spun – irony alert – in front of the French
Embassy. He recovered to finish second in
the very last race of the Silver Arrows era.
RACER thanks The Revs Institute® for
kindly allowing us to photograph its
stunning 1939 Mercedes-Benz W154.
The Revs Institute for Automotive
Research, Inc., based in Naples, Fla., is
a not-for-profit 501(c)( 3) organization
featuring The Collier Collection of more
than 100 significant and rare automobiles
built between 1896 and 1995 – vehicles
that variously blazed technical trails,
redefined aesthetic standards, made
history and changed the world.
The Institute and its extensive archive is
a haven for scholars, preservationists and
connoisseurs of automotive history, and
open to the public Oct.-July by advance
reservation. Visit revsinstitute.org.
THE REVS INSTITUTE
W154/15 (ABOVE) is one of more than
100 cars of the Collier Collection curated
and maintained by The Revs Institute.
Mercedes-Benz W154/15 is wheeled out for
the start of the 1939 Belgrade City Race.
Gently does it...
W154 on the throttle
in the 1939
Eifelrennen on the
Nordschleife. For the
rapt crowds, drivers
like von Brauchitsch
were the astronauts
of their era. L A T