“60 years of the SL”: double victory at the 3rd Carrera Panamericana in the 300 SL racing sports car

“60 years of the SL”: double victory at the 3rd Carrera Panamericana in the 300 SL racing sports car
15.
October 2012
Stuttgart
  • The teams of Kling/Klenk and Lang/Grupp won the legendary endurance race on 23 November 1952
  • Eight different stages over a total distance of more than 3100 kilometres
The 1952 racing season was a resounding success for Mercedes-Benz: in Berne, Le Mans, and at the Nürburgring race track, the 300 SL racing sports car (W 194) left competitors in its wake. With its celebrated double, triple, and quadruple victories, the 300 SL impressively demonstrated its sporting gene, which it passed on to successive vehicles in the SL series. The racing calendar that year featured a further highlight rounding off the season from 19 to 23 November 1952: the 3rd Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, one of the most gruelling endurance races in the world.
Flashback to the year 1952: the Carrera Panamericana adventure began in September 1952, with altitude tests on the Grossglockner mountain in Austria. It was here that the 300 SL was prepared for the high-altitude conditions that it would face in Mexico, where much of the route was around 2000 metres above sea level, with the highest point in the race, the Puerto Aires pass, as high as 3196 metres above sea level. Finding the ideal carburettor setting posed a particular challenge, because the individual stages of the race also featured repeated descents to between 200 and 300 metres. At the same time, the engineers were looking for more engine power for the 3100-kilometre race in Mexico. In the end, by implementing various improvements, they were able to boost output from 170 hp (125 kW) to 180 hp (132 kW). In early October, a large “ expeditionary force” set off by ship for Veracruz, Mexico. As well as the three Mercedes-Benz 300 SL competition cars, the fleet included a further 300 SL model and a range of back-up vehicles.
The first of the eight stages, over a distance of 530 kilometres from Tuxtla to Oaxaca, started on 19 November 1952 at 7 a.m. precisely. Hermann Lang, Karl Kling and John Fitch all drew low starting numbers, which meant they followed one another at short intervals. It was during this stage that the now celebrated vulture accident occurred, when the 300 SL of Kling and Klenk collided with it (which some people say was a buzzard). Whatever kind of bird it was, it smashed through the windscreen at over 200 km/h, hitting co-driver Hans Klenk on the head, and leaving him with a bleeding scalp wound. The co-pilot briefly lost consciousness, but Karl Kling managed to bring him round by vigorously shaking him. Once he had come to, Klenk asked him to carry on with the race. At the stage finish, which, despite the incident, the two reached in third place, the vehicle was fitted with a new front windscreen with four vertical metal bars on each side for additional protection. The original vehicle is today an exhibit in the Mercedes-Benz Museum.
After eight breakneck and exhausting stages, Kling and Klenk finally reached the finish in Ciudad Juárez on 23 November 1952 in a time of 18 hours, 51 minutes and 19 seconds. Lang and Grupp crossed the finish line in second place, just 35 minutes behind the winners. With the SL double victory at the 3rd Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, Mercedes-Benz pulled off one of the most important successes for the brand in the 1950s.
The winning car today forms part of the extensive Mercedes-Benz Classic vehicle collection, and is exhibited in the Mercedes-Benz Museum.

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  • A92F33.
    III. Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, 1952. Racing victory poster by Hans Liska
  • 52147-23.
    Third Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, 1952. One of the many Mercedes-Benz tyre depots along the course and at the same time a service stop on the first stage from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Oaxaca. Winning team Karl Kling/Hans Klenk (obscured) by the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194, 1952), No. 4, during a tyre change. The windscreen already had been destroyed by the collision with a vulture.
  • 52147-17.
    Third Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, 1952. One of the many Mercedes-Benz tyre depots along the course and at the same time a service stop on the first stage from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Oaxaca. The winning team Karl Kling/Hans Klenk (obscured) by the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194, 1952), No. 4, during a tyre change. The windscreen already had been destroyed by the collision with a vulture
  • 56788
    Third Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, 1952. The winning team, from the left: Hans Klenk and Karl Kling in front of their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194, 1952), No. 4
  • 56793
    Third Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, 1952. At the starting line: subsequent winner Karl Kling and co-driver Hans Klenk in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194, 1952)
  • 56796
    Third Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, 1952. Mercedes-Benz racing team, from the left: racing manager Alfred Neubauer, Eugen Geiger and John Fitch, with the Mexican ponchos of the winning team Hans Klenk and Karl Kling; in second place: Hermann Lang and Erwin Grupp
  • 64302-20
    Third Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, 1952. Winning team: Karl Kling and Hans Klenk in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194, 1952), No. 4
  • 92205
    Third Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, 1952. Winners Karl Kling and Hans Klenk in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194, 1952) during the legendary run-in with a vulture. Drawing by Hans Liska
  • B31563.
    Third Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, 1952. The winning team: Karl Kling and Hans Klenk in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194, 1952) after the legendary run-in with a vulture
  • C30266.
    Third Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, 1952. The winning team: Karl Kling and Hans Klenk in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194, 1952) after the legendary run-in with a vulture
  • C31651.
    Third Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, 1952. The winning team: Karl Kling and Hans Klenk in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194, 1952) after the legendary run-in with a vulture
  • R6864.
    Original caption: Third Carrera Panamericana Mexico, 1952. Mercedes-Benz racing team, from the left: Hermann Lang, Erwin Grupp, Hans Klenk and Karl Klink in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupé (W 194), John Fitch and Eugen Geiger in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster (W 194)
  • 87F263.
    The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194) with which Karl Kling and Hans Klenk won the Carrera Panamericana in 1952. The protective bars were installed by co-pilot Hans Klenk after a vulture crashed through the windscreen.
  • A2002F8804
    Mercedes-Benz returns to racing in 1952. With the 300 SL sports prototype, the brand achieves numerous magnificent successes in 1952, among which, victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, where this photo was taken.
  • _DW_8164
    2010: The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL winner of the 1952 Carrera Panamericana back on the track.
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