VINTAGE: Historic Mercedes F1 Racecar Coming Up For Auction

The 1954 W196 driven to victory by the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio could break world auction record at Bonhams’ sale in July at Goodwood.

Viknesh Vijayenthiran  |  |  Posted March 19, 2013   Goodwood (GB)

One of the world's most famous racecars, the Mercedes-Benz W196 was a 1954 Grand Prix champion driven by Juan Manuel Fangio. (Photo: Bonhams archive)

The automotive equivalent of a Picasso or a Rembrandt, the 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 Formula One race car driven to victory by the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1954 German and Swiss Grands Prix is coming up for sale.

An incredibly rare opportunity for well-heeled collectors to bid on one of the most historic racecars the world has ever known, the car will be offered by the Bonhams auction house during the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed in July.

While it’s unclear who the current owner is, it’s fairly certain that the Mercedes-Benz museum would be keen to add the car to its own collection, along with a handful of competing multimillionaires. This famous car bears chassis number 00006/54.

Before World War II, Mercedes’ Grand Prix cars had been supercharged. For their return to the top rank of motorsport, Mercedes used a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter straight-eight engine laid over at an angle to reduce frontal area. In the 1954 season, the engine delivered around 257 horsepower.

In the 1954 German Grand Prix, held at the Nürburgring, the W196 ran with open wheels for the first time, a move prompted by Fangio after he experienced some problems with the streamlined bodywork at the previous British Grand Prix. Designed for faster circuits, the slippery body proved too tricky to handle on twisty roads.

The changes proved successful, with the Grand Prix win helping Fangio secure one of his five world-championship titles. Other W196 drivers included Hans Hermann, Karl Kling and Sir Stirling Moss. The car would also spawn the 1955 300 SLR, which Moss famously drove to victory in the Mille Miglia of that same year.

Pierre Levegh's horrific crash at Le Mans, also in '55, which took his life and that of 80 spectators, spelled the end of Mercedes' involvement in midcentury motorsport and the end of development of both the SLR and the W196. A Mercedes-branded F1 team would not emerge until the current squad’s debut in 2010.

The Bonhams auction of the 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196, which happens July 12, could set a world record for a car sold at auction The previous record, a figure falling somewhere between $30 million and $40 million, was achieved in 2010 by a 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic.

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