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Mercedes and their aero heritage

Interesting aero cars for a very long time

Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

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Mercedes-Benz has a long history as a car maker – it was effectively the world’s first car maker, and always a leader in aerodynamics. Here we take a look at some of the interesting aero models – both road and race – from the past.

W25 record breaker

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The Mercedes-Benz W 25 record-breaking car of the 1936 season featured a chassis bearing a fully streamlined body for the first time which also included the wheels and the underside of the car. In the wind tunnel at the Zeppelin plant in Friedrichshafen, the experts analysed the body's air flow characteristics and optimised its aerodynamics.

These efforts yielded a Cd value of 0.235, a world speed record and three international class records. Rudolf Caracciola clocked up a top speed of 372.1 km/h in the 419kW (570hp) record-breaking car.

W125 record breaker

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On 28 January 1930, the following project, the Mercedes-Benz W 125 record-breaking car, set a new speed record on public roads which stands right up to the present day, with Rudolf Caracciola having reached a speed of 432.7 km/h.

The record-breaking version of the W 125 Silver Arrow was primed for its special purpose in the wind tunnel of the German test facility for aviation applications in Berlin-Adlershof.

The flat, fully panelled body with a wedge-shaped rear end achieved a sensational Cd value of 0.157.

A radically scaled-down air intake at the front was a further contributory factor here. This meant that the record-breaking car only breathed in the amount of air that the 5.6-litre V12 engine with an output of 541 kW (736hp) required in order to operate.

The engine cooling system did not use fresh air at all. Instead, the radiator was encased in a box filled with 500 litres of ice and water, which at the same time reduced lift at the front axle.

Still-born T80

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The 8.24 metre-long T 80 three-axle record-breaking vehicle from 1939 was an even more radical proposition.

With this car, Mercedes-Benz aimed to break the world speed record which had been pushed up to 595 km/h on a salt lake in Utah, USA in 1939.

The powerful vehicle was to be driven by an 807-kilogram V12 aircraft engine generating a massive 2574 kW (3500 hp) of power from a displacement of 44.5 litres.

The T 80 was never deployed, however, due to the outbreak of the Second World War.

540 K Streamliner

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The acquired aerodynamic findings were applied not only for record-breaking attempts, however, but also on the road. The Mercedes-Benz 540 K Streamliner built in 1938 crowned the development of aerodynamically optimised Mercedes-Benz vehicles in the 1930s.

The one-off model based on the Stuttgart-based brand's sporty top-of-the-range model set both technical and aesthetic standards. In the light of ever-faster travelling speeds made possible by the swift pace of technological progress and the growing network of fast roads, the aerodynamics of powerful passenger cars acquired increasing importance with regard to efficiency aspects in particular.

With the flowing lines and the low profile of its aluminium body, the minimised drag sources on its surfaces and the panelled underbody, the Streamliner applied the findings of research in exemplary manner – with a remarkably low drag coefficient of Cd = 0.36.

W196 R racing car

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The streamlined design of the Silver Arrows became a global talking point once again in 1954 with the arrival of the totally new W 196 R racing car. The aerodynamically optimised streamlined version, which was still allowed in Formula 1 at the time, was the first to be built for the 1954, because the opening race in Reims/France permitted very high speeds. A second variant with open wheels followed four weeks later.

Mercedes-Benz's return to motor racing ended in spectacular style, with Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling achieving a one-two win. In the improved version of the streamlined car Fangio also won the last race in which the W 196 R competed - the 1955 Italian Grand Prix. This sealed Fangio's second world championship title driving the Silver Arrows.

C 111-III record-breaking car

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From 1969 on, Mercedes-Benz built a series of experimental and record-breaking vehicles with the internal designation C 111.

The C 111-III diesel record-breaking car from 1978 underwent systematic aerodynamic optimisation. The vehicle was slimmer than its predecessor, with a longer wheelbase, fully faired wheels and a long rear end. This design lowered the Cd value of the C 111 to 0.183.

On record-breaking runs at the high-speed circuit in Nardò in southern Italy, the vehicle provided an impressive demonstration of efficiency, with a five-cylinder in-line turbodiesel engine rated at only 169kW (230hp) powering the streamlined car to speeds well beyond 300 km/h. The nine world records achieved with the C 111-III include an average speed of 319 km/h over a distance of 1000 miles (1609 km).

Production cars

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Examples of the long-standing traditions which also apply in this area are the S-Class of the 126 model series which was presented in 1979 with a Cd value of 0.36, the saloons of the 124 model series which were introduced in 1984 with a Cd figure of 0.29, and the S-Class saloon (W220) launched in 1998 with a Cd value of 0.27 (pictured).

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At present the models from Mercedes-Benz occupy the top position for low-drag aerodynamics in practically every vehicle segment. In 2013 CLA 180 BlueEFFICIENCY attained a Cd figure of 0.22 – marking a new all-time low both within the Mercedes-Benz model portfolio and among all series production cars.

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