Americans aren’t the only ones celebrating this Fourth of July. That date also marks an important anniversary for Mercedes-Benz — the 60th anniversary of the 1-2 finish by the Silver Arrows in their first post-war Grand Prix race, the 1954 French Grand Prix at Reims.
The victory was important to Mercedes-Benz on several levels, and came 40 years after another historic Mercedes racing performance — a 1-2-3 finish in the 1914 French Grand Prix.
The race also marked Mercedes’ return to Grand Prix competition after a 15-year absence. The company already had returned to racing with touring cars with the 300SL that won both at Le Mans and the Carrera Panamericana in 1951.
On another level, the race occurred the same day Germany won the 1954 World Cup soccer championship at Berne. In Germany, the events would become known as “the miracle of Reims” and “the miracle of Berne.”
At Reims, the race was won by Juan Manual Fangio with teammate Karl Kling second in their silver W 196 R racing cars. Finishing third, more than a lap behind, was Robert Manzon in a Ferrari.
Fangio would also win the German, Swiss and Italian races in 1954 and the world championship, a title he also scored while driving for Mercedes in 1955.
The W 196 R was designed to meet new 2.5-liter Grand Prix engine rules. The car also was revolutionary for its tubular spaceframe chassis that weighed less than 80 pounds. It also featured a new single-joint swing axle with a low pivot point.
What came as a surprise at Reims was the streamlined bodywork, the magnesium skin even forming fenders over the car’s wheels. While the aero body worked well at a high-speed circuit such as Reims, the car also raced with a more conventional body and exposed wheels at tighter circuits.