Stuttgart – The history of Mercedes-Benz is rife with vehicles which have captivated and enticed enthusiasts and continue to do so to this day. This is particularly true of the legendary supercharged sports cars of types S, SS (W 06) and SSK (W 06 II) from the late 1920s and the early 1930s. These are amongst the few vehicles which have become legends in the history of the car.
Klaus Ludwig will drive a Mercedes-Benz SSK in the “Elefantenrennen” to take place during the ADAC Eifelrennen at the Nürburgring. Mercedes-Benz Classic is organising the event in particular to commemorate the first victory of a Mercedes-Benz supercharged sports car at the opening race of the Nürburgring on 19 June 1927. It was during that race that Rudolf Caracciola and Adolf Rosenberger won a surprising dual victory in a Mercedes-Benz type S, paving the way for many race wins in the history of supercharged sports cars.
What began in 1927 with a type S – S stood for “Sport” – Mercedes-Benz carried on one year later with the modified type SS – SS for “Super Sport” – of which 257 units were built in total. In late 1928 it was modified once again for hill climb racing, giving rise to the legendary model designation SSK – for “Super Sport Kurz” (Super Sport, Short). The modification consisted primarily of a shortening of a type S chassis to a wheelbase of 2950 millimetres. The short chassis was then paired with a new 7.1-litre engine.
Based on its origins, the SSK should actually have been called “SK”; however, the larger engine emphasises its relationship to the SS, making the name SSK a logical choice. Like the type S, the SSK had a radiator which was 42 millimetres lower, but like the SS, it bore the newer version of the brand logo: a single white, enamelled star inside a laurel wreath against a blue background.
In the years the followed, both models – but particularly the SSK – were not only contenders in most of the Daimler-Benz works team’s motorsport endeavours, they were also driven with great success by many private competitors. Certainly the greatest triumph was that of Rudolf Caracciola in 1931, when, together with Wilhelm Sebastian, he secured the final win of the Mille Miglia behind the wheel of an SSKL.
The engine designer Albert Heeß harnessed the engine’s last reserves for the works team’s motorsport cars. The larger of the two competition superchargers – referred to internally as the “Elefant” (elephant) – registered 310 hp (228 kW) on the test bench. This charger was designed for short-distance use, such as hill climb racing. It could run continuously, whereas the supercharger was otherwise normally activated by fully depressing the accelerator beyond a given pressure point. A compressor of this design could be engaged and disengaged via a linkage which the driver actuated using a locking lever below the steering wheel.
After 80 years, the “Elefantenrennen” celebrated a grand revival at the 2010 ADAC Eifelrennen, which also delighted the spectators in 2011. This year, the legendary Mercedes-Benz SSK supercharged sports car will commemorate the opening race.
Technical data for the Mercedes-Benz SSK 27/170/225 hp
Production period: 1928-1930
Displacement: 7065 cc
Performance: 170 hp (123 kW), with supercharger 225 hp (166 kW) at 3300 rpm
Driver: Klaus Ludwig
Born in Bonn on 5 October 1949.
Klaus Ludwig started in motorsport by competing in slalom races, orienteering excursions and touring car races from 1970 to 1973. He went on to achieve high rankings in the German Racing Championship and secured victories here in 1979 and 1981, in addition to three wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979, 1984 and 1985.
In 1988, he won the German Touring Car Championship in a Ford, and then joined the AMG-Mercedes team in 1989, driving to victory 19 times in the five years that followed. The high points of his career were the driver’s title in the championships of 1992 and 1994 as well as a second place finish in 1991. In 1995 and 1996, Klaus Ludwig competed in the German Touring Car Championship for Opel’s Team Rosberg.
In 1997 and 1998, Ludwig was once again driving for Mercedes-Benz, this time in the FIA GT Championship, winning the overall ranking together with Ricardo Zonta in 1998. In the first season of the new German Touring Car Championship, he was the oldest contender to date to win a race, in 2000, and concluded the season in third place overall driving a Mercedes-Benz CLK. When the season was over, he ended his active career as a professional racing driver.