This is Hermann Lang about to climb aboard his Mercedes-Benz 154 Grand Prix car on the starting grid at the French Grand Prix on the Reims circuit on July 3, 1938. Behind Lang is Christian Kautz waiting in his Auto Union which will crash in Gueux village on the first lap. This is one of Klemantaski’s rare prewar color photographs, using an Agfa color film which had an ASA speed rating of 8.
The 1938 French Grand Prix became a Mercedes three-car demonstration run, as what other cars appeared were totally outclassed, retired or crashed. Other than the three Mercedes, only René Carrière in a Talbot sports car finished and he was 10 laps down. That having been said, the Mercedes of Lang, Rudolf Caracciola and Manfred von Brauchitsch put on a competitive show with the win going to von Brauchitsch. Lang was third and a lap down because his car had refused to restart after his fuel stop.
Hermann Lang did not come from the usual wealthy background of many prewar drivers. He started out as a motorcycle mechanic and did some motorcycle racing in the 1920s. By good fortune, he was hired as a mechanic by Mercedes and seconded to their Grand Prix team. Eventually, he was allowed to drive and immediately showed that he was the equal of Caracciola and von Brauchitsch, even if they did not think of a former lowly mechanic in that light. If there had been a World Championship in 1939, Lang might well have won it. He returned to racing after the War, rejoining the Mercedes team when the factory returned to competition in 1951, sharing the Mercedes victory at Le Mans in 1952. He even competed in the German Grand Prix on the Nűrburgring in 1954 with the new W196 but by then his best days were behind him so he retired from racing, but continued to work at Mercedes. Hermann Lang died in October 1987 at the age of 78.
Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection