On the Way to a Sweep

Mercedes=Benz, Rudolf Caracciola, French Grand Prix

Before the war color photographs at motor races were very, very rare. The available film was very slow – its ASA rating of 8 made action shots almost impossible. In addition, the magazines of the time which covered motorsport did not print color images as to do so was too expensive. Nevertheless, some enterprising photographers persisted, knowing that their work probably would not be published.

Here is the famous Rudolf Caracciola being pushed up the straight at the Reims-Gueux public road circuit towards the grid area for the start of the French Grand Prix on July 3, 1938. His car is a Mercedes-Benz W154 which was the dominating grand prix car of the year. The W154 was based on the chassis of the 1937 W125, but was fitted with a three liter supercharged V12 motor that produced about 450 hp. The bodywork of the car was lower than its predecessor such that the driver sat more “in” the car versus sitting “on” the car which had developed from the earliest days of racing.

The Mercedes team consisted of three W154s which were given to Caracciola, Manfred von Brauchitsch and Hermann Lang. Their main rivals from Auto-Union, all with the more powerful Type D cars, were not as fast in practice and two were crashed, leaving only a pair to start the race. The rest of the field consisted of a pair of Talbots, a lone Bugatti and the unknown SEFAC.

At the start von Brauchitsch took the lead but was soon passed by Lang. The three Mercedes, since both Auto Unions had retired, gave a show amongst themselves. Although ex-mechanic Lang had been quickest in practice, at the end von Brauchitsch won from Caracciola by almost two minutes with Lang a lap down. Caracciola did better elsewhere and was European grand prix champion for the year.

Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com

To see more photos from our archive go to: http://www.klemcoll.com/TheGallery.aspx

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