1954 Mercedes-Benz W-196 (chassis 00006/54)

Juan Manuel Fangio in a W-196 at Pebble Beach in 1991

The count-down is on for the sale of one of the most important and historically significant race cars to come to auction in a long time - the 1954 Mercedes-Benz W-196 (chassis 0006/54). One of only 14 manufactured, and one of only 10 surviving. The only one in private hands, this car was piloted to victory in the 1954 German and Swiss Grand Prix - at the hands of non-other than "El Maestro" himself - Juan Manuel Fangio (1911-1995).

I had the great fortune to see Fangio at the 1991 Pebble Beach Concourse de Elegance. After being honored at the Monterey Historics that year he came to Pebble Beach and drove a W-196 (I believe from the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection).

The Argentine's career is well documented with five Formula One World Driver's Championships to his credit. His Formula One racing career didn't really materialize until after WWII and he won his first championship, driving for Alfa Romeo, in 1951 - at the age of 40. In 1954, he won his second championship - starting the season with Maserati, but jumping to Mercedes-Benz when they entered mid-season. He won eight out of twelve races that season.

Of the W-196's that remain, the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection holds six (W-196 R models) - with another one in Turin, one in Vienna and one in the collection of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. The final car is the one being sold by Bonhams - one of the "non-fendered" cars built for Fangio and Moss to drive on road courses.

Bonham's describes the car's history as follows: "After its final race, driven by Kling at Monza, it had been prepared to full race standard and then consigned to the Daimler-Benz Exhibitions Department on December 22, 1955. In June 1965 it was exhibited in Munich and during 1966 it starred at both Le Mans and Hockenheim. It then appeared at the 1967 British Grand Prix before being used for tyre testing at the Unterturkheim factory test-track, and displayed in Berlin and at Stuttgart University. Further display duties followed in 1969 in Luxembourg, Berlin and Hamburg.... On June 24, 1972 the car ran in engine tests at Unterturkheim before, on May 22, 1973 Mercedes-Benz officially presented it – as a smarter replacement for deteriorating car '14 – to the freshly re-constituted National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, Hampshire, England.

Some years later that Museum's authorities decided to offer the car for sale, to help finance construction of a Museum library and ... was sold to Sir Anthony Bamford of JCB Excavators. It was acquired from him – in a deal brokered by Adrian Hamilton of Duncan Hamilton Ltd. – by French collector Jacques Setton ... Setton is reputed to have paid what was at the time a world-record price (for any motor car). It then passed subsequently to German businessman Friedhelm Loh ... The car was then re-sold and today, after many years out of public view, 'Triple-Oh-Oh-Six' is offered here." 

At Bonham's invitation, Mercedes-Benz Classic, has inspected the car and produced a report confirming the vehicle’s originality and authenticity.

1954 Mercedes-Benz W-196 (chassis 00006/54) - (photo credit: Bonhams Auctions)

Juan Manuel Fangio driving a Mercedes-Benz W-196 - (photo credit: Bonhams Auctions)

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