For the W196, Mercedes developed a 2.5-liter inline-eight that featured fuel injection, “Z-drive” desmodromic valves, and a built-up roller-bearing crankshaft. The engine was canted to lower its profile and center of gravity and the power taken from between cylinders four and five back to a five-speed transaxle. Suspension was independent all around, the brakes in-board drums at all four corners, and it was all housed in a tubular space frame. As first raced with 257 horsepower at Reims, the W196 had a wheel-enclosing aero body, which was used again at Monza, while it contested the rest of the calendar in the open-wheel configuration as seen in these photos.

Mercedes keeps close tabs on its historic race cars, but this one got away and its story remains somewhat murky. Years ago, before historic race cars became so valuable, they often were loaned to museums. You can see a W196 with the aero body at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. We don’t know conditions under which W196 chassis number 00006/54 found its way to the Beaulieu National Motor Museum in England—loaned or gifted—but it sold the car apparently to raise funds. The car has had several owners in the past few decades, although at this point it’s tough to pin down who they were. We do know, however, that the car is coming from Germany. In the quiet world of automotive megadeals, things usually are done sub rosa, so it’s interesting that this Mercedes will be available at a public auction.


  • First Drive: 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series
  • Instrumented Test: 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG
  • First Drive: 2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG 4MATIC

As far as how much this car is worth, Bruce Canepa, who deals in exotic race cars, estimates it could finally sell for as much as $40 million. (As it stands, the most expensive car ever sold is a 1962 Ferrari 250GTO built for Sir Stirling Moss, which changed hands for $32 million last summer.) The Powerball jackpot is up to $260 million, so go down to your local shop, pick one up, buy yourself a piece of automotive history, and you’ll still have plenty of walking-around money leftover. It’s as easy as that, really.

By John Lamm