Total Production: 15 1938 - 1939 A symbol for excellence during a time when national pride meant everything, Mercedes-Benz had no trouble receiving funds for automotive development in the late 1930's. With strapped-for-cash companies like Alfa Romeo struggling to enhance older designs on tight budgets, Mercedes-Benz was left to take a technological lead for the last of the great racing efforts before World War II brought the world to a pause.
Grand Prix regulations changed for the 1938 season, giving Mercedes-Benz the perfect opportunity to showcase the genius of its talented engineers and the possibilities afforded by its deep reserves of deutschmarks. After creating the successful and massively powerful W125 for 1937, Mercedes had a sound foundation on which to base a new model. The W125 was still a recent design, and ample funding for redevelopment meant that Mercedes-Benz was able to avoid the indignant fate of the fallen Alfa empire, which put up a futile fight while fielding its archaic designs.
Under the chassis designation of W154, a new Mercedes racer was brought to life in order to conform to 1938's new regulations. It was an unstoppable work of German precision and ambition. The new Grand Prix rules dictated a maximum displacement of 4,500cc for naturally aspirated engines or 3,000cc for artificially aspirated units, and after some thought Mercedes chose to follow the latter path.
The 2,962cc V-12 mounted within the W154 was given the title of M154. The engine, though not as powerful as the 592bhp unit of the W125 it succeeded, was a marvel of efficiency. Not fuel efficiency, mind you, as the mill returned just 2.8mpg during hard driving. But the 60 degree 12-cylinder was remarkably efficient in its ability to turn out huge power output from a diminutive displacement. Mercedes engineers were able to pull well over 425bhp from a paltry three liters by using an advanced engine design with two three-cylinder blocks per cylinder bank and twin superchargers. The power figures climbed from there, reaching 480bhp at a screaming 8,200rpm in later M163 form.
The engine was a rapidly reciprocating monument to hyperbole. Nine fuel pumps. Forty-eight valves. The motor's features were incredible. Motivated by the M163, the W154 could achieve a breathtaking 192mph. Everything about this racer was huge, except for its size. At under 2,200lbs, the hard-hitting lightweight had a gorgeous aluminum skin that barely made it above the height of the car's tires.
Its lean body was undoubtedly up to the prestigious task of sheathing the incredible mechanicals. M154-engined cars looked best, with a large and imposing grille that bulged toward the muscular bonnet. With an astounding purity of design and purpose, the W154 had a stunning single-seat shell that enveloped its drivers like a bomb swallows its fuse. Mercedes-Benz fittingly chose drivers capable of igniting its W154 in displays of devastating performance.
Beyond the undiluted testosterone with which the W154's body and engine were imbued, the cars had a sophistication that was almost delicate. The paradoxical combination of personalities was aided by an advanced suspension design that allowed the W154 to maintain a poised demeanor while handling its potent power.
The W154 had a double-wishbone front suspension design with torsion bars used for springing front and rear. The rear DeDion axle was key to the composure of the W154's suspension. It allowed the good handling of an independent design while preventing the unpredictable behavior of a more conventional swing axle layout.
That DeDion axle was fed power through a 5-speed transmission, which, along with the engine, was offset to allow the driveshaft to travel directly to the left of the driver. This feature enabled the distinctly low chassis and sleek body while dropping the car's center of gravity nearer the pavement. The driveline's tight packaging was in keeping with the car's precise manner.
A tubular chassis of nickel-chrome molybdenum provided an exceptionally rigid chassis. Proving that the racer's engineering perfection extended past the body, powertrain, and suspension system, the frame was a quality piece that supported some of the most impressive driving dynamics of the time.
Victory followed wherever the W154 went in 1938 and 1939, but the cars were put away along with all racing efforts by September of 1939 as global resources turned towards the War. There was a very limited amount of postwar racing seen by the W154, but, due to reliability issues and a lack of the high quality fuel necessitated by the complex engines, no notable success resulted. An estimated 15 W154 cars were built for 1938 and 1939, and at least 9 are accounted for at present.