The Mercedes-Benz Racecar Transporter: The Blue Wonder

The Mercedes-Benz Gullwing is a truly legendary car! And it took an equally legendary truck to transport the SLR300 across Europe for racing competitions in the 1950s. This is the story about the ‘Blue Wonder’, racing in the 50s, and the tragic Le Mans disaster that made Mercedes-Benz retire from motor racing until 1987.

Racing in The 1950s

After the Second World War, stock car racing increased in popularity in the US. In Europe, some of the most legendary races were organized. The Formula One series originating from the 1920s introduced a new formula with rules for all participants and in 1950, the first world championship took place at the Silverstone track in the UK.

Mercedes-Benz Formula One At Silverstone in 1950s
Grand Prix, Silverstone in England, July 17, 1954. On the left: Juan Manuel Fangio (start number 1) next to Karl Kling (start number 2) both in a Mercedes-Benz Formula 1 racing car W 196R with a streamlined body. Photo: © Daimler AG. / Mercedes-Benz Classic.

Mercedes-Benz was planning to return to motorsports and needed a new sports car for the comeback. Due to the new Formula One rules and the general lack of resources after the war, the team couldn’t develop a new Grand Prix vehicle and needed to change its strategy for the 1952 Sportscar racing season.

World’s Fastest Transporter?

Mercedes Benz Racing car-transporter 1955
Swedish Grand Prix, Kristianstad, 08/07/1955. Mercedes-Benz high-speed racing transporter “The Blue Wonder” with the winning car Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (W 196 S) in the pit area. Photo: © Daimler AG. / Mercedes-Benz Classic.

In order to transport the Mercedes-Benz racing cars, the team lead by racing manager Alfred Neubauer needed a special high-speed racing car transporter. The task landed on the desk of Rennabteilung chief engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut. Instead of modifying an existing truck, the team wanted to develop a fast transporter.

Mercedes-Benz racing car transporter Blue Wonder in 1955
On the way to the Swedish Grand Prix, Kristianstad, 08/07/1955. “The Blue Wonder” with the winning car Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (W 196 S) is getting loaded onto a ferry. Photo: © Daimler AG. / Mercedes-Benz Classic.

The mission was to quickly transport the grand prix cars to and from the race track. With the three-liter six-cylinder engine from the 300SL and 240-hp, the transporter got a top speed of 105 mph! A label that earned the transporter the title as the “fastest transporter in the world” – and the nickname “Blue Wonder”.

The One of a Kind ‘Blue Wonder’ Racecar Transporter

The Mercedes-Benz team took nine race wins at 12 Formula 1 races. The racing transporter played a crucial role in getting the cars ready for racing across Europe. Furthermore, the ‘Blue Wonder’ also became an important part of promoting the brand and quite the fan favorite. Despite the great success, the transporter was no longer needed when Mercedes-Benz withdrew from Formula at the end of 1955 due to the Le Mans disaster.

Mercedes-Benz racing car transporter, 1955
Mercedes-Benz high-speed racing transporter “The Blue Wonder” with a Formula 1 racing car W 196 R Monoposto in the pit area. Here seen at a test drive on the Hockenheimring in 1955. Photo: © Daimler AG / Mercedes-Benz Classic.

Mercedes-Benz racing car transporter, 1955
Mercedes-Benz transporter “The Blue Wonder” Photo: © Daimler AG / Mercedes-Benz Classic.

What Happened to The Original ‘Blue Wonder’?

Without any racecars to transport, the transporter was left in a corner of the Mercedes-Benz workshop and later moved to a warehouse. As the valuable space was needed for new projects, the large transporter was finally moved outside to a remote corner of the factory test track. Here, the transporter was forgotten before the rusty parts were finally cleaned up in 1967.

Mercedes-Benz transport car blue wonder rear
Photo: © Daimler AG / Mercedes-Benz Classic.

The neglect of the former world-famous transporter, was something that bothered the chief engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut. That’s why a duplicate of the transporter was the perfect way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the “Silver Arrow racers” in 2009.

Recreating the Legendary Transporter

Reproducing the ‘Blue Wonder’ required seven years: five years for the build and two years for the engine. 6,000 hours and support from surviving team mechanics and engineers went into the build. There were no drawings or detailed records, so everything had to be made from scratch. Just a few changes were implemented, one of them replacing the original 300 SL engine with 240-hp with a more modest version with 192-hp. Final price tag around $2 million USD and drawing just as much attention as it first did in the 1950s!

Rebuilt Mercedes-Benz Racecar Transporter: The Blue Wonder
Formula 1 – European Grand Prix 2005: West McLaren Mercedes drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Räikkönen present the one-of-a-kind Mercedes-Benz high-speed racing transporter “The Blue Wonder” from 1954/55. Photo: © Daimler AG / Mercedes-Benz Classic.

Rebuilt Mercedes-Benz Racecar Transporter: The Blue Wonder
Photo: © Daimler AG / Mercedes-Benz Classic.

The 1955 Le Mans Disaster

The reason why Mercedes-Benz withdrew from Formula racing in 1955 was the major crash at Le Mans 11th of June. Fans were looking forward to an exciting battle between Ferrari, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz when a crash turned the race into the biggest catastrophe in motor racing history.

The 1955 Le Mans Disaster
Le Mans 24-hour race, June 11, 1955. The moment of the fatal accident when racing driver Pierre Levegh after a collision on the track continued into the crowd in his Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. Photo: © Daimler AG. / Mercedes-Benz Classic.

83 spectators and French Mercedes-Benz driver Pierre Levegh were killed while nearly 180 people got injured. Mercedes-Benz was the only team that retired from the race. 43 years would pass before they competed at Le Mans again.

Crashing With 200km/h

The crash started when Jaguar driver Mike Hawthorn pulled to the right side of the track and started braking for his pit stop. The move sent Austin-Healey driver Lance Macklin into the path of Pierre Levegh. The Mercedes-Benz hit the Austin-Healey from behind which launched it through the air and over the protective berm with 200km/h (125 mph). Impact made the car disintegrate and Pierre Levegh were instantly killed. Debris including the engine block, radiator, bonnet etc. were sent flying into the packed spectator area.

Please note! This is the actual footage of the 1955 Le Mans disaster and contains sensitive content! Viewer discretion advised.

One of The World’s Oldest Car Manufacturers

Mercedes-Benz was established in 1883 by Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, but not formally founded until 1926. The company started manufacturing industrial machines and gas engines before Benz decided to focus on his true passion – automobiles. At the time, the founder called the new vehicles “horseless carriages”. Karl Benz made the Benz Patent-Motorwagen in 1886 and the world’s first gasoline-powered automobile. Since 2018, Mercedes-Benz has been the largest seller of premium vehicles with a total number of 2.16 million passenger cars (source Wikipedia, 2020).

Fun Facts About The Blue Wonder:

  • Mercedes-Benz spent 2 million and seven years building their replica of the racing transporter that was ready in 2009
  • You can see the Mercedes-Benz replica of the ‘Blue Wonder’ on display at the museum in Stuttgart, Germany
  • The word “Rennabteilung” on the door of the transporter means ‘Racing Department” in German – Jay Leno’s version has “repl” for replica added in respect of Mercedes-Benz
  • Jay Leno has a replica of the Blue Wonder that he uses for transporting his own Gullwing

YouTube video (Jay Leno’s garage)

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Sara Hansenhttps://oldnewsclub.com
Sara Brand Hansen is a car and motorcycle enthusiast by heart. She has a passion for classic designs and authentic retro styling in everything from crafts, furniture, watches, architecture and motorized vehicles. Not racing herself but often cheering at the finish line and always looking for great pictures and the best stories.

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