The start of the Silver Arrow era

up:Date April 11, 2021 by Jans Bock-Schroeder

Mercedes-Benz Formula Racing Car W 165, Tripoli

Silver Arrow drivers Hermann Lang and Rudolf Caracciola outclassed the competition with a double victory in the then completely new 1.5-liter Mercedes-Benz W165 racing car at the Tripoli Grand Prix on the Mellaha racetrack on May 7, 1939. Only two examples were built for the race, which were never used again after the double victory.

Mercedes Benz Oldtimer
1.5-liter racing car designed for the Tripoli Grand Prix

Mercedes-Benz developed the W 165 racing car with a 1.5-liter V8 engine for a single race - the Tripoli Grand Prix in Libya, which at the time was part of Italy, in 1939. The reason for this was the decision of the organisers to announce the race in the Italian colony only for vehicles of the so-called Voiturette formula with a 1.5-liter engine.

This was intended to boo the German competition, since neither Mercedes-Benz (Tripoli winner in 1935, 1937 and 1938) nor Auto Union (winner in 1936) could offer a racing car for this class.

Mercedes-Benz W 165 1.5-liter Tripoli racing car
Mercedes-Benz W 165 1.5-liter Tripoli racing car

But the Stuttgart racing department accepted the challenge and built a completely new monoposto for the 1.5-liter formula in less than eight months.

Many of the design details of this W 165 were based on the current 3-liter Grand Prix car, the W 154. The mechanically supercharged V8 engine with a displacement of 1,493 cubic centimeters produced 187 kW (254 hp) at 8,000 rpm, and the top speed was 272 km/h. The W 165 was the first of its kind.

The developers led by Rudolf Uhlenhaut were right: The two cars, which started in Tripoli on May 7, 1939, against the numerically superior competition of 28 red-painted Voiturette racing cars from the manufacturers Alfa Romeo and Maserati, achieved a triumphant double victory.

Hermann Lang won the spectacular desert race for the third time, reigning European champion Rudolf Caracciola came second, and the fastest Italian car crossed the finish line a good 4 minutes behind.

mellaha circuit map tripoli grand prix
Mellaha circuit map

The triumph in Libya was particularly significant because the Italian motor sports association, who were organising the Grand Prix, had intended to impede the successful German formula racing cars by changing the rules.

Lang started the race in pole position in this vehicle and went on to lead the Mercedes-Benz triple victory ahead of his team mates Manfred von Brauchitsch and Rudolf Caracciola.

Halfway through the race he was already 1.5 minutes ahead of Caracciola in 2nd position, and the Mercedes-Benz racing drivers would go on to cross the finishing line in that order. Emilio Villoresi, driving an Alfa Romeo, attained third place.


Technical Specifications

  • Top speed:: 272 km/h
  • Displacement: 1495 cc
  • Output: 254 hp (187 kW)
  • Engine: V8 four-stroke petrol engine with two superchargers, 90 degrees
  • Entered in racing: 1939

Mercedes-Benz racing driver Hermann Lang

Mercedes-Benz W165
Mercedes-Benz W 165 1.5-liter Motor

Hermann Lang was born in Stuttgart on 6 April 1909. He began his career as a racing driver on a motorcycle. In 1927, whilst still a trainee mechanic, he won a race on the Solitude circuit in Stuttgart. In 1933, he was employed as a technician by the Mercedes-Benz racing and test division. Occasionally he was allowed to warm-up the brakes of the 750-kilogram formula cars, and this revealed his talent as a driver.

In 1935, he started in the international Eifel race in a Mercedes-Benz W 25 and achieved 5th place. Following his promotion to reserve driver, he gained his first experience on the Mellaha course in training laps in Tripoli in 1936, although he didn’t take part in the race. In 1937, Hermann Lang won the two fastest races in the world, the Tripoli Grand Prix and the Avus race in Berlin.

Mercedes Benz W-165 with V8 cylinder engine
Mercedes Benz W-165 with V8 cylinder

During the 1938 season, he continued to strengthen his position in the Mercedes-Benz racing division with a repeat of his success in Tripoli as well as a 1st place in the Coppa Ciano. Together with Manfred von Brauchitsch and Rudolf Caracciola he made up the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows driving trio that was feared by the competition, seizing numerous victories and track records for the brand.

In 1939, he secured the European Hill Climb Championship and was the most successful driver in the Grand Prix European Championship, although the championship title was not awarded in 1939 because of the outbreak of war. After the end of the Second World War, Hermann Lang continued his racing career. Lang celebrated his great comeback with the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194).

In 1952, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans together with Fritz Riess and was victorious in the Nürburgring Jubilee Prize for Sports Cars. He also achieved 2nd place in the Bern Prize and the Carrera Panamericana (with Erwin Grupp). Following the European Grand Prix in August 1954 in the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R, Lang ended his racing career and worked as a Mercedes-Benz customer service supervisor until his retirement. Hermann Lang died on 19 October 1987 in Bad Cannstatt.


Technical Data



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