What a strain this race was 100 years ago. On 29th May 1921, racing driver Max Sailer took just under seven and a half hours under the piercing Sicilian sun to reach the finishing line of the Targa Florio. This resulted in second place overall, a class win in the touring cars over 5 litres and the fastest lap time. Over no less than 432 kilometres, Sailer drove the Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport in a thrilling race against strong competition, mainly from Italian drivers. The race covered four laps of the 108-kilometre circuit in the north of this Italian island on unpaved mountain roads with around 1,500 bends and a change in altitude of 800 metres.
Under these extreme conditions, Sailer was able to rely on new technology: the Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport was the first vehicle from Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) to be equipped with four-wheel brakes. This system generated a noticeable improvement in braking power and, as a result, precision and driving safety. The brakes used were drum brakes. These were clearly visible behind the wire-spoked wheels.
Victory within reach
The race was accompanied by dust and high temperatures but also the risk of punctures due to the numerous hoof nails lying on the road. And it was this risk that cost Sailer overall victory in the twelfth run of the legendary road race organised by Italian industrialist Vincenzo Florio: “Sailer had to change tyres nine times, while the absolute winner of the Targa, who arrived just two minutes ahead of him in a special Fiat racing car, did not have a single flat tyre,” summed up Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in a sales bulletin to the dealer network on 6th June 1921.
The fact that this racing driver from Stuttgart concluded the Targa Florio in 7 hours, 27 minutes and 16.2 seconds at an average speed of 57.9 km/h despite these nine punctures was a masterly performance. Well-deserved, then, was the award of a trophy donated by Vincenzo Florio and presented by the Sicilian Automobile Club for the “first in the series class”, as it was phrased in a telegram sent directly after the race to DMG headquarters. This “coppa” (Italian for “trophy”) donated by Mr Florio is not to be confused with the race for the “Coppa Florio”, which was also sponsored by him. That race was held in September 1921 as part of the Grand Prix in Brescia.
The success of the Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport equipped with four-wheel brakes was an example of how racing paves the way for a new vehicle technology: from June 1921, the 28/95 hp Sport was included in the range of standard models available. The successes at the Targa Florio and in other races were powerful marketing factors for the model. For example, the Viennese car dealer Mercedes Auto-Palast used the slogan “Seven races – seven victories!” in a full-page advertisement in the Austrian “Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung” of 6 November 1921, and announced: “Six-cylinder model 28/95 hp, 1921, has arrived!”
From 1923, DMG also equipped the production version of its sporty top model, the 28/95 hp, with this “all-wheel brake system”. Over time, the four-wheel brake system became the standard in automotive engineering worldwide. The difference between that and the previously used brake that only acted on the rear axle, was striking: the cars equipped with four-wheel brakes decelerated so effectively that, in the mid-1920s, there was discussion in Germany about a corresponding warning sign at the rear to inform other road users in good time. The “Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung” reported on the issue on 12 September 1925 under the headline “Caution, four-wheel brakes!”.
The Targa Florio 1921 is considered to be the edition of this road race, held since 1906, in which professional works teams competed for the first time. DMG sent two of its 28/95 hp Sport cars to Sicily: Max Sailer, from 1934 technical director and deputy member of the Board of the then Daimler-Benz AG, drove the car bearing starting number 25, while Carlo Ferrario drove number 24. The vehicle had already proven its capabilities on 22nd May 1921, when Otto Salzer achieved the best time of all classes at the Königsaal-Jilowischt hill climb near Prague and set a new course record. But participating in the Targa Florio was a completely different challenge. It all started with the journey to get there: Max Sailer drove his racing car to Sicily himself – that was more than 1,300 kilometres as the crow flies but around 2,000 kilometres on the road. At the time, however, this was the norm in motorsport.
At the Targa Florio, Mercedes and later Mercedes-Benz celebrated a number of successes even in later years: in 1922, Count Giulio Masetti won in an enhanced Mercedes 115 hp Grand Prix racing car from 1914, while Max Sailer won the class of touring cars with displacement over 4.5 litres in a Mercedes 28/95 hp – this time equipped with a supercharger. In 1924, Christian Werner won in a Mercedes 2-litre racing car with a compressor – the car was painted red as a kind of camouflage as this was the colour typically used for Italian competition cars. Finally, in 1955, Stirling Moss and Peter Collins clinched the World Sports Car Championship that year ahead of their teammates Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling, with a one-two finish in Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing sports cars (W 196 S) at the Targa Florio.
Close-to-production racing cars
The Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport was the evolution of a high-performance luxury vehicle that anticipated the tradition of the supercharged Mercedes-Benz cars of the “S” model series: Paul Daimler designed the Mercedes 28/95 hp before the First World War and presented it in 1914. It was powered by a 66 kW (90 hp) in-line six-cylinder engine with a displacement of 7,280 cc, overhead valves arranged at an angle and an overhead camshaft. By 1915, DMG had built around 25 of these cars. After the end of the war, production restarted in 1920.
For racing activities in 1921, the engineers modified the Mercedes 28/95 hp so extensively that it was now listed as a separate model with the “Sport” suffix. Among other things, engine output increased to 81 kW (110 hp), while the wheelbase was reduced by 325 millimetres to 3,065 millimetres to improve manoeuvrability. The cooler was now positioned lower and further back, and the driver’s seat was also lower. Finally, the competition vehicle was equipped with four-wheel brakes for the first time in a DMG vehicle. Further development of the Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport with a supercharged engine began in all probability in 1921 and that car was used in 1922 in the Targa Florio. With the mechanical supercharger switched on, the racing car produced 107 kW (145 hp) at 2,000 rpm.
The Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport was just one of the long tradition of near-production competition vehicles in the history of the Mercedes-Benz brand. Prominent examples include the S, SS, SSK and SSKL supercharged touring cars of the late 1920s and early 1930s. After the Second World War, the brand was successful on the racetrack and in rallies with the 300 SL Coupé (W 198) and with saloons from the luxury class (W 111 and W 112) and the upper-medium-size category (W 123) as well as the SLC Coupés (C 107), among others.
Milestones in Mercedes-Benz brake technology
- 1921: Four-wheel brakes used for the first time in the Mercedes 28/95 hp Sport, which was also offered as part of the standard range from June 1921 onwards
- 1931: Hydraulic brake system fitted for the first time in the Mercedes-Benz 170 (W 15)
- 1961: Disc brakes fitted on the front wheels for the first time in the Mercedes-Benz 220 SE Coupé (W 111, February), Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster (W 198, March) with disc brakes on front and rear wheels
- 1963: Dual-circuit brake system first fitted as standard in the Mercedes-Benz 230 SL “Pagoda” (W 113, March), from August 1963 fitted as standard in all Mercedes-Benz passenger cars
- 1970: Mercedes-Benz presented the first-generation anti-lock braking system (ABS) developed together with Teldix
- 1978: Mercedes-Benz presented the second-generation ABS system developed together with Bosch. Fitting of this world innovation as standard started in 1978 in the S-Class (model series 116)
- 1980: Anti-lock braking system ABS became available for all Mercedes-Benz passenger car models
- 1981: Anti-lock braking system ABS was launched for commercial vehicles
- 1995: Newly developed Mercedes-Benz Sprinter became the first van fitted with disc brakes on the front and rear wheels and ABS as standard
- 1996: Brake Assist System BAS was presented, initially as standard in the S-Class and SL
- 1996: New Mercedes-Benz Actros heavy-duty truck model series with Telligent braking system with electronic control and disc brakes all round
- 2000: Mercedes-Benz CL 55 AMG “F1” (C 215) was the first production vehicle worldwide with ceramic brakes
- 2005: ADAPTIVE BRAKE system fitted to the S-Class of model series 221
- 2009: PRE-SAFE brake can reduce the consequences of an unavoidable collision with automatic emergency braking