Rudolf Uhlenhaut was an all-rounder. He was not only a gifted engineer, but also a brilliant driver. At Mercedes-Benz he was able to bring both passions to life. He was born in 1906 in London, to an English mother and a German father, who ran the local branch of Deutsche Bank there. He lived in Great Britain until the family moved to Brussels in 1914, to Berlin in 1919 and later to Bremen. He studied Mechanical Engineering in Munich.
In 1931, the qualified engineer joined the testing department of what was then Daimler-Benz AG and initially dealt with the chassis and suspension set-up of the Mercedes-Benz 170 V (W 136) introduced in 1936. Motorsport was also affiliated there.
In September 1936, Uhlenhaut became the technical director of the racing department – and would continue to shape race cars right into the 1950s. This meant that from 1937 the Silver Arrows and the record cars, and therefore also the successes of the brand, all bore his signature.
After the Second World War, Uhlenhaut continued this brilliant work with the 300 SL racing sports car (W 194), the new W 196 R Formula One racing car and the 300 SLR (W 196 S) racing sports car. It helped that he was himself a brilliant driver even at the highest speeds.
Race director Alfred Neubauer described him as “the only designer who ever understood how to personally drive a heavy car at race speed around a track. He does not need to rely on the assessments of the drivers”. His lap times were on the level of a professional driver.
Uhlenhaut also used these skills for the development of many Mercedes-Benz series vehicles – the other field of work of the leading engineer. He himself actually said: “It is much harder to design a good passenger car than a racing car. A racing car has to win races. A passenger car must be robust, must be comfortable, must look good, must have good suspension, must be affordable … and much more.”
As passenger car development director, Uhlenhaut shaped many series vehicles by Mercedes-Benz and his period of influence spanned nearly 40 years, covering several vehicle eras. At the end of his career, he even designed the Mercedes-Benz S-Class of model series 116, which was presented in 1972, the year of his retirement.
His technical expertise was paired with the clear and, at the same time, modest demeanour of a cosmopolitan gentleman. He had a mother tongue to match as he spoke fine English. Rudolf Uhlenhaut performed great services for the company on the international stage with much expert knowledge, charisma and charm.
He died on 8th May 1989 in Stuttgart.
Source: Motorsport history of Mercedes-Benz – Newsletter 2/2021 (Dated 26th May 2021)
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