The Uhlenhaut Coupe is a car that every petrol head should know about.
Considered to be one of the most exciting cars Mercedes-Benz ever built, the Uhlenhaut was a two-seat coupe that took the racing world by storm. It was a car that saw it all, having risen to stardom by its monumental success, only to lead to a disaster that saw Mercedes drift into the motorsport abyss.
The history of this car in production was short-lived, yet today it is still considered to be one of the world’s most valuable cars, estimated to be worth up to $100 million. That is, if it ever sells, which is unlikely as Mercedes clearly see it in the category of priceless, an appropriate pedestal due to its prestigious yet contentious history. The Uhlenhaut Coupe is truly one of the most alluring cars ever built, a perception only exacerbated by Mercedes having no interest in ever selling it.
Once the winning race car at the World Sports car Championship, its racing legacy abruptly ended subsequent to a catastrophic crash at Le Mans. Mercedes driver, Pierre Levegh, attempted to manoeuvre past a lagging Austin-Healy before he ultimately crashed into a crowd of spectators, killing himself, 81 people and injuring 100 others in the process. It was and remains the most devastating incident in motorsports history. The infamous result made Mercedes drop out of racing competition for 34 years before they entered back in during the 1989 season.
During its brief stint in production, the Uhlenhaut Coupe was capable of approaching 290 km/h and was considered to be the fastest car in the world in its day. The SLR (Sport Light-Racing) Coupe was a 3-litre thoroughbred, which was derived from the company’s Mercedes-Benz W196 Formula One racer. The legendary Coupe featured a large, inline 8-cylinder, 2982-cc engine that was capable of producing a staggering 310 horsepower at 7400 rpm that was marvelled by its competitors. This power was unprecedented at the time for a car of its weight, coming in at only 1117 kg.
In addition to its impressive performance, the Uhlenhaut Coupe was very easy on the eye, to say the least. Notably, the car featured gullwing doors that had the hinges on the roof, making it a very unique and original looking car at the time. The lines of the Coupe were beautiful too, with its elegant curves and dazzling appearance but it still looked powerful with its aggressive looking side-mounted exhaust, a feature that has become an iconic part of the design.
The man behind the Uhlenhaut Coupe
The designer of this phenomenal car was Rudolf Uhlenhaut, a successful engineer for Mercedes-Benz. Following the tragic incident involving the 300 SLR racing car, the prototype version was kept as a company car for Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the head of the Test Department, hence the nickname, Uhlenhaut Coupe.
Rudolf Uhlenhaut was born in 1906, in London, to a German father and English mother. After studying Mechanical Engineering in Munich, he joined Mercedes-Benz in 1931. The engineer, synonymous with the car, used the Coupe as his daily commuter and was even rumoured to once have driven it on the German autobahn from Stuttgart to Munich as he was late for a meeting; he allegedly drove the 200km distance in an astonishing one hour.
The Uhlenhaut Coupe is car that is drizzled in intrigue, beginning with its racing accolades, to its disastrous downfall, and to how it fell in the hands of the designer to preserve its legacy. The historic car has seen it all but much to its followers interest, it will remain to be seen if the legendary car will ever be up for auction. The chance of it ever selling though is slim, barring Mercedes ever going bankrupt and out of desperation needing to pawn it. For now however, it will remain in the Mercedes corporate museum in Bad Cannstatt where it will be gracefully displayed and preserved. Nevertheless, the 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe will never be forgotten.