The front passenger handles the indicators. Naturally, the driver, Klaus-Dieter Mrosewski, could also activate the small white blinkers in the middle of the dashboard himself. However, he already has his hands full handling the clutch and steering. Because the transmission is not synchronized, the 70-year-old has to increase the engine speed when downshifting and double the clutch when shifting up. The 7.5 t vehicle provides no steering assistance and has a purely mechanical steering system. Driving a historical racing van truly is hard, physical work. The blue transporter chugs along sedately thanks to its 90 HP. We travel roughly 500 km from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Stuttgart to Oberhausen for the vehicle’s annual inspection at a special restoration workshop for vans and trucks. Built in 1957, the van is only 15 years younger than its driver – the qualified mechanic and injection pump specialist will also overhaul the vehicle. “Oh my goodness”, says Klaus-Dieter Mrosewski as we crawl up a 14% incline in second gear.
The atmosphere is nostalgic. The diesel engine roars like the engine room of an old steamer. The steering wheel is half a meter in diameter. The two front windows, framed by thick rubber and chrome strips, are reminiscent of portholes below deck. The wood grain on the interior cladding resembles the mahogany used on ships. The chrome star on the hood serves as the figurehead. Seated comfortably on the thickly padded benches we rock our way along the highway. Once upon a time, the blue transporter ferried the Silver Arrows from race to race. To ensure that the racing department’s transporter is not forgotten, Mercedes-Benz Classic faithfully restored a replica one of what were once three O 3500 buses. Over the course of two years, Klaus-Dieter Mrosewski was heavily involved in the conversion of a vehicle previously used as a furniture lorry. He was responsible for the entire electrical system and the injection pump.
The large blue transporter is actually a bus. At the time, the racing department chose the bus chassis because of the more elegant shape of the hood, among other reasons. In addition, the greater interior height also enabled the Silver Arrows to be loaded using the desired double-decker system. Two O 3500 buses were fitted with a loading ramp. The third bus served as a mobile workshop vehicle with a lathe, drilling machine, hydraulic press, compressed air system and special tools. During the journey in the historical racing transporter, we think back on the historical 4th of July 1954: Two sleek, shining silver racing cars crossed the start and finish lines for the last time. A double victory for Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling. The two Silver Arrows demonstrated their considerable superiority and won the fourth Formula One race of the year on the Circuit de Reims-Gueux. Before the two Mercedes-Benz straight eight cylinder W 196 racing cars had even cooled down, the starting numbers 18 and 20 had already been loaded into one of the two large blue race transporters. Then it was time to set off on the journey back to Stuttgart.
But back to the highway in the present day: Klaus-Dieter Mrosewski keeps a close eye on the speedo. Not because he is worried about driving too fast. Because the O 3500 will never do more than 80 km/h in any case. But rather, because there is no fuel gauge, forcing him to estimate the fuel consumption. To be on the safe side, we will refuel every 200 km. Even though the tank has a capacity of 100 liters and the historical transporter consumes roughly 20 to 25 liters of diesel. After roughly 8 hours and 460 km we come to the end of our journey into the past. We have reached the restoration workshop in Oberhausen. After the ceaseless roar of the engine we enjoy the peace and quiet. However, we already miss the nostalgic atmosphere of the bus’ smoothly rocking journey. Klaus-Dieter Mrosewski is physically exhausted.
Because driving a historical racing transporter like this remains a true sporting challenge.