The day I 'drove' Fangio's Mercedes-Benz W196 at Monaco

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Author: James ElliottPublished:

There was very little to beat the first few runnings of the Grand Prix Historique de Monaco.

The Principality was near empty as it wound up towards the F1 event, you could book hotels at prices less ludicrously detached from the real world, and anyone could ease their way into the Rascasse bar to buy a drink and rub shoulders with the great and good.

It was all the good bits of Monaco with none of the battery-chicken hell of the F1 weekend. It was even sunny some of the time.

And when it was all over, you could sit on the terrace enjoying a final coffee before departure and watching the endless train of massive trucks trundling down the hill like an invading army as it geared up to the rather more vulgar weekend ahead.

More than anything though, those happy days will stay with me forever because of a single incident that lasted for probably less than a minute.

In 2000, there was a real buzz about the event and it tempted out some fantastic machinery as owners took their best toys to Monte Carlo.

Among them, the last time it was raced, was the ex-Fangio Mercedes-Benz W196. A genuine Silver Arrow, the only one out of captivity.

Thanks to some deft negotiation by Axel Schütte and Eric Le Moine, this magnificent machine was to be driven by the peerless Willie Green, who I was working with to write up the experience as a track test for C&SC.

The W196 was absolutely magnificent on track. It didn't seem to be running that well thanks to problems with the pioneering Bosch injection, but the belching flames just added to the drama. Willie was effusive when he came in to the paddock.

In fact, he hopped out of the car and owner Fredhelm Loh – a big bear of a German who relished the fact that most people on hearing his surname imagined some sinister far-eastern Bond villain type – ordered me into the driver's seat to work the wheel while it was pushed back into its bay.

No gear was engaged, but the engine was running and that was enough for me: I had driven Fangio's Silver Arrow at Monaco. Top that!

Somewhere there is a picture of me at the wheel, but ever since the sale of the car was announced, I have been hunting high and low for it to no avail.

Might just have to try to recreate it, so if the new owner would care to oblige...

Comments

Mario Laguna

James,
Only in rare occasions for a short story on a mythical car I read such as honest, true, humble, reverent, unpretentious and nonetheless marvellous "running" report. The kind of voice-over atmosphere in a Terrence Malick film.
Almost touching.
Reminds me of my first time lapping Monaco at the wheel of my then brand new 1977 yellow R-5, when the urban track was open after F1 qualifying sessions.
M,

Chris Martin

I still have a video from 2001 of me driving the GP circuit in a rented Citroën Xsara (which has no Fangio connection), including a wrong left and U-turn at the Avenue Princesse Alice behind the Hotel De Paris instead of going straight though to Casino Square. With average light traffic, a wrong turn, and obeying all traffic rules, crossings etc, it still took less than five minutes - I reckon these F1 aces are over-rated!
But James does raise the point about lost photos - and there are many of those. Maybe one day I will find them.....
Chris M.

 

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