Mercedes recreates land-speed-record car that never did

T 80 was designed by Ferdinand Porsche to attempt to surpass 600 km/h

Published: July 13, 2018, 10:45 PM
Updated: October 11, 2021, 10:20 AM

Mercedes-Benz T 80

Mercedes-Benz has finally finished the car created to assault the 1939 land-speed record. The classic T 80 behemoth has been fitted with the aircraft engine it had originally intended to power the car to nearly 700 kmh.

The brainchild of racer Hans Stuck, the Model 80 was designed by Ferdinand Porsche in 1936 to attempt a land-speed record of 600 km/h, using a Mercedes airplane engine. The attempt was slated for February 1940 on an autobahn near Dessau, but it was put off due to outbreak of World War II in Europe. By the end of spring, the vehicle had been put in storage without the Daimler-Benz 603 engine.

The car body has been on display in the Mercedes-Benz Museum for many years, but now the original chassis, with fitted engine (a later-series DB 603 was part of the Mercedes collection, as the original was returned to the Ministry of Aviation to serve the war cause), is also on display, thanks to a reconstructed spaceframe over which the body was fitted.

The innards are presented just as they were designed and built 80 years ago. The tight cockpit, with fabric seat, leather steering wheel, pedals and instruments (central tachometer up to 4,000 rpm, flanked by oil pressure, and oil and coolant temperature gauges) are all original. The model-plate showing Daimler-Benz Aktiengesellschaft Typ 80 is also affixed to the chassis.

The engine is not an exact fit to the original but was fitted into the display to provide insight into the vehicle’s size (8,240 mm long, by 1,740 mm wide, by 1,270 mm high), and since it’s a cutaway model, it provides its own story about its technical details. The six wire-spoke wheels (the four rear ones were the driven wheels) and their treadless tires were recreated.

The spaceframe was also recreated from original drawings (about 500 in all relating to various features of the T 80), from which they could take precise measurements for the 150 metres of 20-mm steel tubes (with 1.5-mm thick walls). The build took three months (the largest reconstruction undertaken by the Mercedes-Benz Classic Centre, the official division for genuine parts, repairs, restorations, and information for and sales of historic Mercedes-Benz vehicles), with drawings hanging on the shop wall (as was the case with the 1939-build). The only non-spec body part was an aluminum side fin, which is included only for demonstration purposes.

It is estimated that precision build of the chassis and aerodynamics would help the engine take the T 80 to a maximum speed of 650 km/h. But that’s just speculation, and the reconstructed T 80’s main task now is to offer insight into the technology and craftsmanship of the mid- to late-1930s.