Mercedes T80
A vehicle developed to break the world land speed record prior to World War II
By Rob Arndt

Hans Stuck's inspiration

World-renown German auto racer Hans Stuck's pet project was to take the world land speed record and he convinced Mercedes-Benz to build a special racing car for the attempt. Officially sanctioned by Hitler himself (a race car fan influenced by Stuck), the project was started in 1937. Automotive designer Dr. Ferdinand Porsche first targeted a speed of 550 km/h (340 mph), but after George Euston's and John Cobb's successful LSR (Land Speed Record) runs of 1938-39 the target speed was raised to 600 km/h (373 mph). By late 1939, when the project was finished, the target speed was a much higher 750 km/h (465 mph). Since this would also be the first Land Speed Record attempt on German soil, Hitler envisioned the T80 as another propaganda triumph of German technological superiority to be witnessed by the entire world courtesy of German television.


   Mercedes T80, Mercedes Museum, Stuttgart


Projections for the 1940 land speed record attempt

Hans Stuck would have driven the T80 over a special stretch of the Dessau Autobahn (now part of the modern A9 Autobahn), which was 25 meters wide and 10 km long with the median paved over. The attempt was set for the January 1940 "RekordWoche" (Record/Speed Week), but the outbreak of the war prevented the T80 run. In 1939, the vehicle had been unofficially nicknamed Schwarz Vogel (Black Bird) by Hitler and was to be painted in German nationalistic colors complete with German Adler (Eagle) and Hakenkreuz (Swastika). But the event was cancelled and the T80 garaged. Postwar, John Cobb driving the Railton Mobil Special raised the land speed record to just 634 km/h (394 mph) in 1947—116 km/h (72 mph) slower than the 750 km/h (465 mph) projected for the T80 back in 1940! This velocity would not be achieved nor exceeded by any conventional engined LSR vehicle—ever. It took until 1964 for Art Alfons to hit 875 km/h (544 mph) in the turbojet "Green Monster" attaining and surpassing the T80's speed target.


The war and postwar years

The DB-603 aircraft engine was subsequently removed during the war while the vehicle was moved to safety and storage in Karnten, Austria. The T80 survived the war and was eventually moved into the Mercedes Auto Museum in Stuttgart for permanent display (minus engine).

Current status


The Mercedes Auto Museum is now moving to the Mercedes Unterturkheim facility by 2006. The T80 display is moving with it. Many people over the decades have urged Mercedes to fully restore the T80 and test run her to see if she would have reached 750 km/h (465 mph).

Technical data

Total weight: 2896 kg (6385 lb)

Power: 3,000 PS (2,210 kW) @ 3200 rpm

Engine: 44.5 liters

Wheels: (6) 7 X 31

Length: 8.24 meters (27 ft 0 in)

Width: 3.20 meters (10 ft 6 in)

Height: 1.74 meters (5 ft 9 in)

Drag Coefficient: 0.18

Speed: estimated at between 550-750 km/h (340–465 mph)

Names of the T80

Official: Mercedes-Benz T80

Porsche: Mercedes Rekordwagen (Record Car)

Mikcl: Hochgeschwindigkeitsrennwagen (High-speed racing car)

Hitler: Schwarzvogel (Black Bird)




Punctually at midnight of April 30, 1978, the five pistons in the diesel engine of the Mercedes-Benz C 111-III began to work, supported by an intercooled exhaust gas turbocharger which, at 130,000 revolutions per minute, pressed enough air into the combustion chambers to boost the output to 230 hp. That was more than enough power for accelerating the Mercedes-Benz in record-hunting trim to a top speed of around 325 kilometers per hour. Because of its very “long” ratio, the car did take its time, however – a complete 12.66 kilometer lap of the circuit in Nardo in southern Italy, to be precise - to reach this speed.


The design department set about its task in early 1977 and created the C111-III on the basis of the C 111 team’s specifications – a thoroughbred racing car with aerodynamic features refined down to the smallest detail and giving the car a Cd value of 0.183, the lowest rating ever achieved up to that point in time.


The car had a longer wheelbase than the C 111-II, a narrower track, concealed wheels, a very low front end with recessed, powerful headlamps and a very long and tapering rear end with a central fin that was to enhance the car’s straight-line stability under side wind conditions.


The long and narrow driver’s compartment featured a single seat: the front passenger’s space was occupied by a fat pipe conducting air into the intercooler. And there was also room for the telemetry system, specially developed by Mercedes-Benz for automatic data transmission during the record runs, as well as for radio equipment, enabling the driver to communicate with the team on the move.


And finally, on April 30, 1978, the time had come for the diesel-engined record car to drive lap after lap at constant speed on the Nardo track – anti-clockwise because this meant that the track-defining crash barriers were on the right-hand side, providing the drivers of the LHD cars with a greater safety margin in the event of an accident. At one stage during the night, radio communication saved a hedgehog’s life: it was rescued in time before crossing the racing car’s lane. When the rear tire on the right-hand side burst during the third driver’s stint at night-time, tearing large holes into the bodywork, the recovery truck arrived on the scene quickly to pick up the damaged car and its uninjured driver, while the mechanics prepared the identical reserve car. After this incident, clocks were reset to zero and the hunt for records began anew.


The reserve car was even a whisker faster than the original car, and also a little more economical, extending the refueling intervals from 62 to 67 laps. The three drivers were soon joined and relieved by their extremely fast project manager, Dr. Hans Liebold.


All records established by the time of the tire damage were repeated at even better times, and the attempt was not even jeopardized by another hedgehog which was unfortunate enough to get in the record car’s way and ruined its front spoiler. The repair took no more than two minutes. The pit stops, incidentally, lasted between 15 and 20 seconds – the refueling, driver changes, tire checks and topping up of oil had all been meticulously planned and thoroughly practiced.


After 12 hours of otherwise problem-free driving, the Mercedes-Benz brand called nine new absolute world records its own, i.e. records irrespective of the type of engine and its displacement – achieved with a near-production three-liter diesel engine. At the end of the day, the engine in the record car had consumed just under 16 liters per 100 kilometers – another outstanding record given an average speed of over 300 km/h.


The world records established by the diesel-engined C 111-III:

100 km: 316.484 km/h

100 miles: 319.835 km/h

500 km: 321.860 km/h

500 miles: 320.788 km/h

1000 km: 318.308 km/h

1000 miles: 319.091 km/h

1 hour: 321.843 km/h

6 hours: 317.976 km/h

12 hours: 314.463 km/h


Text & Photos: DaimlerChrysler



Daimler-Benz DB 603


The Daimler-Benz DB 603 engine was a German aircraft engine used during World War 2. It was a liquid-cooled in-line 12 cylinder inverted V12 enlargement of the DB 601, which was in itself a development of the DB 600.


The DB 603 powered several aircraft, including the Do 217 N&M, Do 335, He 219, Me 410 and Ta 152C.

Intersting to note that the Mercedes T80 land speed record car designed by aircraft engineer Josef Mickl, assignor by Ferdinand Porsche, with help from German racing driver Hans Stuck incorporated the third prototype DB-603 in the T-80. It ran off pure alcohol with MW injection and was tuned to 3,000 hp - enough, it was believed, to propel the aerodynamic three-axel T80 up to 750 km/h on the Dessau Autobahn in January 1940 during RekordWoche (Record/Speed Week). But due to the outbreak of war in September 1939, the T80 (nicknamed Schwarz Vogel/Black Bird) never raced. The DB-603 engine was removed from the vehicle for use in a conventional fighter aircraft.


Technical data


Type:12 cylinder inverted-vee in-line, liquid cooled. Direct fuel-injection and supercharged.

Geared 0.518 : 1.

Bore:162 mm (6.38 in)

Stroke:180 mm (7.09 in)

Volume:44.5 l (2715 cu in)

Compression: 7.5 to 1 (left block) 7.3 to 1 (right block)

Weight:920 kg (2030 lb)

Length: 2610.5mm Width: 830mm Length: 1156mm

Consumption: 0.474 lb/hp/hr



DB 603A

Power: 1290 kW (1750 HP) at 2700 rpm at sea level

Continuous: 1190 kw (1620 HP) at 2700 rpm at sea level

DB 603E

Power: up to 2000 HP at sea level


DB 603G (production cancelled)

Power: 1395 kW (1900 HP) at 2700 rpm at sea level



A world circuit record of 355.854 km/h had been in existence since 1975, established by a 1,000 hp racing car from the American Can-Am series. Though not recognized by FIA, it was a highly desirable world record, and after the successes with the C 111-III, the Mercedes-Benz engineers felt that it was within reach. Just another 100 hp would do – but could no longer be squeezed out of the near-production diesel. So the team opted for the 4.5 liter V8 gasoline engine from large-scale production, raised its displacement to 4.8 liters and equipped the unit with sodium-cooled valves, two KKK turbochargers and a triple-plate clutch that was capable of coping with 600 Nm torque.


With 500 hp under the hood, achieved at relatively low expense, a C 111-IV modified into a racing car with further aerodynamic improvements, two fins and additional spoilers set out in Nardo on May 5, 1979 to have a go at the world circuit record. After a smooth run, a new record of 403.978 km/h had been established. Over and above this, the car improved upon the record marks over ten and 100 kilometers as well as over ten and 100 miles.


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