I guess there are those that will say that everything had a Golden Age. For the Dutch it was most of the 17th century, for English football it was the mid-1960s and for Grand Prix, in fact for motor sport in general, it is usually agreed that the Golden Age was from the mid-to-late 1950s.
The cars had become more streamlined, the power had become more ferocious and the cars faster. This was a time when men were men and they went motor racing wearing a polo shirt, a crash helmet and goggles and, they if they were a bit soft, a pair of gloves. They drove by the proverbial seat of their pants and ended races with their faces covered in oil. The British were pre-eminent but a few foreign teams gave the BRMs, Jaguars, Coopers and Vanwalls a run for their money – Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo from Italy and Mercedes-Benz from Germany. In the 1955 British Grand Prix Mercedes-Benz took the first four places with Stirling Moss winning and Juan Fangio second. If that ain’t a Golden Age, I don’t know what is.
The mid-fifties Mercedes-Benz racing cars, both single and twin seaters, are celebrated in a small but perfectly formed exhibition at the wonderful Louwman Museum in The Hague. There are only seven cars on show but those, it could be argued, were worth ten of any other. Supreme among them is the legendary W196R, the very car in which Fangio won the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort in 1955, beating Moss by 0.3 seconds. But it wasn’t just single-seater racing where Mercedes-Benz dominated – a month earlier 300 SLR sports car had finished first and second in Italy’s gruelling Mille Miglia with Fangio finishing behind Stirling Moss.
This simple but stunning exhibition is laid out in the museum’s imposing main hall with its wooden vaulted, cathedralesque roof. In their immaculate silver livery the cars are like Brancusi sculptures, the delicacy and beauty of their flowing lines belying the astounding power they conceal.
But perhaps the most fascinating of all the vehicles on show is the transporter used to ferry the cars to the various races. The Blue Wonder, as it was known, was built in 1955 and was the ultimate service vehicle. It was based on both the 300 S and 300 SL and had a top speed of 170 km/h – the fastest racing car transporter ever.
If you like motor racing or are more interested in aesthetics and things of beauty, then Silver Arrows is an exhibition you must see. Michael Hasted 5th July 2018
Silver Arrows continues at the Louwman Museum in The Hague until 2nd September