Starting in 1973, the World Rally Championship (WRC) is considered the world’s most challenging motorsport in the world. It pits drivers and production based cars against some of the toughest and most varied conditions on the planet.
In 2016, the roads on this epic motorsport adventure are spread across more than 15 countries, with 14 rallies on everything from snow packed forest tracks to rock-strewn mountain passes.”
How a Rally works
Each rally features a number (typically between 15 and 25) of timed sections – known as stages – run on closed roads.
Drivers battle one at a time to complete these stages as quickly as possible, with timing down to 1/10th second. Along the way, a co-driver reads detailed pace notes that explain what is coming up ahead. Competitors drive to and from each stage on public roads, observing normal traffic regulations.
Most rallies follow the same basic itinerary. This starts with two days of ‘reconnaissance’ where driver and co-driver practise the route, at limited speed, to make pace notes. It is followed by ‘shakedown’ – a full speed test of their rally car – with the competition proper running for three days from Friday to Sunday.
Because rallies go on for several days, competitors visit a ‘service park’ at pre-determined points to allow technicians to perform mechanical work on each car. Service time is strictly limited, with each stop being either 10, 30 or 45 minutes. At the end of each day’s competition, cars are held in a secure parc ferme.
Away from the service park, only the driver and co-driver can work on their car, using only tools and spare parts carried on board.”
This is the Go-Mercedes restoration of the exact model 450SLC 5.0, 1979-1980 that was run in the following rallies.
1978 Rally of South America
The SLC has a fascinating history on the international rally circuit. One particularly epic rally was held for five grueling weeks In 1978 across the entire continent of South America. The race featured four SLCs and four 280Es for an incredible 17,875 mile of 28,600 km. The winners were Andrew Cowan and Colin Malkin who won the event with a 450SLC. Another SLC finished in second place driven by Sobieslaw Zazada and Andrzej Zemrzuki. Fourth place went to Timo Makinen and Jean Todt .
Andrew Cowan when asked what he thought of the 450SLC in competition, he said: “It’s very comfortable and most enjoyable! I think the Mercedes has a major disadvantage because of its weight, but it’s very, very strong – it’s unbelievable how you can go over rough roads.”
Andrew Cowan in his 450SLC working his way through a deep water splash, with yet another 450SLC Mercedes coming right behind him in the South American rally.
The Mercedes-Benz 450SLC sawing its way through incredibly rough terrain. Drivers raced across the entire continent of South America for five grueling weeks. This car was driven by Sobieslaw Zazada and Andrzej Zemrzuki finishing the 17,875 mile in second place.
1979 Bandama Rally
Four Mercedes-Benz 450SLC 5.0 models started the race. The cars were:
Car #3: Driven by Vic Preston & Mike Doughty
Car #4: Bjorn Waldegaard & Hans Thorszelius
Car #6: Hannu Mikkola & Arne Herz
Car #10: Andrew Cowan & Klaus Kaiser
Team Mercedes-Benz on a brief maintenance stop at the Bandama Rally. Note the cars coated from head to toe with dust from the Ivory Coast.
Nighttime service stop for one of the Mercedes in the Bandama Rally
Mikkola taking a fast moment to stretch during a service stop during the 1979 Bandama Rally. The car on the left is a Mercedes-Benz W123 that was acting as a service tender.
The Mercedes-Benz team absolutely led the race from the very beginning to the end with all four cars in winning positions. Hannu Mikkola & Arne Herz finished in first place. Bjorn Waldegaard & Hans Thors azelius finished in second place. Andrew Cowan & Klaus Kaiser finished in third place. Vic Preston & Mike Doughty finished in fourth place. Still a good two hours ahead of the next car which was a Toyota.
The Mercedes-Benz team celebrate across the board wins from First to Fourth place in the Bandama Ivory Coast Rally of 1979.
The Mercedes-Benz 450SLC 5.0 was the first 8-cylinder car to win a World Rally Championship event, and also the very first to win with an automatic transmission. Waldegaard’s second place win was enough to also give him the World Drivers’ Championship.
Hannu Mikkola(right) & Arne Herz celebrating their victory
1979 Safari Rally – Africa
The Mercedes-Benz 450SLC 5.0 was homologated just in time for the African Safari Rally in 1979. Just what does homologation mean? For motor racing sports, it is the approval process that a vehicle is required to go through in order to be certified to run in a series. In this case, the regulations and rules that must be met were set by the World Rally Championship sanctioning body.
The cars were outfitted with aluminum panels and also lighter gauge steel where it was safe to do so. There were three 5.-litre SLCs entered in the race.
Car #6 – Vic Preston Jr & John Lyall
Car #10 – Bjorn Waldegaard & Hans Thorszelius
Car #14 – Hannu Mikkola & Arne Hertz
They were supported by a large stockpile of spare parts, and even two spare cars a S-D1906 and a S-DP 1907.
Hannu Mikkola hammering it down to win second place in the 1979 African Safari Rally
Bjorn Waldegaard making sure the servicing of his car is going well during the African Safari Rally of 1979.
Mikkola and Waldegaard were both in the lead at various stages of the 3144 mile event. At the end of the rally in Nairobi, Mikkola finished in second, with Waldegaard coming in sixth, and Andrew Cowan in a 280E coming in fourth.
Car #14 – Hannu Mikkola – Mercedes-Benz 450SLC
Finished 2nd Place
Car #16 – Andrew Cowan – Mercedes-Benz 280E
Finished 2nd Place
Car #10 – Bjorn Waldegaard – Mercedes-Benz 450SLC
Finished 6th Place