“The Solitude” is named after the castle built in 1769 as a hunting lodge for Duke Eugen of Württemberg on the top of a hill between Leonberg and Gerlingen near Stuttgart, Germany. For German motor enthusiasts the Solitude hill climb and race track have the same historical significance as Monza for the Italians or Goodwood for the English. Unsurprisingly, German fans love the idea of a revival that allows them to use the old race track, most of which is now a normal road. And being close to Stuttgart, the two local manufacturers, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, are both more than happy to be involved.

A little history

The first Solitude hill climb was held in 1903 and was exclusively for motorcycles. It started at Stuttgart’s western railway station and finished at Solitude Castle. In 1905 the start was moved to Scützenhhaus in the suburb of Heslac, and this became the regular route for the annual competition, which from 1922 was opened up to cars as well. Mercedes-Benz sent its racing team and best drivers from the very beginning, and often used the race as a testing ground for its race cars. Munich-based BMW used the “Solitude” to debut its first race motorbikes. A circuit was created in 1925 using 22 kilometers of roads between local villages. The final route, regarded as the classic and used for today’s revival, was designed in 1931. It is about 11 kilometers long and goes round the town of Mahdental. It’s a challenging road with some long straights and a very twisty high-speed section that allows for no mistakes. For many drivers of the period, the Solitude was as challenging to drive as the Targa Florio. It was closed in 1965, after hosting F1 races, motorcycle world championships and some legendary drivers and riders.

Hans Herrmann “The legend”

One living legend closely associated with the Solitude is 87 year-old Hans Herrmann. Born in Sindelfingen, only few miles away from the racetrack and few hundred meters from the Mercedes-Benz headquarters, Hans Herrmann is considered one of the greatest drivers of the 1950s and ‘60s. Sir Stirling Moss and Herr Herrmann are the only surviving drivers from the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows team of the 1950s. In their 300 SLRs and 196 F1 cars they fought for supremacy against Fangio, Lang and Kling. Hans Hermann, who raced for Karl Abarth, BRM and Maserati too, also won Porsche’s first victory in Le Mans in 1970 driving a Porsche 917/23. Herr Hermann was a very special guest at this year’s Solitude Revival, prompting both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche to bring a couple of very special cars to the track.

 

The business card

We met Hans Herrmann in a brief relaxed moment during his Solitude weekend. His eyes are always sparkling and intense, just as they were in the pictures of fifty and sixty years ago. “I’m just a little slower,” he says with a smile. “Definitely slower; it takes me ages to get into the 917, even more than getting into the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. But, luckily, when I’m there behind the steering wheel I still remember what to do. Just please put away the stop watch….”

He has had a new business card printed to celebrate his celebration. “When the organizers told me they were going to celebrate me as a legend, I couldn’t resist the temptation to make my ‘legend’ business card. It shows two very important cars for me, the Mercedes-Benz W196R that I used to achieve the fastest qualifying time in Reims in 1954, my very first race with Mercedes-Benz; and the Porsche 917/23 I used to win the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1970, my last victory.”

The hobel

To celebrate Hans Herrmann’s career, Mercedes-Benz brought a treat to the “Solitude Revival 2015”. The 1954 300 SL, W194 series, chassis number 11 is a very special car. It was the last of the very first series of 1952 300 SLs to be built, and was conceived as a development test car for the 1953 season. Ultimately Mercedes management decided to halt its 300 SL racing program and to develop the 300 SLR instead, but W194-11 shows the level of improvements being considered at the technical offices in Stuttgart. A lighter body, more refined aerodynamics and a different dashboard; a fuel injected engine, a De Dion-type rear suspension and a shorter wheelbase are just some of modifications. Many of these, plus some body details were then transferred directly to the 300 SLR. The training and development test held in Monza on September 30 and October 1, 1953 showed how much better this car was. A normal 300 SL, chassis number 8, recorded its best lap time with both Lang and Kling at 2’14”, and its worst with Uhlenhaut at 2’15.5”. Meanwhile, chassis number 11 was driven round by Fangio in 2’7.5”, with both Lang and Kling lapping in 2’9.5” and Uhlenhaut in 2’10.5”.

Its nickname, is “Hobel” – the German word for a carpenter’s plane. This is due to its shape, quite squared off and with several cut-outs. “I remember the car very well,” says Hans Herrmann, “and the first time I saw her was at the Solitude back in October 1953. I was a young driver, just called up for a first test with Mercedes-Benz, one of the most important racing teams in the world. The car was there, waiting for me, but not only for me. There were five drivers, and I remember Alfred Neubauer, the MB racing team director, welcomed us by saying that only the fastest would be chosen for the following season. Quite some pressure.” At the end of the day Hans Herrmann was the fastest, with a time of 4’52”. This was the first time anybody had ever driven the Solitude in less than five minutes…

Tiffany’s Mercedes 300 SL Roadster

The main focus of the Solitude Revival is on racing cars. But any other classic can also drive a lap, and you can see just about every kind of car and motorcycle at the event. One of the most charming was a black 300 SL Roadster, with American specifications. From the outside it looked like a well-kept DB40 black model, but the interior was quite a surprise. There is dark red leather everywhere, including the dashboard and gear lever, while the radio controls and steering wheels are decorated in gold and black. This is certainly not the original scheme, but you can’t help admiring the beauty of the combination. This is Tiffany’s private 300 SL Roadster, modified by the company to suit its particular taste. Today it is owned by a German lady, who was very pleased to take the car round the Solitude course. I wonder if she was the first girl to go to Tiffany’s and come back with a car rather than diamonds …

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