Mercedes Blue Wonder of Wonders

by | Dec 1, 2020

The world is globally connected. We communicate, trade and do business internationally in the blink of an eye. Funds, goods, and people can travel the world in less time than it takes to change the oil on your car, and cultures are so interconnected that it’s sometimes difficult to remember there are even borders at all. Where cars are concerned, at least.

With all this interconnectivity, I sometimes forget that Mercedes-Benz actually produces some pretty wild vehicles. In the United States, we don’t get the transporters and the semis and the trucks that are ubiquitous around Europe and it can be quite jarring the first time you see a luxury commercial vehicle unloading soft drinks or carrying loads of dirt and rocks to build sites.

And even if I had been familiar with these sparkling, decorated, lavish monsters of firefighting and construction, I still wouldn’t have been prepared for my first look at the Mercedes-Benz Blue Wonder. 

They only made one, officially called the Rennsport Transporter. And in the true fashion of a company making something totally perfect, totally unique, totally mind-boggling, they destroyed it.

Decades later, they found some sense and rebuilt the Blue Wonder using the original plans, giving us the chance to see something truly incredible.

Because, just to start, look at it. Have you ever seen a workhorse with such graceful design, such originality within the lines of something familiar, but a uniqueness all its own? It is at once both large and seemingly small, remnant of racecars, coupes and transporters that came before, because it is quite literally built atop them, a Frankenstein-ian creation of 1955 300 SL Gullwing sports car and Mercedes-Benz 180 sedan built atop a Mercedes-Benz 300 S luxury coupe. While swoopy and elegant, it is also nearly seven meters long and two meters wide.

And while the Rennsport Transporter had been originally built as a workhorse, at the request of racing manager Alfred Neubauer, and spent a great deal of time carting the far more rarified sports cars around the country, it was no slouch. Either speed is contagious or Mercedes just knows how to build ‘em, because she had 192 horsepower and the six-cylinder engine could do over 106 miles per hour. At the time, it was called the fastest racing transporter in the world.

According to legend, there was a reason that Mercedes needed a quick transporter. They didn’t work on their cars at the track. After a race was completed, the cars were loaded up and hauled back to the Mercedes factory for repairs, before heading back out to race another day. Even after the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans disaster, in which 83 spectators and French driver Pierre Levegh, were killed due to inadequate safety measures, the Blue Wonder was used as an exhibition vehicle and worked for nearly a decade in the test department at Mercedes.

It met an end both unhappy and unlucky. Before the rise of the “classic car” when vintage did not apply to chrome and cars were made to be replaced, the Blue Wonder was a disposable thing. In 1967, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, best known for his influence in making a street version of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR race car and manager of Mercedes’s Motor Sports Division during Blue Wonder’s prime, had it scrapped, a relic of an old era during the rise of muscle and speed.

Whoops. There is no telling the exact value of that original Rennsport Transporter, had it survived. Undoubtedly, it is in the millions. In the 1990s, Mercedes realized their mistake and spent over 14 years and two million dollars recreating their lost transporter from original archive photos. Car Lord Jay Leno has recreated one of his own. 

And thank goodness for it. Though the car industry is young and ever-changing, less than a century and a half old, and adapting to the speed of the modern world, there are many slices of auto history that slip through the cracks, one-off models, concept cars and the used and tossed away that the contemporary car enthusiast would marvel at.

The Rennsport Transporter, thanks to incredible time and effort, is not one of those lost car souls. Instead, it stands proudly in the Mercedes-Benz collection, a little odd and unfamiliar, reminiscent of someone you used to know, powerful and important in its own right and still so very nearly lost to time. The Rennsport Transporter, truly a wonder of the car world. 

Images selected from the Mercedes-Benz archives