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When the average American collector talks about high end 1:18 manufacturers, the last name to emerge is usually CMC. And I don’t get it. Maybe it’s the subject matter that CMC has almost exclusively concerned themselves with – Euro, and antique Euro, at that. Or the built-in exclusivity that comes with the models’ fairly hefty price tag. Or both.
In any event, those whose faces light up when the CMC name gets dropped will no doubt enjoy a look at their latest production effort, a 1954/55 Mercedes W196R cobbled up from over eleven hundred parts, and wearing full-bodied "Streamliner" gear.
Better limber up your "wow" muscles.
Some cars have built-in grace and such flawless design that they age with the dignity and aura of truly beautiful women; their poise and presence seemingly immune to the passage of time, and their mysteries left unspoken. Such a car is the Mercedes W196R Streamliner.
Mercedes was at the top of its game in the early fifties, and the W196 had a shape and made power unlike anything else on the courses of the day. A highly sophisticated fuel injection system ("einspritzpumpe" in German – one of my favorite words at parties) and desmodromic valves helped the mighty Merc make 290 horsepower at 8500 RPM out of 2.5 liters. Those valves – which operate without springs – allowed the motor to rev higher than Mercedes had dared go before without worrying about timing.
According to lore, the white coats at Unterturkheim were so impressed with their "breakthrough" that they decided to apply for a patent. Imagine the look on their faces when they were told that the technology had already been used – by both Delage and Schneider – on 1914 French Grand Prix cars.
They were too busy to indulge bruised egos. The straight eight engine and its massive air intake were laid in at a 60 degree angle within the W196’s tubular space frame, in order to keep the car’s profile low. No effort was spared to get the car ready, and on a particularly nasty, icy morning in December 1953, as Rudy Uhlenhaut watched, Karl Kling blasted a completely bare chassis around the Mercedes factory lot.
The addition of the finely tuned body probably made the car a bit more comfortable to drive, and did all kinds of good for the racer’s top end speed of just over 160 miles per hour. But despite its beauty, the swoopy streamlined shape caused the 196 to handle badly on tight courses, and when Fangio shook hands with the safety barriers at the British Grand Prix, the factory rapidly developed a better handling, open-wheeled variant of the car.
With Fangio and Stirling Moss in their stable, Mercedes would win five of the six World Championship races in an abbreviated schedule for 1955 – four victories to Fangio, one to Moss. Those were happy notes. But racing was still a dangerous way to make a living, and 1955 was not a happy year.
The worst accident in racing history took place at Le Mans, when a Mercedes 300SLR driven by Pierre Levegh ramped off of an Austin Healey’s tail and flew as a fragmented fireball into the grandstands, killing its driver and 83 spectators. Elsewhere in the world, Indy 500 giant Vukovich died. So did Ascari, at Monza. In America, the AAA turned its back on organized events.
And Mercedes left racing.
That was a long time ago, but the stoked imagination tends to turn CMC’s replica of the W196 into something approaching a totem. Yeah, it’s easy to get a little reverential around a car like this, especially one that’s been so impeccably wrought. You get the feeling of actually holding a piece of history, though your common sense says otherwise.
Common sense be damned; this thing is stunning. And boy, is it heavy. The shape of the metal-rich model is perfect, and I can’t find an angle or aspect anywhere that hasn’t been finessed and lovingly cast and finished off. It looks carved from a billet. Go ahead – try and find a single parting line, or a sloppy seam or assembly glitch. Ain’t happening. A little R.D.1 in the tank and you’d swear you could send the car scooting off the table in a puff of smoke.
Two things hit you at once: the infinitesimally perfect metallic bits floating in the car’s deep, polished finish, and those incredible spoked wheels. Transcending even the finest photo etch, these rollers are hand-strung units of seventy-some-odd pieces each. They’re wrapped in Continental racing rubber, and if you spin the knockoffs, you can doff them and gander at the lovely jewelry that is the model’s suspension. Which, of course, works, in a perfect replication of the racer’s delicate struts, arms, spindles and springs, all machine turned or cast in metal. Someone put in a lot of time here.
Pop the hood, and CMC’s use of real-life materials like copper, steel, and zinc alloy plays like the background music to a visual symphony. Half the fun is finding out what’s "real" and what isn’t, and even the smallest detail is treated with respect and placed where the curious eye can’t help but appreciate it. The copper piping atop the fuel injector body and the tiny screws affixed to the steering box are alpha and omega to an engine you’ll visit frequently.
The same amount of gee-whiz is bolted into the driver’s seat and environs. It’s nothing short of museum-level stuff in here; every pipe and strut is waiting to be discovered in the shadows surrounding the leather and fabric seat, and if you feel inclined, you can slide the levers at either side of the kayak hole and watch the cooling vents on the cowl snick open and closed. Even more mysterious – and fun – is the action of the pull ring just under the dash. This tilts the car’s grille open and shut via long linkages along the model’s frame. Below the seat is an assemblage of knurled floorboards and tiny bolts and rivets, and alongside, you can see the fuel tanks strapped in. Whew. This is deep stuff. I’ve visited here a bunch of times, and every time, I notice another bauble that sets my hair on end.
It doesn’t take anywhere near that amount of hunting to see the most noticeable jewel here – it’s the steering wheel, a fantasy in printed plastic that looks like the finest varnished burled wood. So perfect is the illusion of the applied "grain" that it holds up to anything but the closest scrutiny. Behind the tiller’s steel spokes, the gauges and rows of switches are set into the painted dash amid twin rear-views and a flawless windscreen.
The model comes with a wiping cloth, tweezers and a screwdriver. As this was a press sample, it was lacking instructions, but I’m supposing that the latter is intended to allow the collector to halve the model’s body, in order to see the marvel that is the car’s frame and engine unimpeded.
Someday, when I’m feeling particularly steady of hand, I’ll crack this incredible time capsule open and dig the sights. In the meantime, like the beautiful vision she is, I’ll leave her mysteries right where they are. Very highest recommendation.