Car: Mercedes-Benz T80, 1939

This car is the ultimate manifestation of speed as envisioned at the height of Nazi power in Germany.

The monstrous six-wheeler was a pet project of racing driver Hans Stuck, who wanted Germany to assert its engineering supremacy by grabbing the world land speed record. Stuck had the ear of Adolf Hitler, who eagerly gave the venture state backing. The dream team of constructor Mercedes-Benz and designer Ferdinand Porsche were, by 1937, hard at work on what became the T80.

1939 model car Mercedes-Benz T80
With the driver in the snug, single-seater cockpit, this picture gives a clear idea of the immense scale of the T80 and its incredible contours.

At the heart of the six-wheeler chassis was a vast 2,716ci (44,500cc) V12 engine—a Mercedes aero engine more usually found in the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter plane. Only, in this incarnation, power was doubled to a projected 3,000bhp, using a fuel mixture of mostly alcohol. The four rear wheels were all driven using a “slipping clutch” system, instead of a gearbox, to match them to engine power at 93mph (150kph).

1939 model car Mercedes-Benz T80

The steel spaceframe, meanwhile, was covered in a startling, winged body, complete with faired-in cockpit, and achieved an incredible drag coefficient of just 0.18.

1939 model car Mercedes-Benz T80
1939 model car Mercedes-Benz T80

During the design process, the target speed rose from 342 to 373mph (550 to 600kph), and ultimately to 435mph (700kph), as the record was pushed higher by British rivals George Eyston and John Cobb. Test runs in October 1939 revealed that the T80 needed more development work. The record run was postponed, permanently, by the onset of war.

“In order to bring the car to a stop after just 1km of braking distance, as calculated by Porsche, the T80 was fitted with six brake drums each 500mm in diameter.”

From Porsche specials by Lothar Boschen & Jurgen Barth, 1986

Video model car Mercedes-Benz T80

Specification model car Mercedes-Benz T80

YEAR REVEALED: 1939
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Stuttgart, Germany
HISTORICAL STATUS: speed record car
ENGINE: V12-cylinder, 2,716ci (44,500cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 3,000bhp (estimated)
LAYOUT: mid-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: single-seater racer
TOP SPEED: 373mph (600kph)
NUMBER BUILT: one