Niki Lauda will always be the driver who made a comeback after a horrific crash that left him severely burned. He just could not stay away from the racetrack. And this Mercedes-Benz 190 2.3-16 Nurburgring stands as evidence.
The car is one of the 21 examples built exclusively for the 1984 Nurburgring Race of Champions. Niki Laura, then a two-time Formula 1 World Champion, drove the car and finished second. He was to win the third F1 World Championship title that year.
It was May 12, 1984. Mercedes-Benz was hosting the Nurburgring Champions Cup, one that stands as the largest gathering of past and present Formula 1 champions ever. Part of the event was a 12-lap exhibition race that marked the debut of the then-new Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 sport saloon. Five-time champion and Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador Juan Manuel Fangio acted as master of ceremonies.
Each of the 20 drivers was to run with a 190 E 2.3-16, specifically prepared for the competition by Technical Engineer of the Motorsport division Gerhard Lepler for Mercedes-Benz Sport Technic. McLaren’s veteran Alain Prost, with 11 victories in 63 races and was runner-up behind Niki Lauda in the Formula 1 overall ranking, was also on the list. There was someone else. Ayrton Senna was only 24 years old and a rookie in Formula 1, and, seven days prior, he had failed to qualify for the San Marino Grand Prix.
Four races into the championship and a champion in 1975 and 1977, Laura was at the beginning of a driver pairing with new McLaren teammate Alain Prost. The French and the Brazilian drivers did not know each other. Already a veteran in the competition, Prost would not think of Senna as a rival. None of them had any idea that they were to fight one of the closest-ever battles for the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship. Niki Lauda eventually defeated them both and won the title by half a point.
Mercedes-Benz Sport Tecnik took 21 cars straight from the production line, modified them for the event, and brought them to Nurburgring to race. The list of mods included a revised exhaust system and suspension setup.
The cars got four-piston front brakes, a 4.08-ratio final drive, a bolt-in roll cage, and fire extinguisher. There were twin Recaro seats with six-point harnesses on board. The models were also fitted with a quick-release hood, central circuit breaker, and wider wheels with Pirelli racing tires.
None of the 21 cars raced with the engines listed on their factory data cards, as documentation from Mercedes-Benz Classic and the German National Racing Commission confirm.
The rain soaked the tarmac at the Nurburgring. Alain Prost started from pole position. Elio de Angelis rear-ended him only four turns into the first lap, but Prost remained on the racetrack. Just that it was not his lucky day. On lap three, Ayrton Senna made a bold, aggressive move and flashed past him, forcing him to go wide and off the track. Lauda was right behind him.
For the next eight laps, Lauda and Senna traded the lead several times in a neck-to-neck battle. But the Brazilian pulled away and crossed the finish line first. Lauda was only 1.58 seconds behind him.
After the race, all the cars that participated were converted back to their original specifications. Mercedes-Benz sold them to dealers or brand VIPs as used cars. The car Senna won with got a spot in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. Therefore, the car driven by Niki Lauda is the only private-owned example that remained in its original “as raced” configuration.
According to the documentation, the model was first registered by Mercedes-Benz in April 1984 as “S-HH-7837.” Fashion heir Jochen Holy bought it in February 1985 and registered it in Reutlingen as “RT-VV1.” Six months later, it ended up in the hands of an enthusiast in Mannheim, who registered it under “MA-RD113.” The model eventually set wheels in Vienna, Niki Lauda’s native town, now in the possession of an Austrian collector.
In October 2016, Niki Lauda was reunited with the Mercedes-Benz he drove at the Nurburgring in 1984. He autographed the roof of the sedan, and his signature is still there today, despite being comprehensively recommissioned by Mercedes-Benz Classic in Stuttgart in 2017. Right after restoration, the sedan joined The Isle Collection. Today, its odometer shows 32,794 kilometers, which translates into 20,377 miles.
Senna’s and Lauda’s cars were reunited on September 16, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz’ depot in Sinfelfingen. Niki, then a non-executive chairman of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team, was to attend the event. But he had passed away on May 20 that very year.
The Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 Nurburgring is now going under the hammer with RM Sotheby’s on September 15 in Saint Moritz, Switzerland. It is offered without reserve by The Iseli Collection and is expected to fetch between CHF400,000 and CHF500,000 ($450,662 and $563,328).