Monday 8th May 1989
Rudolf Uhlenhaut (82), Anglo-German engineer and executive for Mercedes-Benz, died. The son of a German father and a British mother Uhlenhaut studied mechanical engineering at the University of Munich before going straight into the Mercedes-Benz experimental department in 1931. He became involved in engine development programmes until the middle of 1936 when unexpectedly he was named technical director of the newly formed Competition Department at the age of 30. That year Mercedes-Benz had struggled to be competitive in Grand Prix racing and decided that the best course of action would be to test the cars himself to see what was wrong with them. He then designed a new car for 1937. The Mercedes W125 was one of the classic racing cars of the era and took Rudi Caracciola to the European title that year. A change in the formula for 1938 meant that Uhlenhaut had to design a completely new car for 1938. The result was the W154 which was the dominant Grand Prix car in 1938 and 1939 with Caracciola and Hermann Lang both winning European titles with the cars. Uhlenhaut stayed with Mercedes-Benz during the war years and helped the company rebuild afterwards. The company re-entered competition in 1952 with the 300SL and in June that year Hermann Lang and Fritz Weiss won the Le Mans 24 Hours in one of the cars. and at the end of the year Karl Kling and Hans Klenk won the Carrera Panamericana. In 1954 the company returned to Grand Prix racing with the Uhlenhaut-designed streamlined W196 which was immediately dominant, taking Juan-Manuel Fangio to the World Championship that year. The company signed up Stirling Moss to be Fangio’s team mate in 1955 and Fangio won the title again. Mercedes-Benz also won the World Sportscar series with the 300SLR which won the Mille Miglia, the Tourist Trophy and the Targa Florio. The company also won the European Rally Championship with Wrener Engel in a 300SL. At Le Mans, however, one of the cars crashed into the crowd, causing the worst disaster in motor racing history and at the end of that season the company withdrew from competition. Uhlenhaut stayed with the company and became chief development engineer for passenger cars, notably with the Wankel rotary-engined C111 which appeared in 1970, until he retired.