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Jay Leno Drives One of the Scariest Cars of All Time

In a recent episode of Jay Leno’s GarageLeno got to drive a replica of the legendary race car the 1932 Mercedes-Benz SSKL Avus. He explained that it was the height of technology in the automotive world in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Leno explained it had a 7.1-liter engine with a supercharger that emits a screaming noise to make it a driving experience like no other. Why was the Mercedes-Benz SSKL Avus recreated and by whom? What did Leno think of driving it?

The Mercedes-Benz SSKL Avus

Leno invited Michael Kunz from Mercedes-Benz Classic into his garage to talk about the recreation of the famous race car. Leno explained that it used an authentic SSKL chassis with all authentic Mercedes-Benz parts. The body was commissioned to be an exact replica of the original car. It’s an L or light version of the car.

Debuting in 1928, the Mercedes-Benz SSK (Super Sport Kurz) had a shorter wheelbase than the Type SS. The impressive car was intended for the gentleman racer.

Under the hood was a 7.1-liter, overhead-camshaft inline six-cylinder engine. In naturally-aspirated form, it put out 160 horsepower. With the optional supercharger, called “the elephant,” it could get up to 200 horsepower. In 1931, they boosted the power to help the base SSK achieve 240 horsepower and as much as 300 horsepower in the supercharged models.

The team cars of Mercedes-Benz were painted white because it was the German national color. The SSKs were called “White Elephants” and successfully raced all over the world. Only 33 SSKs were produced and only four of those were converted into SSKLs. The SSKLs had drilled frames and were about 275 pounds lighter than the original SSKs.

The SSKL was made more aerodynamic by a privateer racer Manfred von Brauchitsch who debuted a streamlined SSKL at Avus. With the aid of Baron Reinhard von Koenig-Fachsenfeld, they crafted a replacement body from lighter, alloy material. The new form put out 25% less drag than the lighter SSKLs and gained an extra 12.4 mph in speed.

Berlin citizens in attendance in Avusrennen (Avus Race) in 1932 called it “The Gherkin” because it looked like a pickle or cucumber. When it passed the pack to win the May 22 race, it got the attention of Mercedes-Benz. Not only did the company reinstate it’s racing program featuring “Silver Arrows” in 1934, but they made von Brauchitsch a team driver with his former competitor Rudolf Caracciola.

Jay Leno calls it amazing

Leno recalls seeing the SSKL as a kid explaining it made all the right noises and offered an imposing appearance. He claimed, to him, it was intimidating to other race cars. 

Leno mentioned that the supercharger put out a loud, high-pitched sound. They advised drivers back in the day not to run the supercharger for more than 10 seconds at a time. He also pointed out that while the car was designed to be aerodynamic, the design didn’t necessarily mean it was aesthetically pleasing. Kunz explained the SSKL was made lighter and quicker without adding a larger engine.

The reason the car was silver, according to Kunz, was that they ran out of time to paint it and drove it straight for the racing event. He mentioned on a radio broadcast at the race, the first radio broadcast from a racing event, they referred to the Mercedes-Benz SSKL as a “silver arrow.” 

Leno was impressed by how well the car holds up by today’s standards. That it still looks like a contender. As opposed to looking antique, Leno said he thought it looked like something that could still “scare you to death.” The car could get up to 150 mph on a four-speed transmission.

Leno also addressed how brave he believed the drivers of these vehicles were as tires weren’t as safe as they are today. There were no roll bars or recovery if the unthinkable happened.

While the original car has been lost over time, Leno explained in his day no one saved old race cars, luckily the recreation was just amazing.

An episode to remember

Jay Leno looked like a happy kid when he got in the car to take it for a drive. He was excited about the sound and the power of the car as he went for a drive on the public highway. Once he had it warmed up, Leno mentioned that it took a lot of physicalities to drive the car. He was fascinated that they didn’t have hydraulic brakes when the SSKL was developed.

Leno liked that he was required to be more interactive with the car to drive it. In the end, he was honored to have had the opportunity to drive the Mercedes-Benz SSKL, a piece of history.

The car enthusiasts who make up the 2.78 million subscribers to Leno’s channel expressed their happiness with videos like it in the comments section. They not only enjoy seeing Leno’s enthusiasm and appreciation for cars but they loved learning about the history of the car.

As Leno was, they were grateful for Mercedes sending two of their engineers to help Leno explain the history and capabilities of the replica 1932 Mercedes-Benz SSKL Avus.