MARCH 20, 2003
Karl Kling 1910-2003
Karl Kling was one of Mercedes-Benz's best known drivers in the early 1950s but his career suffered when the company withdrew from the sport after the Le Mans disaster in 1955. He later became the company's competition manager during its rallying programme in the early 1960s.
Kling joined Daimler-Benz as a reception clerk in the public relations department in 1936. His passion was for competition and in the late 1930s he competed in rallies and reliability trials in Mercedes machinery, most of it based on the production cars of that era.
During World War II Kling joined the Luftwaffe and worked servicing aeroplanes but he was quick to get back into racing when the war ended. His first efforts were in stripped down BMW 328 chassis in 1946 although he later moved on to the Veritas, a company which was set up in 1947 by former BMW engineers Ernst Loof and Lorenz Dietrich. When Mercedes-Benz began to consider returning to the sport in the early 1950s its competition manager Alfred Neubauer asked Kling to join the Mercedes 300SL sports car team. He won the Carrera Panamericana in 1952.
Two years later the company entered Formula 1 with the new W196 and at its debut race at the French GP Kling finished runner-up to his team mate Juan Manuel Fangio. Kling then led the German GP at the Nurburgring, before retiring. He also led the Italian GP a few weeks later.
Kling stayed with the team in 1955 but on June 11 that year Pierre Levegh's Mercedes-Benz crashed into the back of the Austin Healey of Lance Macklin and was launched into the air. The Mercedes-Benz took off and as it disintegrated the car flew over the barriers and into a crowded spectator area. At least 83 people were killed in addition to Levegh and another 80 were seriously injured. At the end of the year the company withdrew from all competition and Neubauer retired shortly afterwards.
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