Something old, something new; something borrowed, something blue. Part 2 - The 1952 Mercedes 300SL Carrera Panamerica (Something Borrowed) by Mike Sells
I have owned several of the superb Tomy Mercedes 300SL kits for years now but have never actually managed to finish one. Long out of production but still holding their value very nicely as collector’s items, they can still be had on ebay and at swap meets. This is, to my mind, the finest 1/32 scale kit ever produced. If you have one, you know why I hold this opinion; if not, then you have a very pleasant surprise awaiting you. A multi-media kit containing plastic, diecast and photo etched parts and featuring an opening hood, complete engine and the famous gullwing doors, this is as good as it gets; one can only wish they had released the proposed companion kit of the 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO. The kit is actually somewhat intimidating – one would hate to let it down by poor modeling. The recent release of the equally superb resin Slot Classic ’52 Carrera Panamerica as a slot racer prompted me to dig out one of the Tomy kits from storage and take a serious look at a shelf model combining the two kits.
The ’52 Mercedes 300SL’s were very successful prototype racing machines that differed from the later production cars. While mechanically similar, the ’52 racing engines use three carburetors under a long air cleaner instead of the production fuel injection and the muffler was installed behind the engine under the floor rather than across the rear of the car. Otherwise, everything looks about the same although I am sure there were many less visible mechanical differences as well. While the bodies appear much the same, however, the strakes above the wheel openings are gone, there are no side vents, the windscreen appears to be more upright, the hood is smaller and the grille and nose completely different. The dash is not the same on the ’52 either; the most apparent change being the two separate gauge binnacles as opposed to the large square pod on the production machines. All of these changes are beautifully carried out on the Slot Classic body: rather chunky compared to the slimmer, more refined production body, just as it should be.
The small tube chassis of the 300SL created very high side sills, leading directly to the legendary gullwing style doors, but the original prototypes as raced did not actually have doors in the body sides at all: only the side windows and roof panels were hinged. The drivers removed the steering wheels and crawled through the windows, much like NASCAR drivers do now. They must have been difficult to enter and exit; the production cars certainly are, even with the lower doors! The full doors were added for LeMans and the cars retained them at subsequent races in 1952, including the Carrera Panamerica. One of the Carrera cars was prepared as a roadster and roadsters were raced in Europe after LeMans as well in order to reduce both frontal area and weight. Carrying fender stripes in various colors for identification and large Mercedes crests on the hood, the Carrera cars were the most colorful of the cars raced during the year although the ’52 LeMans winning coupe is available from Slot Classics too. I highly recommend “Montezuma’s Ferrari” by B. S. Levy for a fictionalized account of the ’52 Carrera. A slow reacting buzzard – one not prepared for 150 mph racing speeds – was hit on the first day of the event by Karl Kling, breaking the windscreen and knocking his co-driver unconscious. In classic Mercedes fashion all of the cars, including the roadster, sported “buzzard bars” for the start of the next day’s racing. Small rear fender scoops were added after the third day for more brake cooling although they do not show in any of the photos I have nor do they appear on the car as restored. Perhaps they were removed when the car raced again in Europe? One could certainly remove the scoops and fill the dimples along the cowl and above the windscreen to model the car in the early stages of the race.
I had begun a conversion of the Tomy kit to this particular car some time ago, making some of the body modifications before abandoning the project so that’s the kit I used for this conversion. All of the Tomy body parts: doors, hood, glass and trim, were separated and sealed in a plastic bag kept handy “just in case” they were required along the line. I did the same with the chassis and interior parts from the Slot Classic kit to reduce the number of items to search through during construction. The Slot Classic wheel inserts are correct for the racer but wishing to use the Tomy wheels and tires if possible, they were grouped and set aside until the chassis/body assembly was far enough along to determine exactly how to get the result I wanted.
The Tomy chassis fits the resin body very well after some modest trimming of the chassis tubes front and rear and minor reshaping of the firewall/fender well assembly to fit the nose. The inner front fender walls and firewall were glued to the interior bucket to keep everything properly aligned. The hood was very carefully removed from the resin body and the chassis/interior combination checked for fit. Everything goes together remarkably well but various small gaps between the body and chassis were filled with styrene strip. The top edges of the interior were filed off until it fit into the body below the windows. The chassis and interior were adjusted until the wheels and tires were in the proper location in the wheel openings: the front suspension was moved back 1/16” and the rear axle dropped in the mounts to raise the tail about 1/16” to make everything square and level. The rear curved portion of the resin slot car chassis was removed and installed behind the belly pan of the Tomy chassis, filling the space previously occupied by the muffler. The “trench” the production tailpipe runs in was filled on this particular car as the exhaust is routed out the side through the large opening below the passenger door. The rear window of the ’52 did not match the rear curve of the interior bucket so I trimmed off the rear 1/2” or so, adding the rear portion of the resin interior to match the rear window and represent the portion of the racing fuel tank which intrudes into what would become the production luggage area.
With the chassis and interior fitted to the body, assembly commenced on the engine. Straight from the kit, only the intake & exhaust manifolds and carburetor/air cleaner assembly were altered. Moving the front suspension back also meant trimming the lower half of the fan pulley for clearance but the engine would probably have fit better if the builder had not installed the front suspension upside down; a problem discovered too late to repair. A new exhaust manifold with more prominent, smoother bends was fabricated from solder for easy bending. For clearance reasons there are no carburetors or intake manifold. The air cleaner is layered styrene sheet and very small strip shaped to match photos. The air intake tube was carved from laminated styrene shapes. A new, much larger parts box generator was installed and various bits added to the firewall. The muffler is not visible from underneath the car; only the last 1/8” or so of the exhaust sticks through the body. Some additional chassis tubes (styrene rod) were added behind and alongside the engine to match photos. The chassis tubes are semi gloss black while the belly pan is body color.
The model was delayed for some time when the resin dash fell off the workbench, took a single bounce and vanished into another dimension - I haven’t found it yet. Fortunately, Russ Kennedy was willing to lend me the dash from his built-up version for casting. Detailed to match photos, the new resin dash is finished in body color with a dark blue cover over the top surface matching the rest of the interior. Instruments are all decals. The Slot Classic cast metal racing style wheel was painted aluminum with a brown rim to resemble wood.
With all of the chassis and interior part well under way, the body needed attention. The window openings and body edges were filed and sanded smooth. The vent in the roof was removed and replaced with sheet styrene: it’s hinged at the front, not the rear; and the body primed. I thought the rear fenders were too high – they should begin to drop below the quarter windows right at the rear door line so the rear deck arches above the fenders more. The Slot Classic body looks closer to the production cars in this area and that’s the only nit I can pick. Correcting this without removing the fender scoops is difficult but some careful work with a sanding drum followed by fine hand sanding got me closer to the correct shape. I recommend studying photos of the actual cars to see if you agree. Opening the hood created some problems because of the width of the scribed lines: the hood was significantly smaller than the opening. I solved this by gluing 0.020” styrene strip around the entire hood. The styrene was sanded down to match the hood and then the combination carefully fit to the opening: we’re only talking about 1/32” or so all around but it does make a huge difference in appearance. The racer hood is hinged at the cowl rather than the radiator like the production cars so brass rod hinges were installed and adjusted until everything worked correctly. Thin styrene strip was glued under the front edges of the opening to support the hood. The deck lid could be opened as well, exposing two spare tires set low in the tail with the fuel filler between them at the top but I left the screw mounting post in place to hold everything together.
The body is painted with Tamiya’s gloss aluminum. The wheels are combinations of the resin center hub with the Tomy rims and backing plates mounting Tomy tires. The wheels are flat aluminum with “chrome” knock offs. The grille unit was polished and flat black paint flowed into the gaps between the bars. The “buzzard bars” were carefully installed in holes drilled to receive them. I debated long and hard about installing a driver and navigator but as you see, the car stands empty until my figure painting improves.
The real deal, taken at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2000