About the 1923 Mercedes 28/95 Targa Florio

No more than three cars like this exist in the world, and not many more than that were ever built. Its purpose fulfilled, this Mercedes was quickly consigned to history.

The 28/95 had been introduced in 1914, its engine inspired by Daimler’s aviation development, its uninspired coachwork of the ceremonial sedan sort. In the struggle to rebuild following World War 1, Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft faced three problems: restoring its prewar sporting image, doing so economically and finding an amenable proving ground. The German firm was convinced racing success translated to sales, but German cars were unwelcome in the French Grand Prix.

A Mercedes entry was allowed in Sicily’s Targa Florio in 1921, however. A new carburetor was fitted to a 28/95 engine, a full foot was lopped off the wheelbase of its chassis, the radiator was lowered, the fenders flared – and driver/engineer Max Sailer was off to Sicily by road, despite a woeful shortage of tires. There he won the production car Coppa Florio, and placed a remarkable second overall in the Targa. A small run of 28/95 roadster versions of Sailer’s car, christened the Targa Florio model, followed.

In 1923, with the German economy on the brink of collapse, a concerted export drive in the United States was vital. Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft decided to challenge the Indianapolis 500. Together with three Mercedes race cars built to the 2-liter Indy formula, some production cars were shipped over to provide transport for the team and publicity for the company. The snappy 28/95 Targa Florio model was a natural for this purpose. This one never went back to Germany.

Alas, the Mercedes adventure in Indiana did not go well. The German drivers were unaccustomed both to the oval track and the light new race cars. Sailer’s 8th was the team’s best finish. But the company’s race program was soon to enjoy unprecedented success. Ferdinand Porsche had been hired as the new chief engineer for Mercedes; and a colleague of his, Alfred Neubauer, was about to join him in Stuttgart.


Photos – Peter Harholdt