In 1984, the brand-new Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit needed a big bash to celebrate its opening. It was decided the best way to do this was with the ‘Nurburgring Champions’ Cup’, the premise of which was simple - stick a load of Formula 1 stars past and present into identical cars, and send them out on the freshly laid asphalt for a set-to.
The car in question was a Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16, sometimes called the ‘Mercedes Cosworth’, owing to its Cosworth-designed and cast cylinder head. The cars received a new exhaust system, beefed-up suspension and brakes, wider wheels wrapped in stickier tyres and an altered final drive. These performance mods went with safety features including a circuit breaker, quick-release bonnet, Recaro racing seats with six-point harnesses, a roll cage and a fire extinguisher.
The finishing touch was the surname of the driver slapped on the flanks of the car. Given that the 20-strong line-up featured nine of the 12 living F1 champs of the time - including Phil Hill, John Surtees and Keke Rosberg - this made for quite a striking look.
The winner after 12 laps, however, wasn’t yet an F1 champion in 1984. It was a driver in his rookie F1 year for the midfield team Toleman, and his name was Ayrton Senna. You may well have heard of him. Senna had made his way past polesitter Alain Prost with an aggressive move that saw the latter go off track, giving a sort of preview to the pair’s controversial clashes to come a few years later.
This set up a thrilling battle between Senna and Niki Lauda, 1984’s eventual driver’s champion. Lauda finished second in the feature race, and as you can probably tell from those giant letters, it’s his car you can see on this page.
It’s unique among the cars built for the Race of Champions, being the only privately owned one to have been kept in the race spec. Senna’s was kept in its original form by Mercedes and lives in the fabulous Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, while all the others were brought back to their factory specs and sold to either “dealers or brand VIPs,” RM Sotheby’s says.
The Lauda 190E passed through various owners over the ensuing decades, although Niki was reunited with the Mercedes one last time in 2016, a moment marked by his autographing of the roof. He was supposed to see the car again in 2019 when it was brought together with Senna’s, but Lauda sadly died just a few months before.
RM Sotheby’s is auctioning the 190E along with numerous other vehicles - mostly Italian and German - from the Iseli Collection at the St. Moritz sale on 15 September. As you might expect, it won’t be cheap, with an estimate of 400,000 to 500,000 CHF, which works out to about £360,000 to £450,000.