FROM NAPKIN TO NOBILITY
Published as part of a "Fascination" series on display in the Mercedes-Benz Museum.
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Most would pinch themselves if given the chance to drive a Mercedes-Benz SSK. It’s a car engineered by Ferdinand Porsche and highly celebrated for its racing prowess — even a “car of the century” nominee. But for Italian Count and famed race car driver Carlo Felice Trossi, driving the prestigious car wasn’t enough. He sought to redesign it.
Like many ambitious ideas, Trossi’s concept had humble beginnings — a simple sketch on a napkin — but in 1933, the proposed body was officially commissioned to Willie White, a largely unknown coach-builder. It was then that his vision became reality, and the avant-garde design — dominated by the colossal hood, unmistakable V-shaped radiator and exposed exhaust pipes — began to take shape.
The results were stunning. The design — showcasing bodywork far and away ahead of its time — seemed like something more likely to be seen in a comic book than on a road. Mesmerizing aesthetics and raw power immediately propelled the car nicknamed “the Black Prince” to the top of the world’s dream car list.
A low production number — less than forty — already make the SSK a holy grail among supercharged aficionados. Count Trossi’s personal model, however, finds itself in even more hallowed halls. It’s now a member of fashion designer Ralph Lauren’s car collection, where it was faithfully restored by the talented Paul Russell.
Though the Trossi SSK no longer graces the track, it continues to rack up victories — most recently “Best of Show” at both Pebble Beach and Villa d’Este Concours.
Perhaps Count Trossi knew the significance of his creation. Or, maybe he had no clue — he was just a man who loved race cars and wanted to drive fast. How could he possibly know his design would later inspire Bruce Wayne’s Batmobile? Either way, we all love a good story, and the notion that a Count from Italy designed one of the most majestic cars to ever don the star is a noble one indeed.
-by Matt Berger for Mercedes-Benz, 2014