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Time travel with Lufthansa Cargo: A gullwing flies into adventure

With the Mercedes 300 SL at the Carrera Panamericana 2022

A hand-painted poster, a silver racing car on a dust track, a huge cactus in the background. Just two words as a headline: "Triumphant double victory" and then two names: 1. Karl Kling, 2. Hermann Lang. That's all it takes for the birth of a legend: The Mercedes 300 SL and the road-going version derived from it will write automotive history - as the Mercedes "Gullwing." A story that begins on the racetrack of the Carrera Panamericana in 1952. And which 70 years later is still not over.

2022, Veracruz, Mexico. The almost unmuffled sound of classic racing engines roars in our ears. We see historic Porsches, a Ferrari, a Jaguar. But the crowd only has eyes for the silver car with the starting number 220: a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing. The legend is back. 70 years after its great triumph, it is on the grid for the 35th edition of the race. This was made possible by a man who is standing next to the car, tired but smiling, getting ready for the start. He has run from pillar to post to find sponsors for his dream. He didn't know an hour ago whether his dream would come true or fall apart. And who was lucky enough to find a partner in Lufthansa Cargo who can make time travel possible and win races against time. It is the story of Kurt Richter, the dreamer, the doer and the racer. And of Lufthansa Cargo, which as a facilitator has shown what "just in time" can sometimes also mean ...

Flashback. Kurt Richter, a Mexican hobby racer with German roots, has had a close relationship with Mercedes gullwing cars for years. He has already looked after the cars as a mechanic at previous editions of the Carrera Panamericana, knows their strengths, their (few) quirks, and of course their history, which is perhaps even more present in Mexico than in Germany. And in 2021, as a visitor to the Panamericana, which has since been revived, a plan matures in him: When the great success of 1952 is celebrated for the 70th time, there must actually be a gullwing on the starting line. To take the very track under its tires that finally put the Mercedes racing division back on the winning track after the Second World War ...



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"I wanted to bring this car back to the people of Mexico - badly!"

Potholes, dusty roads. Heat. Mexico, November 1952. The first year in which Mercedes took part in racing again after the war was drawing to a close, and there had already been some successes with the new racing sports car, the 300 SL: Double victory at Le Mans, the three first places at the Eifel race at the Nürburgring. But those had been real racetracks, courses you knew or at least could quickly memorize. But this is something completely different: thousands of kilometers on public roads, poor surface, plus enormous differences in altitude and temperature. Whoever starts here for the first time is an outsider. Come here to learn. For this reason alone, the Germans have the sympathy of the Mexicans. And also because the Alemanos have a few strange idiosyncrasies: They drive the day's routes beforehand and write down each passage, each curve, each eye of a needle neatly in a book. The competition laughs at them.

But what no one knows at the time is that this Panamericana is probably also the birth of the so-called "prayer book" - from which the co-driver tells the driver exactly what is coming next. "300 meters, 60 degrees left, 50, second gear, then straight, fourth gear, 180, ..." Today, every rally is driven like this. In 1952, this idea saved the Mercedes team valuable time and was one of the very important cornerstones of victory ...

Kurt Richter's prayer book initially contains something quite different - namely, an enormous sum of money that is needed to actually get the car started. Richter quickly overcomes the other hurdle, namely finding a 300 SL approved for racing: He has close ties to HK Engineering in Polling, Bavaria, and thus has access to a 300 SL that has been successfully competing in historic races for 15 years. But racing is an expensive business, even more so on the other side of the world - and even more so when the market value of the vehicle is a conservative estimate of 1.5 million. And so Kurt Richter embarks on a stage race of a very different kind, one that is less about speed and more about patience: the search for sponsors.

And all those who come into question wave them off. Put off. They don't want to get involved until it's clear that the car will actually find its way to Mexico. "First bring a gullwing here, then we'll see."

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, time is passing. The year 2022 is dawning. It will be spring. It will be summer. Kurt Richter is simply not making any progress. And then he writes an e-mail. The content: The history of the race. The anniversary. The idea. And the info that the car is not the problem. The recipient: Frank Nozinsky. Director of Lufthansa Cargo for the Central American region. Headquarters: Mexico City. It is now August 25, a Thursday. Richter knows that Cargo is fast. But he is surprised just how fast: On Monday, he receives the answer: "Time for a team call? I'll invite the head office right away."

"I saw Kurt's request and immediately thought, if this isn't Enabling Global Business - what is?"



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It's not just the quick response that gives Kurt Richter new hope - he also knows that, with Lufthansa Cargo, he's relying on real professionals when it comes to car transport. Hardly anyone transports as many valuable cars or important spare parts through the air as Lufthansa Cargo. And hardly anyone has as much experience with automotive rarities, has such well-trained personnel on site and has established special and particularly prudent processes for goods of this kind - Valuable Goods. The first call takes place the same week. The message to Kurt Richter is as clear as it is encouraging: "We'll help you. We'll take care of the transport.

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The ice is broken. Now suddenly others want to join in, too. They accept. Promise financial support. But until Richter receives the money, more valuable time passes. The Carrera Panamericana starts on October 14. And it is not until September 23 that Kurt Richter actually has the money from all the sponsors at his disposal. Gives the go to HK Engineering: Get the car ready. The race before the race begins. Because the car has to be raised. Needs a different brake system. Because in Mexico there are still different road conditions than on European race tracks ...

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Somewhere between Tuxtla and Oaxaca in southern Mexico. The first day of racing. The silver-colored lightweight races along the narrow track at almost 200 kilometers per hour. The man at the wheel listens to the announcements from the prayer book. With a steering wheel that is huge by today's standards, he steers the car around the bends with millimeter precision. Reacts precisely to every swerve, every bump. But then he doesn't stand a chance: a huge vulture crashes into the windshield with full force. Glass shatters. The driver struggles to keep the car on the track. He looks to the side. His passenger is covered in blood. Unconscious. It takes what feels like an eternity before he regains consciousness - and insists on continuing the journey immediately. It all happened on the morning of November 19, 1952, and it was the stuff of legend. On this first day, despite the accident, it was still enough for third place. And six days later, on November 25, the damaged Mercedes 300 SL reaches the finish line of the race. As the winner. Karl Kling at the wheel and Hans Klenk as co-driver lay the foundation for further racing successes for the Silver Arrows from Stuttgart. And show that the will to win is sometimes the most important thing ...

Time jump. September 2022 in Polling. The schedule until the launch in Veracruz is tight, but feasible. The car is scheduled to take off in Frankfurt on October 4. No problem - if the injection system didn't suddenly start acting up. Anyone who has ever had to wait for a spare part in a modern car knows what that means. But with a historic racer? Although HK Engineering does nothing but service Mercedes 300 SLs, the repair turns out to be difficult. And time-consuming. Until, at some point, it becomes clear to everyone involved that it's not going to work. The car can't take off on the 4th. Off? Over? All for nothing?
The lines are glowing. Flight schedules are checked. Options are being examined. What-if and if-then scenarios are played out. In the end, a new date is set: Takeoff from Frankfurt on Oct. 11. Landing in Mexico City on 12.10. in the late evening. And despite the advanced hour, everything goes like clockwork: Lufthansa Cargo's own, perfectly coordinated staff carefully and yet very swiftly brings the precious cargo out of the plane.

One milestone has already been reached: the Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing is on Mexican soil. But there is neither time nor reason to breathe a sigh of relief. The car still has to be cleared through customs. And it is precisely at this point that there are suddenly new problems, everything seems to have conspired against Kurt Richter: The car is stuck in customs. The clock keeps ticking. Relentlessly. Unstoppable. It is October 13, 11 p.m., when customs finally releases the car. Now the gullwing has to be taken to Veracruz. Only now? No, because that's another 400 kilometers - by truck. And in Veracruz? Technical inspection. Testing for race fitness. The start would then be at 7:30 in the morning. In theory. Because in practice, that's actually no longer possible.



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Via the México 150, we drive east in a wild chase. Fortunately, there is not much traffic at this hour. Kurt Richter tries to sleep, but it's no use. Too many thoughts run through his head, and above all the anxious question: Will it be enough? Will they make it in time against all odds? Or was it really all in vain? What if they get stuck in a traffic jam somewhere? What if there's no way through because of the race in Veracruz? What if the race commissioners don't play ball?

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But now Richter has the luck of the fittest: They get through well and reach the starting location at 6:30 a.m. - an hour before the race is supposed to start. And it turns out that someone else has been waiting eagerly for the 300 SL Gullwing: the race organizers. For them, the legend's comeback on its 70th anniversary is also a real matter of the heart. In no time at all, the car is checked and given the go-ahead to start.

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Veracruz, October 14, 2022, 7:29 am. At walking pace, a silver Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing rolls up to the starting line of the 35th Carrera Panamericana. 70 years after the legendary double victory. Tens of thousands of enthusiastic visitors point their cameras at the car. Kurt Richter keeps the engine revving with a light tap of the gas pedal. The hoarse rumble of the six-cylinder engine barely muffles his ears through the sliding side windows. On the passenger seat, Ricardo Galindo has the prayer book on his knees. A hand pushes in front of the windshield from the left, counting down the last seconds. Four. Three. Two. One. Go. The hand jumps to 7:30. The engine howls. The 300 SL shoots off as if unleashed. The legend is back.

"People saw the gullwing - and they had tears in their eyes."

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The man

Kurt Richter, born 1977
Born in Mexico; the family emigrated to Mexico after the First World War. His father was an importer of BMW and Porsche in Mexico and passed the car virus on to his son. Originally a trained car mechanic, Kurt Richter now works as an event consultant and motorsport promoter. He regularly competes in races and rallies, preferably with historic vehicles. By taking part in the Carrera Panamericana in a 300 SL Gullwing, Richter has fulfilled a lifelong dream. He finished the 35th edition of the race to mark the 70th anniversary of the historic double success of 1952 in third place in his racing class.

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The machine

Mercedes 300 SL (W198) Coupé (Gullwing); road version, converted to racing car.
In-line six-cylinder, 3 L displacement, 245 hp
Weight (in racing trim) 1,300 kilos
Owner: Hans Kleissl (HK Engineering)

The vehicle looks back on a long and successful racing career and is a regular guest at the Festival of Speed in Goodwood, among other events. In the past, it has been driven by several former Formula 1 drivers, including David Coulthard and Jochen Mass. HK Engineering is the only company in the world that specializes exclusively in the maintenance, care and repair of Mercedes 300 SL.

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The logistics

Lufthansa Cargo td.flash from Frankfurt to Mexico City
Three logistical challenges come together in this project - deadline pressure, the fact that cars are Dangerous Goods, and the high value, which also makes the gullwing a "Valuable Good". In practice, this means that td.flash is the product of choice, and for everything else it means paying special attention to the last detail. In terms of safety, special attention is paid to the lubricants and operating fluids, the battery and also the tire pressure. Outside the aircraft, cars are always kept in protected areas so that damage from normal storage operations can be ruled out.

In addition, classic cars are always accompanied by a supervisor. On the pallet itself, the same applies as on the race track: The perfect balance between ground adhesion and dynamics is the trump card, so that on the one hand the car does not become self-sufficient in case of air holes, but on the other hand the strong forces during the flight do not cause any damage to the vehicle structure.

And as in many other professional areas, it is evident that nothing is more valuable than years of experience mixed with passion for one hundred percent performance.