Rudolf Uhlenhaut (born 15 July 1906 in London to a German father and English mother, † 8 May 1989 in Stuttgart), was an Anglo-German engineer and executive for Mercedes-Benz. He had a long association with the Mercedes-Benz racing programme of the ’30s and ’50s, and is best known for his road legal version of the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SLR race car.
Uhlenhaut was born in London, during his father’s term as head of the London branch of the Deutsche Bank. Later the family moved to Brüssels and Bremen. As an avid skier, he pursued his studies in Munich.
In 1931 he joined Mercedes-Benz, working under Fritz Nallinger on the development of the Mercedes 170V. In 1936 Uhlenhaut assumed leadership of the race car department. Auto Union dominated the 1936 Grand Prix season over the aging Mercedes-Benz W25. As a talented driver in his own right, he was able to spot the deficiencies of the chassis and suspension, however he never raced competitively as he was needed for his engineering skills. The replacement for the Mercedes-Benz W25, the Mercedes-Benz W125, remedied the chassis and suspension shortcomings and was much more powerful. The W125 dominated the 1937 Grand Prix season, and was considered the most powerful Grand Prix car until the turbocharged cars of the early 1980s. In 1938 rule changes necessitated a new car for 1938 Grand Prix season, the Mercedes-Benz W154.
In 1952, Uhlenhaut designed the Mercedes-Benz W194 “300SL” race car based on the Mercedes-Benz W186 limousine. The underpowered car achieved surprising success, winning important sports car races, and inspired the road-going Mercedes-Benz W198 “300SL Gullwing” of 1954. The Mercedes-Benz W196 won the F1 Championship in 1954 and 1955. Uhlenhaut surpassed even Juan Manuel Fangio’s times in test sessions.
Based on the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR sports cars racer of 1955, Uhlenhaut created a road legal race car with gull wings. Capable of 290 km/h, this [Uhlenhaut Coupé] was regarded as the world’s fastest car in the 1950s, and it is rumoured that, running late for a meeting, Uhlenhaut exploited the unlimited-speed autobahns to make today’s two-and-a-half-hour journey from Munich to Stuttgart in just over an hour
Rudolf Uhlenhaut, who never possessed a car of his own, retired in 1972. He needed hearing aids, possibly due to hearing damage caused by his loud cars.