The Mercedes-Benz SSK was the fastest car in the world during its production run from 1928 – 1932. It was the last car to be designed by Ferdinand Porsche, before he went on to create his own company, winning plenty of races and being considered a masterclass of auto engineering. There were fewer than 40 SSKs made and only five survive today. Of those five, only one looks like the “Count Trossi.”
The car was nicknamed “Count Trossi” after the original owner, Count Carlo Felice Trossi, an Italian nobleman and gentleman racer in the 1930s. Carlo Trossi knew his automobiles and was even an initial investor in Scuderia Ferrari, having become the team president for a brief period in 1932.
The Count bought the car in June 1933 after it had raced in several events during December 1930 and 1933. It was during his ownership that the “Count Trossi” was given its iconic bodywork.
Initially, it was believed that Carlo Trossi had sent the car to a relatively unknown coachbuilder named Willy White. Whether or not it was White or Trossi who came up with the final design is unknown as American restorer, Paul Russel, whose team restored the “Count Trossi”, found two hand-made sketches. One from an independent coachbuilder who may have been White, and another from the Count himself detailing an open roadster without a top. It seems that it was likely a collaborative effort between the pair though to what extent is unclear. Regardless, the design was influential as it was adopted by French design houses.
The steel bodywork has a teardrop profile with extended fenders that have an accent along their highest edge. Additionally, there’s a well integrated split windshield that mimics the radiator’s angle and no cabin doors. Yes, you have to climb in. The hood has a trailing edge that is shaped to match the rake of the windscreen.
Behind the 18 inch wheels sit these massive copper brake drums that were originally designed to assist with brake cooling.
The SSK was based on the earlier Modell S but was 19 inches shorter allowing it to be lighter and more agile for racing. However, it was the robust engine that helped the SSKs earn the name “White Elephants” for their shocking brute force.
Powering the SSKs, including the “Count Trossi”, is the supercharged single overhead camshaft 7-litre straight-6 engine. This was capable of 300bhp (220kW) with 5,000 lb ft (680Nm) of torque capable of a top speed of 120mph (190km/h). As mentioned before, the SSK was the fastest car in its day.
Today, the “Count Trossi” is owned by Ralph Lauren who purchased it in the 1980s for his private car collection. He has taken it out to several shows and competitions, notably winning Best of Show at the 1993 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the 1995 Meadow Bank Brook Hall Concours d’Elegance.
Looking at this car, you can’t help but feel that this was a kind of proto-Batmobile. The teardrop shape and extended fenders give it that distinctive bat-like appearance that surely inspired the Caped Crusader’s iconic vehicle. Regardless, this car is an absolute joy to look at.