Karl Kling was a German racing driver who had a short but illustrious career during the 1940s and 1950s, being a member of the famous Mercedes' Silver Arrows team and taking part in eleven Formula One Grand Prix races in 1954 and 1955. In those eleven starts, Kling was on a podium two times.
His most famous race was the 1952 Carrera Panamericana, which he won together with Hans Klenk after a bizarre accident with a vulture which smashed into the windscreen of their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.
German racing legend Karl Kling (second left)
Kling was the three-time German champion
Born in Giessen in central Germany, as a son of a teacher, Karl Kling was a trained mechanic and he found his first job in 1936 as a reception clerk in the publicity department of Daimler-Benz. After that, he occasionally participated in some races but his real racing career started after the World War II, which he spent as a mechanic for Luftwaffe aircrafts.
His first race car in 1946 was BMW 328. He was very successful, scoring many victories in the following years. At the wheel of a Veritas RS race car, powered by BMW-engine, he won German sports car championship three times.
Hans Herrmann, Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling (right)
Kling joined Mercedes in 1951
In 1951, Kling was invited by the Mercedes team manager, Alfred Neubauer, to travel with the team to Buenos Aires, Argentina. He, Juan Manuel Fangio and Hermann Lang participated in Grand Prix races around Palermo Park in a Mercedes-Benz W154 cars.
In two races, dedicated to Juan and Eva Peron, Ferrari's Jose Froilan Gonzalez was a double winner, Kling finished second place in one race and sixth in another.
Hans Klenk and Karl Kling (right) at 1952 Mille Miglia
Second at 1952 Mille Miglia, DNF at Le Mans debut
In that time, Mercedes was still out of the Formula 1 World Championship but the team was very active in sports car races all around the world. In May 1952, Karl Kling and Hans Klenk finished second at Mille Miglia, behind Scuderia Ferrari's Giovanni Bracco and Alfonso Rolfo.
In June 1952, Kling debuted at 24 hours of Le Mans, driving the #22 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. He and Hans Klenk retired after nine hours due to electric problems.
Kling's Mercedes after a legendary incident with a vulture
Famous victory at 1952 Carrera Panamericana
Kling's greatest triumph in a career came in November 1952, when he and Hans Klenk were driving the #4 Mercedes 300 SL to victory at the Carrera Panamericana.
The most memorable moment of the 2,000-mile race over Mexico was when a vulture smashed into the windscreen, damaging car and hurting Klenk. Despite that incident, they won the race ahead of another Mercedes crew, Hermann Lang and Erwin Grupp in the #3 car.
Kling's Alfa Romeo at 1953 24h Le Mans
1953 – driving Alfa Romeo at Mille Miglia and Le Mans
In 1953, Karl Kling had no luck in famous endurance races in which he participated in an Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 CM. At Mille Miglia, he and Hans Klenk retired after an accident.
Kling came to Le Mans as Alfa Romeo drivers, with Fritz Riess as a co-driver and backed by their Mercedes boss Alfred Neubauer in the pits. They retired after twelve hours and 133 laps due to transmission problems.
Karl Kling at the 1954 French Grand Prix
1954 - podium for Kling in Mercedes' return to Grand Prix racing
Mercedes returned to Grand Prix racing in the fourth round of the 1954 Formula One World Championship in the French Grand Prix at Reims. The long-awaited Mercedes-Benz W196 had a victorious debut, with Juan Manuel Fangio winning the race and Karl Kling finishing second.
Fangio was the winner three more times in five races and he won the championship title. Kling's best result in those races was fourth place at German Grand Prix at Nürburgring. He finished fifth in the championship standings. In September, Kling won the non-championship Grand Prix of Berlin at AVUS track.
Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling
1955 - one more F1 podium at Aintree
In 1955, Kling remained a full-time member of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix team. He started in five races, scoring the best result in the British Grand Prix. At Aintree circuit, he finished third behind teammates Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio. At the end of the season, Kling was 12th in the championship points.
Besides Grand Prix races, Kling was very active in sports car races during 1955, scoring some good results. He retired at Mille Miglia, finished fourth at Nürburgring's Eifelrennen, second at Dundrod's Tourist Trophy and second at Targa Florio. He withdrew from Le Mans race after a catastrophic accident of his teammate Pierre Levegh which killed more than 80 spectators.
Karl Kling in 1990, at the celebration of his 80th birthday
Managing duties for Mercedes
Kling's last race was the Targa Florio in October 1955, where he and Fangio finished second, behind teammates Stirling Moss and Peter Collins. At the end of 1955, he retired from driving and took a position in the Mercedes competition department.
He succeeded Alfred Neubauer as the head of entire Mercedes motorsport program. As they left Formula One after Le Mans tragedy, their main discipline was rallying. Kling stayed a chief until 1968, occasionally competing himself in some rally events. After a retirement, he lived at Lake Constance (Bodensee). Kling died on March 18, 2003, at the age 92.