A Tale of Two Benzes

How Ewy Rosqvist won the 1962 Argentine Grand Prix in a Mercedes-Benz 220SE “Fintail.”

Born on August 3, 1929 in Herrestad, Sweden, Ewy Rosqvist grew up in a family who ran a farming business and was the only girl of five children. After studying veterinary medicine and livestock husbandry in Stockholm, Ewy returned home to begin a veterinary apprenticeship. As a veterinary assistant in southern Sweden, Ewy drove between 90 and 125 miles each day to reach the remote farming communities she worked in. The substantial district Ewy covered required her to drive on dirt and gravel roads, which were both narrow and poorly built. In support of his daughter's profession and to reduce the stress of driving on arduous roads for long stretches, Ewy's father bought her a Mercedes-Benz 170S (W136).

In the late 1940s, Mercedes-Benz introduced the 170S (S for "Special" model), a luxury vehicle that offered exceptional comfort and superior quality. Ownership of a 170S indicated a higher social status and for that reason, the 170S was marketed to company executives and successful business owners. From 1949 to 1952, just over 31,000 units rolled off the assembly lines and into the hands of distinguished people. Two decades after it made its debut, the 170S would be given the "S-Class" moniker and recognized as the first S-Class Mercedes-Benz.

Powered by a 1.7-liter inline-four (maximum 52 hp) and four-speed transmission, the 170S was available as a four-door sedan and two-door convertible. There were two versions of the convertible model: the two-seat Cabriolet A and four-seat Cabriolet B. Although the 170S strongly resembled and shared its chassis with the 170V, the longer and wider 170S was regarded as the finer variant of the two models. Rather than carrying over the 170V lateral leaf-spring suspension, the 170S' front wheels were attached with coil springs, double wishbones, and a stabilizer bar.

Granted the exhaustive driving routes her work demanded, Ewy racked up 136,700 miles on the 170S within two years and as a result, her finish times improved significantly. In spite of having more stops than her colleagues, Ewy managed to complete a day's work hours in advance of everyone else. By driving the Mercedes-Benz 170S on taxing roads through numerous farmsteads, Ewy inconspicuously developed skills as high-performance driver.

For a young Rosqvist, the Mercedes-Benz 170S became more than just a means of transportation, or merely a symbol of social hierarchy. Her vocation as a veterinary assistant lasted 12 years before she made the pivotal decision to go into racing full-time

Ewy's first rally experience as a driver came in 1956 at the age of 27 in the Rally to the Midnight Sun. Subsequently, she'd earn top rankings in a multitude of rallies across Europe, including four Women's Cup wins at the 1,000 Lakes Rally in Finland. In 1959, Ewy won the European Rally Championship Women's Cup as a factory driver for Volvo, a title she'd claim again in 1960 and 1961. Along the way, the racing maven captured the attention of then Daimler-Benz AG, who bought out her contract with Volvo. When she joined the Mercedes-Benz works team, Ewy partnered with another up-and-coming Swedish driver, Ursula Wirth.

The racing duo first entered the Rally to the Midnight Sun in a top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz 220SE (W111). Owing to the American-style tailfins on its rear fenders, the Mercedes-Benz 220SE adopted the "Fintail" sobriquet, commonly referred to as the Heckflosse in Germany.

Produced from 1959 to 1968, the Fintail 220SE was a premium four-door sedan built on a W111 chassis, which had improved front and rear crumple zones. With an updated suspension, a 2.2-liter inline-six (118 hp) engine, and excellent road handling chops, the robust but agile 220SE had the aptness of a sports car.

As a team, Ewy and Ursula got their first taste of victory at the Rally to the Midnight Sun, where they successfully drove the 220SE Fintail across the finish line and took home the women's cup title. Their greatest victory, however, would come in 1962 at the sixth annual Touring Car Grand Prix of Argentina.

Initially, the media ridiculed Mercedes-Benz for believing that two women were good enough to qualify as competitors in the Grand Prix. Considered one of the toughest and most grueling long-distance rallies in the world, the Touring Car Grand Prix of Argentina had been dominated by male competitors since its inception. Infamously known for claiming many lives, the Grand Prix had no mercy on anyone. Those who did survive the ruthless race were not guaranteed to return home with a functioning vehicle. Out of 258 vehicles that entered the 1962 Touring Car Grand Prix of Argentina, only 43 made it to the finish line.

With the number 711 stamped on their Mercedes-Benz 220SE Fintail, Ewy and co-driver Ursula drove for 2,874 miles on death-defying roads. At the end, they swept all six stages, finished three hours ahead, set a new record speed, and won the 1962 Touring Car Grand Prix of Argentina.


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