Okay, I’ll admit that we don’t spend a lot of time on pre-War German cars. The why is quite simple; outside of an occasional Mercedes-Benz model, there just weren’t a lot of pre-War German cars exported to the United States. Heck, there just weren’t a lot of pre-War German cars, period.
Contrary to popular belief, German wasn’t a nation of drivers until well after World War II. It was something that Mercedes-Benz and upstart conglomerate Auto Union lamented to a certain then-new German Chancellor by the name of Adolf Hitler. Hitler agreed; he wanted and needed the automobile industry in Germany to prosper to help resurrect the economy. But he also needed German car firms to take to new markets. The results you likely know; Hitler spurred the industry through lowering of automobile taxes, and more notable, the encouragement and funding of international-level automobile racing. It’s one of the few times in history that a government has undertaken full sponsorship of a race effort, and without a doubt it was the most successful and evocative. Should you care to on this blustery and very cold late December evening (at least here in New England, where temperatures are struggling to reach double digits), you can read all about it in my dissertation:
Motorsports Monday Special: Racing to Sell – The ‘Silberpfeil’: Part 6
The result of all of that racing and support of the automobile industry was that both Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union prospered – for a while. The unfortunate side-effect of the buildup for the Spanish Civil War and World War II, along with re-arming several areas of taken from Germany through the Versailles Treaty was that by the late 1930s, automobile production had ceased to accelerate because of artificial shortages of items like metal and rubber. Couple that with the fact that most Germans, though much better off in aggregate following the NSDAP takeover in 1933 than they had been during the Great Depression from 1929-1932, still weren’t very rich.…
While legend has it that Audi popularized all-wheel drive with the Quattro, it would not have been the case were it not for the 1970s Volkswagen Iltis – a military vehicle that utilized a normal Audi 100’s underpinnings to create an all-wheel drive vehicle with lockable differentials which easily outpaced Audi’s normal production line cars in inclement conditions. It was this story which sprung the idea for the Quattro to be created, but the Iltis itself had inspiration drawn heavily from another car – the DKW Munga. As Auto Union struggled to re-establish itself post-War under first the leadership of Mercedes-Benz and later Volkswagen, the company’s diminutive DKW brand led the way with economical, smart designs. One of those designs was the paradoxically-named 3=6 model, which had a .9 liter 2-stroke inline-3. Produced in Düsseldorf, DKW helped to keep the Auto Union’s name alive in the early 1950s. Part of that rebuilding included new Auto Union facilities in Ingolstadt, and one of the first production vehicles to make it out of there was the Manga. German for Mehrzweck UNiversal Geländewagen mit Allradantrie (basically, go anywhere all-wheel drive vehicle), the Manga utilized F91 (3=6) underpinnings mated with new all-wheel drive capability. Up front, the four rings of the Auto Union reappeared proudly on the roughly 47,000 models produced between 1956 and 1968 – a full decade prior to Iltis production:
For some time, the fate of Audi seemed sealed. Post World War II, Auto Union GmbH’s production was focused on the DKW automobiles that fit into the European economic situation much better than the pre-War luxury cars from Horch and Audi. But the market was changing, and Auto Union launched the very pretty 1000SP Coupe and Convertible. But, there was no denying that the 1000SP looked like a 1950s car in a 1960s world. Audi’s production would really have to wait until the launch of the C1 chassis in 1968; prior to that, some re-badged DKW models wore the Audi name but sold only in small numbers. The C1 would prove to be a pretty popular model, though, and the new 100 model would be available as both a sedan and as a 2-door “Coupe S” model. The lines of that model, as with the 1000SP, mimicked more expensive and famous cars such as the Fiat Dino and Aston Martin DBS. It was a pretty large departure from the mini-Thunderbird look of the 1000SP and much more modern. But, it appears that there may have been a missing link developed in the mid-1960s:
The world of Auto Union is full of paradox. That the company even came into existence is itself somewhat of a fluke, but a harsh economic situation in Germany in the 1930s led four mostly failing companies to band together in the hope that united, they might survive. Out of that union was born the image of the four rings that today are worn proudly by the last remnant, and the least successful, of the original four – Audi. If that isn’t strange, the history of how we got to that point certainly is. Only one of the companies was truly successful when they banded together, and they produced primarily motorcycles, not cars. Yet only one year after being founded, the fledgling company put its technical prowess up against the might of the most storied car company in the world – indeed, the inventors of the automobile – Daimler-Benz. And by “its” technical prowess, I mean the technical prowess of one Ferdinand Porsche, himself an outcast of sorts from several car companies. His design was both unorthodox and unusual, with a single-cam supercharged 16 cylinder engine mounted in the middle of the car. Mind you, this was a full 25 years before Cooper would make the “revolutionary” change that would be the accepted practice of all modern Formula One cars. With entirely new suspension designs and strange handling behaviors – never mind enough torque to jump start an industrial production line and tires that would consequently disintegrate immediately or fuel that was really just a high explosive in liquid form – the Auto Union Grand Prix cars shared nothing in common with the road-going models marketed by the company, who at the start of the 1930s didn’t even produce what could loosely be identified as a sports car.
Yet, it worked.…
Start of the 1939 German Grand Prix with Auto Union Type D and Mercedes-Benz W154 M163s – their last meeting in the nation of their birth
Yesterday saw an interesting comparison in racing; in F1, Mercedes-Benz once again dominated the field with seeming ease, dictating the pace and watching the strategy of its competitors from Maranello. While truth told my focus remained squarely on the Formula 1 race, there were several other popular race series running concurrently; both wildly popular Moto GP and World Endurance Championship races were contested as well. Notably, Audi won the WEC Silverstone 6-hour contest, continuing its quite remarkable run in endurance series amidst rumors that they could be heading to Formula 1. The question posed by me in my conclusion to the investigation of the Silver Arrows period is simply if the racing was necessary? There were other options in terms of racing for both companies to explore, and indeed they could also have taken the Opel strategy in no racing at all. Did the companies choose the right route?
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our readers for the positive feedback to this feature. It’s been wonderful for me to revisit this research and have the enthusiast community enjoy it. I’d also like to thank Dan and Paul at GCFSB for not only affording me the opportunity to put this research up, but indeed for encouraging me to do so. Though they’re not likely to be paying attention I’d like to thank the Saxony State Archives in Chemnitz and the staff at the Mercedes-Benz factory archives, both of which were very welcoming and accommodating during my time there. Lastly, I’d like to thank my family who has been both encouraging and patient while I’ve spent countless hours working on this site. Without further ado, please enjoy the conclusion!…
A 1936 Auto Union Type C sits below a similarly streamlined Junkers JU-86 at an exposition
As we saw in the last few installments, Daimler-Benz and Auto Union had heavily engaged in racing – a massive investment for both, pushing the boundaries of existing technology and redefining how motor racing was to be undertaken. The question in today’s installment was who this methodical approach to racing benefited the most. Was the government’s investment in racing worthwhile? Was Auto Union’s gamble on building an unconventional race car a success? Were the extremes to which Daimler-Benz was willing to stretch its racing budget realized in results over the competition? Today we look at some of the more pragmatic reasons behind the motivations of both companies and some of the ideology behind government which helps explain the involvement of both.
Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2
Link To Part 3
Link To Part 4
FIVE: FOR COMPANIES, GOVERNMENT, COUNTRY?
If you’ve been following my 6-part documentary on the Silver Arrows, you’ve seen the four rings of the Auto Union pop up. Now synonymous with Audi, the Auto Union was in fact four different companies that banded together, much like the Volkswagen Group of today. Like the Volkswagen Group, they had a range of cars; Horch for ultra-luxury, Audi was the sportier gentleman’s car, Wanderer covered the middle range and the entry level products and motorcycles were covered by DKW. All of the companies, independently, had significant history, but as we’ve seen in the Silver Arrows documentary, the depression years in the 1920s and 1930s meant that just like Daimler and Benz, the Auto Union was a partnership formed out of necessity for survival in a market where few cars sold. However, as we’ve also seen, the massive investments in infrastructure and breaks on taxes meant that the automobile industry was experiencing a big push by the mid 1930s, coupled with new technology and aerodynamic designs. One of the most promising designs for the Auto Union was the DKW F9; a versatile, aerodynamic small car, it resembled the KdF “Volkswagen” (Beetle) prototypes but was more refined. However, the outbreak of the war stalled the project, slated to launch in 1940. As with other similar projects by German automobile companies, the remnants of the company picked up the project in the late 1940s, and the “new” DKW F91 project rolled out in 1953 as the DKW 3=6 “Sonderklasse”. With a .9 liter two stroke inline-3, the performance wasn’t going to shock you but it was a cleverly packaged car and sold well. It was replaced in the late 1950s by an updated version, now named the Auto Union 1000; updated lightly and with more power from the now 1.0 liter motor, it was available in 5 different configurations and was the basis for the much loved but rarely seen 1000SP roadster – the mini-Thunderbird.…
A 1935 Auto Union Type B Streamliner used for both records and the annual Avus race in Berlin
This past weekend weekend we saw a bit of hubris and bad strategy lead to Mercedes-Benz losing to Ferrari in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Despite the massive investment and seemingly pedantic attention to detail, the same problems existed in the 1930s for the company. Increasingly Mercedes-Benz needed to differentiate itself from Auto Union by undertaking extreme efforts. These efforts were not always profitable; indeed, one could argue that – as we saw last week – since they were already having difficulty delivering cars thanks to raw material shortages, undertaking new forms of racing and record-breaking might have seemed ill-conceived for the company. However, still at stake was preferential treatment from the government, especially when it came to lucrative military contracts. As such, Mercedes-Benz undertook some unlikely projects to not only gain international prestige for the Daimler-Benz model range, but indeed to curry favor with the government.
Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2
Link To Part 3
FOUR : PUSHING THE LIMITS – THE GOVERNMENT GOES RACING
A Mercedes-Benz W125 leads an Auto Union Type C – the height of power for these Grand Prix cars in 1937
As we’ve seen in the last two parts, both the motivation and need was present for a concerted racing effort by the Germans. The promise of political and economic support from the government only sweetened the deal for both Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union. What resulted, as we’ll see, redefined what it meant to go racing – not only for Germany, but for the world.
Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2
THREE : REDEFINING AUTOMOBILE RACING
In theory, the successful plan worked perfectly for all involved. The two car companies would gain international prestige for themselves while boosting domestic car sales through promotion of their abilities, while the government – their fairly public backer – gained support for the entire automobile industry, cash flow for the country through increases in sales and exports, and international prestige for Germany as a whole as well as promoting the modernity and advanced state of German technology. In practice, however, there was a drawback to the plan for the two companies. The problem derived from the rules and competing against one another for the same prize.
The rules presented a problem because in an attempt to quell every increasing speeds, the AIACR had established the 750kg maximum weight rule based on 1932 technology, believing that in order to go fast the car must be larger and heavier. This had certainly been the case in the past, whereby under free racing regulations constructors had merely installed two racing engines into the car and combined their efforts – with resulting staggering speed. However, under the new racing rules both Daimler-Benz and Auto-Union developed cars that met the requirements, yet provided even more powerful engines. The result was incredible speed, speed that had never been seen before at this level.…
A 1934 Mercedes-Benz W25 lines up to race in front of a several Bugattis looking decidedly more aerodynamic and modern.
It seems fitting that a day after the Formula 1 season commenced in Australia with a resounding sweep of the top spots by the Mercedes-Benz W06s of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. It was not particularly a surprise given the Mercedes-Benz domination of last year’s competition, yet it was a poignant reminder in light of the major difficulties faced by other successful racing manufacturers over the past few years with the new F1 regulations. While storied teams like McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull have struggled to even finish at times, Mercedes-Benz has looked virtually unchallenged with wins only really contested between the two teammates. The same could be said of the original Silver Arrows between 1935 and 1939; however, in 1934 it was quite a different story when success was anything but a given:
TWO : NATIONAL SOCIALISM AND THE REVOLUTION OF AUTOMOBILE RACING…