Motorsports Monday Special: Racing to Sell – The ‘Silberpfeil’: Part 6

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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!…

Motorsports Monday Special: Racing to Sell – The ‘Silberpfeil’: Part 5

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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?

Motorsports Monday Special: Racing to Sell – The ‘Silberpfeil’: Part 4

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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

Motorsports Monday Special: Racing to Sell – The ‘Silberpfeil’: Part 3

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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.…

Motorsports Monday Special: Racing to Sell – The ‘Silberpfeil’: Part 1

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1938 Coppa Acerbo – Mercedes-Benz W154s and Auto Union Type Ds leave the starting line

We’re going to run something a bit special over the coming few weeks; a bit of a history lesson. In light of the 2014 championship for Mercedes-Benz in Formula 1, I wanted to revisit some research I did in 2003-2004 as part of a Master’s program at the University of Cambridge. We take it for granted that large corporate sponsors and major automobile manufacturers engage in motorsports as a natural outlet and expression of their engineering prowess in order to help sell brand identity, brand loyalty and ultimately sell more cars, trucks and motorcycles. Yet, there was a period where this was not a certainty – indeed, in the early 1920s it was still presumed that racing was an endeavor only rich gentlemen partook in, much like horse racing. But the combination of two companies competing against each other, a government eager to tout the superiority of its products, and new technologies all combined in a very special period during the early 1930s. The reign of the Silver Arrows was only halted by the outbreak of war, yet during that period of roughly 6 years we saw some of the fastest, most powerful and most exotic designs be innovated by the two German marques that the world has ever witnessed. The Mercedes-Benz W125 would remain the most powerful Grand Prix car for 50 years, until the 1980s turbo era, and properly streamlined, they still hold closed-course records in Germany at 270 m.p.h. on the public Autobahn. The spectacle held not only Germans attention, but all of Europe looked on as these two Goliaths tried to outsmart and outspend each other. Ultimately, they went to extremes to prove their dominance and win the favor of the German people – but more importantly, the German government, who by the late 1930s increasingly held the purse strings to valuable commodities needed for the production of automobiles.…