Auto Union album 1934-1939

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By Chris Nixon

Published by: Transport Bookman, £39.95. ISBN 85184 056 6

I’ll declare my interest now to save you pointing it out later. Chris Nixon is not only author of some of the best-known and respected motoring books ever written (Mon Ami Mate and Racing the Silver Arrows are both his) he is also a frequent contributor to this magazine. I’ll be damned, however, if I’m going let that prevent us reviewing an important work, particularly as books by Nixon are appallingly infrequent occurrences these days.

The Auto Union Album is a photographic record of the great marque’s pre-war struggle with Mercedes-Benz on the race circuits, hillclimb courses and autobahnen of Europe and Germany before the war. And in case you’re thinking you have seen this all before, one look at the book will convince you otherwise. Incredibly you might think, Auto Union GmbH, now a subsidiary of Volkswagen, recently discovered piles of photographs that had lurked unseen since the war and it is these that form the bulk of this book, propped up only by the very best of the more familiar shots.

It makes charming and often illuminating viewing. It’s hard to pick the best shot, though that of Caracciola grinning out of the window of a tyre-laden Mercedes truck as he arrived at the Avus in 1934 is particularly appealing. The award for best drama goes to the shot of Nuvolari’s Auto Union and Lang’s Mercedes in perfect fomration drifts at Reims while the wreckage of Bernd Rosemeyer’s record-breaker and the talent that died that day on the Frankfurt-Darmstadt autobahn is almost unbearably poignant.

If there is any disappointment at all it will come to those hoping to read thousands of words. The book is, as the title makes clear, an album and Nixon has taken the decision to let the pictures do the talking. Given the extraordinary impact of the unseen photographs, it’s a choice that works. There is a brief introduction and, thereafter, simple captions which aim usually only to locate the photographs and place them in time.

The bottom line, so far as I can see, is that this is a book no enthusiast of pre-war Grand Prix racing could do without. To an era about which so many words have been written the Auto Union Album brings something that is not only genuinely new but also, at under £40, absurdly good value too.

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