The Dreyfus affair


In your November issue, William Cash states that the defeat of Mercedes-Benz by Delahaye at Pau in 1938 was ‘One of the greatest upsets in motorracing history’. Not only is this a ludicrous claim, but his story also contains a number of errors.

Mercedes-Benz certainly expected to win, for the Pau GP was a minor event which they regarded as a useful shakedown for the new 3-litre W154s before the season proper got under way. When they were beaten by Rene Dreyfus, Mercedes were not very pleased with themselves, but regarded it as a hiccup and nothing to be worried about.

Mr Cash describes Adolf (not Adolph) Huhnlein as ‘team boss’ of Mercedes-Benz. He was no such thing. He was a career soldier whom Hitler had put in charge of motorsport; his job was to oversee the organisation of all events that took place in Germany, from motorcycle trials to grands prix.

He also describes him as a ‘ruthlessly professional Hitler puppet’ and ‘humourless’. But when I was writing Racing The Silver Arrows, Mercedes technical director Rudolf Llhlenhaut told me Huhnlein was “a decent fellow, but we didn’t take him seriously”. Mr Cash states that Huhnlein ‘had chosen to unveil the latest silver Mercedes racing car to the world’ at Pau. This is untrue. Uhlenhaut made it clear that Huhnlein had nothing to do with the racing programme of Mercedes (or Auto Union). The decision to compete at Pau, and elsewhere, was taken by team manager Alfred Neubauer, in consultation with the Daimler-Benz Board of Directors.

I have seen no evidence that Huhnlein was present at Pau. He seldom attended foreign events, and when he did so — to Monaco in 1935 and Berne and Donington in 1938, for example — photographs show him in civilian clothes. The Nazi uniform was saved for German events. Mr Cash claims that Uhlenhaut chose a supercharged 3-litre engine in 1938 (rather than the alternative, an unsupercharged 4.5-litre) because ‘his engineers had been secretly developing supercharged engines for for the reborn Luftwaffe’. In fact, the decision was taken because Mercedes had been racing supercharged engines since the mid-1920s and were fully conversant with them.

A month after their Pau victory, Mercedes put Delahaye (and everything else) in their place at Tripoli. They finished 1-2-3, with Dreyfus way back in seventh — almost 26 minutes behind.

The result of the 1938 Pau GP was a fluke, not one of the greatest upsets in motor racing history.

I am Yours, etc, Chris Nixon, Twickenham, Middx