Zeppelin’s motor racing spin-off

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When it comes to travelling very fast around the racing circuits of the 1930s, the Austro-Hungarian aerodynamicist Paul Jaray was a useful recruit for any manufacturer. I doubt he was quite in the all-rounder class of, say, an Adrian Newey, but as a specialist in the fluid dynamics of vehicle body design he was demonstrably near the cutting edge within his field.

Paul Jaray had studied at the Viennese Maschinenbauschule, then became an assistant to Professor Rudolf Dörfl at Prague Technical University. He made his way into the infant aeronautical industry working on seaplanes at Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance, and as WWI erupted he joined the local Zeppelin Luftschiffbau optimising the shape of airship envelopes. He played a major role in the design of the LZ-120 Bodensee airship, from which the later Graf Zeppelin and the ill-fated Hindenburg were developed.

He learned the arcane arts of aerodynamics in the Zeppelin wind tunnels and in 1923 set up his own Büro and consultancy in Brunnen, Switzerland. His Stromlinien Karosserie Gesellschaft followed, in 1927, pouring out prototype designs for streamlined car bodies. He licensed adoption of some of these shapes to assorted manufacturers, but it seems that only Tatra in Czechoslovakia carried his notions through to quantity production models. Jaray produced full-car designs for Jawa, Chrysler, Apollo, Dixi, Steyr, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, starting from his own Ley in the early 1920s. But in motor racing terms the German Adler company made perhaps the best use of this fertile designer’s prowess in its team of ‘Jaray Streamline’ Rennlimousines.

Europe’s too-often forgotten 24-hour race was that at Spa-Francorchamps, which was run pre-war from 1924-33, and again from 1936-38 as the Belgian Touring Car Grand Prix. In the 1938 edition Adler’s sleek but rather narrow-gutted and gawky-looking German coupés finished reliably sixth and seventh overall, behind the winning Alfa Romeo 8C-2900B, a Delage D6, and a trio of works BMW 328s. The Adlers’ drivers were none other than the young Baron Fritz Huschke von Hanstein – of postwar Porsche fame – who shared the sixth-placed car with von der Muhle, and Otto Luhr with Paul von Guilleaume.

OK, they were some 30 laps adrift of the victorious Pintacuda/Severi supercharged Alfa – but this was pretty respectable for a closed coupé at that time, spoiled only by an accident to the team’s third car, which was shared by Orssich and Sauerwein (who had finished sixth at Le Mans the previous year, when von Hanstein and the French lady driver Anne Rose Itier retired a second Rennlimousine). At Le Mans in 1938 the pair of works 2-litre Adlers again finished 6-7 and though these Rennlimousines were not quite the rocket ships they looked, they certainly performed rather better than relatively modest mechanicals might have suggested.

And for that the Paul Jaray-inspired slippery bodies should surely share some credit. Above all, it makes a change for a team other than Mercedes-Benz, Auto Union and/or BMW to be punching their right arms into the air in what was then the quaint (and to Anglo-Saxon eyes amusing) – now so sinister – Hitlergruss salute.