For the first time in almost 60 years, the fabulous Silver Arrows of Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz will be officially represented in England, when two cars from each company appear at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Although examples of these pre war supercars have appeared here in recent years, not since the Donington Grand Prix of 1938 have factory entries run together on a British track. Now, Auto Union’s 1939 V16 mountain climb special, which HP Muller drove at Grossglockner that year, will be blasting up to Goodwood Hill in all probability with Hans Joachim Stuck (son of pre-war Auto Union ace Hans Stuck) at the wheel; and Mercedes will have one of its 1937 5.6 litre W125s in the competition.
Paddock prowlers should make a beeline for the German teams’ static exhibits. Auto Union will present a 1936 V16 C-type (the type with which Hermann Lang drove to victory in the 1937 Avus GP).
The Muller Auto Union is one of the two cars built specifically for mountain climbs, using 1936/1937, V16 6.0 litre engines in the 1938/1939 3.0 litre chassis. Discovered in Riga, Lithuania in 1977, it is fresh out of the Sussex workshops of Crosthwaite and Gardiner, where it has undergone a superb restoration.
With its engine placed behind the driver, the Auto Union is one of the forerunners of today’s GP cars. The forerunner, however, was the mid-engined 2.0 litre Benz Tropfenwagen of 1923. Adolf Rosenberger raced that car and by 1932 he had become Professor Ferdinand Porsche’s business manager. though the Benz had not been a success, Rosenberger was sold on its mid engined layout and he undoubtedly influenced the design of Porsche’s P-wagen, soon to be known as the Auto Union.
Looking quite unlike anything else on the tracks, this sleek, silver machine caused a sensation when it first appeared in public on March 6, 1934 at Avus, where Hans Stuck set three world records. However, for all of its futuristic looks and advanced design, the V16 Auto Union proved to be quite a handful and only there drivers ever really mastered it:Stuck, Achille Varzi and Rosemeyer.
Only one other manufacturer – Alfa Romeo – saw fit to follow Professor Ferdinand Porsche’s mid-engined layout for a racing car but World War II prevented Alfa’s flat 12, 1 1/2 litre Type 512 from going racing. It would be 20 years before a mid engined Grand Prix car – built by John Cooper – was seen on the race tracks, and in 1959 Cooper Cars won the Constructors and Drivers World Championships, proving that Professor Porsche was right all along. The Benz Tropfenwagen may have got there first, but it was Porsche’s Auto Union which really changed the face of Grand Prix racing.