Away from the incessant noise and action on the famous Nordschleife, there’s a building where you can relax and soak up some racing history from past days of glory on the track
Words: Richard Robinson. Photography: Mark Bramley
The main purpose of any visit to the Nürburgring should be to put some laps in on the famed Nordschleife; to firmly set in your mind whether another couple of those blind crests precede a tight left or foot-to-the-floor right kink. But after you’ve exhausted yourself with too many laps of the track, stroll over and visit Erlebnis-Welt Nürburgring. In four large halls behind the grandstands on the outside of the grand prix circuit’s start line, the ‘Ring’s race car museum houses an impressive range of cars. On display are pre-war and 1950s machines and cars from the later 1000km era, plus Formula 1 chassis from the Nordschleife and new grand prix circuit years. The focus of the exhibits is, of course, particularly German, but hidden amongst the Mercedes, Audis and Porsches there’s a Ferrari 250 GTO, Maserati 450S, Cooper T72, Alpine A106, Bugatti 37A and a 1975 Penske-Ford PC1.
The museum opened in its current format in May 1998 and it was Dr Walter Kafitz, the managing director of the Nürburgring, who came up with the idea for housing the cars as a collection open to visitors. Many of the cars in the collection are given as a loan, so the collection is continuously changing as cars are swapped around; currently 45 cars and 18 motorbikes are housed in the four halls.
One of the most significant cars, which has been part of the collection since it opened, was the original Mercedes 680S which, driven by Rudolf Caracciola, won the opening car race at the Nürburgring on June 19, 1927. The ADAC pulled together a huge entry for that first meeting. It was known as the Eifelrennen, and 65 cars and nearly 100 motorbikes took part. The first car race was for sports cars, held on the 17.56-mile full circuit. Caracciola and the 6740cc S completed the 12 laps (211 miles) in 3hr 33min 21sec. Mercedes-Benz had a big presence at the race, and the marque’s cars also finished second and third.
A 1974 Porsche RSR 3.0 Carrera that was entered in the Le Mans 24 Hours and then won the 1988 Nürburgring 24 Hours, driven by Uwe Alzen and Klaus Ludwig, looks stunning in its Martini livery in Hall 1.
Alongside the cars is a wealth of memorabilia including the original trophy won by Caracciola in that first race of 1927. A 120-degree cinema brings classic races back to life, and other screens show videos of Nordschleife laps both recent and dating from the 1950s and ’60s. Another screen features an interview with Niki Lauda about his 1976 shunt — if your German is up to it…
Hall 2 focuses on DTM cars, that’s to say contenders old and new in the German Touring Car championship, but the star is a Mercedes-Benz 190E 16V. It’s proof that a relatively mundane car can rise to high status because of who sat in the driver’s seat. On May 12, 1984, a young Ayrton Senna raced the car to a win, beating the likes of Lauda, Keke Rosberg, John Watson and Alain Prost.
Nearly all the cars in the Nürburgring collection are still used on the track, mainly at the Oldtimer Festival, Germany’s biggest classic-car gathering, but also at other events. If you’re very lucky you may even be able to jump aboard one of them for a demo rides over those blind crests…