On October 2 fifty years ago, race-goers at Donington Park saw the fabulous 750kg formula German Grand Prix cars do battle for the first time in Britain: four 5.6-litre straight-eight Mercedes-Benz matched against three 6-litre V16 Auto-Unions.
Then the most powerful Grand Prix cars in the world, their performance set standards which were to last for a very long time; and in handling and wheel-spinning acceleration, not to mention the eye-smarting effect of the “boot-polish” fuel they used, they were very spectacular.
We had never seen anything comparable before. The Mercedes team arrived in an impressive cavalcade of racing transporters, in the care of the legendary Herr Neubauer, and the shrill scream of a W125 approaching through Coppice Wood during practice caused John Eason-Gibson and myself to throw Press privilege away and climb hastily back over the fence!
Drivers of the other competing cars — two Maseratis, five ERAs and a Riley — spent much of the 80-lap 250-mile Donington GP looking in their mirrors, keeping out of the way of Caracciola, Lang, von Brauchitsch, Seaman, Rosemeyer, Hasse and Muller. The fastest of them was nine seconds slower than the slowest of the awe-inspiring new German machines!
A great concourse of spectators watched spellbound as Bernd Rosemeyer won for Auto-Union at 82.86 mph, pursued by the Mercedes-Benz of von Brauchitsch and the celebrated Rudi Caracciola. It was a day to remember, and anyone in a little (Auto-Union) DKW who joined the long queue of homeward-bound traffic must have felt pretty smug.
He would do so again in 1938, when the legendary Nuvolari won once more for Auto-Union, followed by the Mercs of Lang and Seaman. In 1937 Mercedes had had the small consolation of sharing fastest race-lap (at 85.62 mph) with the race winner.
The full story, and the youthful impressions of W., can be read in The MOTOR SPORT Book of Donington, which can be obtained for £1.30 including postage in the UK from these offices. WB