THE AGE OF THE SILVER ARROWS
A NEW START WITH TECHNICAL INGENUITY
Other notable technical features were Porsche's torsion-bar front suspension and the car’s lightweight construction, which permitted as large an engine as possible within the constraints of the 750 kg weight limit: a sixteen-cylinder power unit which, in its final version, had a displacement of six litres. From 1934 on, the duel between Mercedes and Auto Union heralded in the golden era of German racing cars. Hans Stuck was initially Auto Union's only leading driver, until Achille Varzi joined him and a young hotshot by the name of Bernd Rosemeyer appeared.
Rosemeyer won a series of races in 1936, and was crowned European Champion – the highest accolade at the time. In addition, he became a legend in his own right thanks to his "hot-blooded temperament" (according to his wife, Elly Beinhorn), which was manifested in his headstrong nature and his supernatural racing instinct: he is reputed to have driven as fast in fog as he did under normal conditions. These qualities not only helped him to beat his colleagues on the racetrack; he also overtook Mercedes' star driver Caracciola – until then the brightest star amongst the media – as the darling of the masses. Rosemeyer's popularity was comparable only to that of the boxer Max Schmeling.
TYPE C: ENORMOUS GRUNT FROM LOW REVS
World speed records were highly prized during this period. In 1934, Auto Union took up the challenge against Mercedes-Benz and Alfa Romeo, and set at least three dozen new speed records in various classes and categories. This constant pursuit of record-breaking figures boosted Auto Union’s technology, and led to the trauma of January 28, 1938.
The car prepared for the record attempt produced 560 hp. The plan was to take it out on to the Frankfurt – Darmstadt “autobahn” and beat Caracciola’s existing record in a Mercedes of 432.7 km/h. The first run confirmed that the record could be broken. On the second run the car left the road in a cutting near Morsfelden; Bernd Rosemeyer was flung out into the trees and died instantly.
TYPE D: A MOST MAGNIFICENT RACE CAR
Tazio Nuvolari and Hans Stuck now vied for the role of the No. 1 driver at Auto Union. Highlights of this period were Nuvolari’s victories in Monza and Donington, and Stuck’s hill-climb successes. On September 3, 1939, Nuvolari won the race in Belgrade – just when war broke out: a grotesque end of an era of racing. These had been years when technology reached new heights and larger-than-life personalities dominated the scene – and when, with sparks of genius, Auto Union built racing cars.
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