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Auto UnionAfter leaving Steyr Professor Porsche established his own design firm in Stuttgart. The first person that he hired was his former Chief Designer Karl Rabe. Eventually the firm was staffed with fellow Austrians, long time associates of both Porsche and Rabe. Because of the economic situation in 1932, business was hard to come by but to Porsche it was an opportunity to design a racing car to the new formula devised in October of that year by the International Sports Commission. The formula stipulated a maximum weight of 750 kilos without oil, water, tires or driver. There were no limits on engine size or and superchargers were permitted. The formula was to apply to the years 1934 to 1936 but was eventually extended until the end of 1937. These were just the types of rules that Porsche liked, as it would foster the development of high power-to-weight cars. In November of that year his design team produced an outline of specifications regarding this new car that bore a striking resemblance to the future Auto-Union GP car: a V-16 engine, with the cylinders set at an included angle of 45 degrees; maximum rpm at first 4,500 (to be increased to 6,000), maximum speed of 182 mph, bore 68, stroke 75 mm, cubic capacity 4,358 cc, 7:1 compression ratio. Porsche established a new firm independent of the design office under the name of Hochleistungfahrzeugbau GmbH (High Performance Vehicle Construction Co. Ltd.), that would build and race the cars. Interestingly a sports car was also designed as a three-seater with the steering in the middle and the two passengers would sit on either side and slightly aft of the driver. This layout would be copied by the McLaren F1 sports car sixty years in the future!

Auto UnionDuring this same period a new firm was formed in response to the uncertain economic conditions. It comprised of the companies Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer. To promote this new company, the Board of Directors decided to go racing. All that was needed was a racecar and for this they turned to Professor Porsche. When they approached him with their proposal for a racecar he told them; "I’ve got it already here in my pocket." Adolf Hitler, the new German Chancellor, had promised to promote the German car industry and had given Mercedes 500,000 Reichmarks to go racing. Porsche, Auto Union Chairman Baron Klaus von Oertzen and racing driver Hans Stuck were able to convince Hitler to support a second team and the 500,000 would be split between Auto Union and Mercedes. What Mercedes thought of this change of events can well be imagined, though the fact that the name of Ferdinand Porsche was involved must have given them pause. Originally the car was know as the P-Wagen and was built at the Horch works in Zwickau.

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750-Kilo Formula
16-Cylinder Auto-Union Racing Engine





Cubic Capacity (cc)





Stroke x Bore (mm)

75 x 68

75 x 72.5

85 x 75

85 x 77

Supercharger Boost (atmospheres)





Compression Ratio





Output (bhp)










Torque (lb/ft)





Output per Liter (bhp/liter)





Piston Speed (ft/min)





Fuel Consumption:   3 – 4 miles per gallon

In November of 1933 the first car broke cover on local roads just outside the factory gates before being taken to the Nurburgring where Willy Walb, the first team manager, drove it. The following March it was taken to Avus, the high speed circuit near Berlin. Hans Stuck was the driver this time and promptly set three new World Records.

Auto Union Type CThe first major race under the new formula for the German cars was the Avus GP in May. Both Mercedes and Auto Union were there along with the usual assortment of Bugattis, Maseratis and of course Alfa Romeos. After suffering some mechanical problems during practice the Mercedes team cars were withdrawn, after the race the Auto Union team may have wished to had done the same. There were three Auto Unions for Prince zu Leiningen, August Momberger and Hans Stuck. Stuck surged into the lead at the start of the race and after the first lap he had a one-minute lead over Louis Chiron. It was as if he was in a race by himself but after lap 12 he was out with clutch failure. The Alfas of Guy Moll and Achille Varzi beat the Auto Union of Momberger over the line but notice had been served. The next race was the Eifel GP at the Nurburgring and the German cars tasted first blood with the Mercedes of von Brauchitsch leading the Auto Union of Hans Stuck. The most important race of the calendar was still the French Grand Prix, but the race turned into a disaster for both Mercedes and Auto Union when all of the German cars retired. The German GP was next and with it came the first victory for Auto Union when Hans Stuck beat the Mercedes of Luigi Fagioli.

Auto Union shopProfessor Porsche attended almost every race of the first season and would study the race reports and film taken of his cars. Professor Eberan-Eberhorst helped develop a special on-board recording instrument that plotted various parameters such as car speed, engine speed, shifting and breaking points.

Auto UnionAfter a rough start the year finished quite well for Auto Union and Hans Stuck with victories in Switzerland and Czechoslovakia in addition to the aforementioned German GP. With Han Stuck at the wheel they also won several hillclimbs including Schauinsland, Kesselberg, Feldberg and Mont Ventoux. Against the Mercedes driver line-up of Caracciola, Fagioli and von Brauchitsch Auto Union only had Stuck with remotely comparable experience.

Auto Union was also heavily involved with speed attempts producing several special models with enclosed streamlined bodies. In 1934 Stuck achieved seven World records in the 3 – 5 liter class. The team utilized extensive testing in the wind tunnel at the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt in Berlin even employing side skirts to improve aerodynamic downdraft.

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The Auto Union originally used the chassis tubes as water carriers but due to chassis flexing water was leaking from tiny cracks in the welds. After attempts to fix the problem were made by way of additional bracing and different tube profiles the practice was abandoned.

Auto Union icon For 1935 Hans Stuck was joined by the great Italian driver Achille Varzi. Later that year they were joined by Bernd Rosemeyer. The year saw more success for the team from Zwickau. Stuck won in Monza in addition to two hillclimbs while Varzi was victorious in Tunis. But Mercedes led the way and the inaugural European Championship went to Rudolf Caracciola. A modification was made to the car, which would have profound impact the following year. Ferry Porsche; the Professor’s son and a talented engineer in his own right discovered that when accelerating out of a corner the inside rear wheel would spin furiously. Having also experienced a similar problem with their road cars they had ZF in Stuttgart build a new limited-slip differential for their racecars. This modification and the brilliance of their new star Rosemeyer resulted in Auto Union’s greatest season. Rosemeyer would also claim the European championship for his own that year. Auto Union’s domination was so great that Mercedes actually pulled out of the last few races in order to overhaul their entire organization. Arrayed against Rosemeyer for 1937 was a Mercedes team of Caracciola, von Brauchitsch, Lang and Dick Seaman.

Auto UnionPorsche’s contract with Auto Union ended with the 1937 season and the team was now headed by Professor Eberan-Eberhorst. The pressure would begin to tell on the brilliant young driver and in January of 1938 he would die while trying to regain the speed record from Caracciola and Mercedes. Auto Union would never fully recover from this tragedy though they did win three more races in the next two years with Muller and the incomparable Nuvolari.

While Mercedes had more total victories than Auto Union the latter team raced with a budget only half the size of the former. Ferry Porsche would later comment that as far as he was concerned Mercedes’ one clear advantage was their team manager, Alfred Neubauer. That while Auto Union was ably served by Willy Walb and later Dr Karl Feuereissen there was only one Don Alfredo! You could easily add Rudolf Uhlenhaut to the list as a distinct advantage for Mercedes. Not only a brilliant development engineer he could also drive the cars at racing speeds. Mercedes also had two groups of drivers those that were what he called the gentleman drivers like Caracciola and von Brauchitsch and the ones that graduated from their mechanics like Lang while at Auto Union none of their mechanics became racing drivers. On an ironic note while Auto Union became famous for their rear-engined racing cars they never produced a production car with the same layout.

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