Rare Audi Silver Arrow comes home
It is "one of the most emotional moments in our heritage work for Audi," Audi Tradition head Thomas Frank says. "We have come full circle."
Just a few weeks ago, Audi was able to repurchase a rare Auto Union twin-supercharger Type D dating from 1939. It is one of the two legendary "Karassik cars" and Audi now owns three of the five Auto Union racing cars that can claim to be original.
The Silver Arrow legend was born in the 1930s. In 1934, Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz appeared on the international motor-racing scene with German racing cars of a totally new design, with a silver finish and futuristic appearance, and they were immediately successful.
Whereas Mercedes-Benz relied on conventional front engines, Auto Union placed the engine behind the driver - a layout that was re-adopted for Formula 1 by Cooper in the late 1950s.
In the 30s, the two German Silberfeile ("Silver Arrow") manufacturers dominated racing on Europe's Grand Prix circuits without serious opposition until the outbreak of World War II in 1939.
The 16-cylinder and 12-cylinder racing cars from Zwickau and Stuttgart captured one title after another, almost as if no other cars were competing.
Drivers such as Bernd Rosemeyer, Tazio Nuvolari and Hans Stuck (Auto Union), Rudolf Caracciola, Manfred von Brauchitsch and Hermann Lang (Mercedes-Benz) are still acknowledged as heroes by modern motor-sport enthusiasts: they often reached speeds of more than 300 kilometres an hour in races devoid of any serious safety precautions. On the long straits of the Avus circuit in Berlin in 1937, Rosemeyer's car was timed at 380kmh.
World War II put an abrupt end to what had become known as the supercharger era. Mercedes-Benz was able to rescue almost all its Silver Arrow cars after Germany's defeat, but fate was less kind to Auto Union.
Zwickau was occupied by the Soviet Army, Auto Union was liquidated and the factories were shut down.
The Russian occupying forces found the Silver Arrows where they had been stored: in a mine building above ground.
The cars were carried off to the Soviet Union as part of Germany's reparation payments, and all trace of them was soon lost in that vast country.
The vehicles were thus regarded as irretrievably lost by the modern Audi company when it was established in Ingolstadt in 1949.
The Cold War had already begun and the Iron Curtain was firmly in place. Only one Auto Union Type C remained accessible. It had been presented to the Deutsches Museum in Munich before the war, but was later damaged in a bomb attack.
At the end of the 1970, rumours were heard to the effect that one of the long-lost Auto Union racing cars had been located somewhere in the Soviet Union.
Paul Karassik, an American collector of high-class classic vehicles, came to Europe with his wife, Barbara, whose family came from Germany, and began to search for the car.
As a small boy, he had been a spectator in Belgrade at the last Grand Prix beforeWorld War II. It was an unforgettable experience.
Later, after emigrating to the United States and becoming a wealthy man, it proved to be useful to him in his search that he came from a White Russian family, had grown up in Serbia and spoke fluent Russian. It took more than 10 years and many visits to the Soviet Union before he tracked down the remains of two dismantled Auto Union cars in Russia and the Ukraine and, with great negotiating skill, was able to buy them.
This was followed by several hair- raising journeys, often at the wheel of a delivery van, before he was able to bring the parts out through the Iron Curtain to Western Europe.
The engines, chassis, axles and gearboxes were then flown to Florida in the US. In the autumn of 1990, Karassik made initial contact with experts, at Audi's Tradition department, for the planned restoration.
The Karassiks entrusted the rebuilding of their racing cars to the English company Crosthwaite & Gardiner, which already possessed the extensive know-how needed for the restoration of historic racing cars.
After detailed examination of the racing cars' components, it was decided to rebuild a Type D single-supercharger racing car to 1938 specifications, and a 1939 version with a twin supercharger.
In both cases, a complete replica body had to be constructed, since no parts of the original bodies had survived.
Rod Jolley Coachbuilding built the new bodies in England. In August 1993, the first of the two racing cars, the one rebuilt to 1938 specifications, was completed.
A year later, the twin-supercharger 1939 car was also ready and, with support from Audi, both cars appeared on the starting line for the first time since 1939: at the Eifel Classic at the Nurburgring on October 1, 1994.
In recognition of its support during the rebuilding project, Audi was able to exhibit the 1938 car in the years that followed and it was officially bought by the company in July 1998. The 1939 twin-compressor car returned to Florida.
In the spring of 2000, Karassik sold the second car to a private collector: in 1999 he had hoped to see this Auto Union run again in Belgrade, 60 years after the last Grand Prix held there, but the Balkan War put an end to this dream.
After buying the Type D twin supercharger, Audi now owns all three Auto Unions recovered from the former Soviet Union.
Frank is delighted. "Twenty years ago we would never have dreamt that such a thing would be possible."
The collection also includes the hill-climb car driven by Hans Stuck, the Auto Union Type C/D.
This was on show at the Car Museum in Riga, Latvia, until just after the demise of the Soviet Union, and today is one of the outstanding exhibits at the Audi museum mobile in Ingolstadt.
This is also where Audi plans to display the Auto Union Type D long term.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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