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Auto Union was a joint venture of four German automobile manufacturers, established in 1932 in Zwickau, Saxony, during the Great Depression.
The trademark of Auto Union was a symbol of four overlapping rings, symbolizing the four member companies (all four in a line, in an attempt to avoid confusion with the 5 Olympic rings). The trademarks and company names of the member companies - Horch, Audi, DKW and Wanderer - were continued; the four ring logo was used only in racing. The four ring logo of Auto Union is still a trademark, and now used by Audi. They continued to market the two-stroke engined DKW brand until 1964.
It is best known for its racing team (Auto Union Rennabteilung, based in Zwickau), which was the main opponent of Mercedes-Benz in 1930s Grand Prix motor racing. The Silver Arrows of these two teams dominated not only 1930s car racing, but set records that would take decades to beat. For example, it took Formula One Grand Prix until the early 1980s to again reach the power levels of these cars.
The Auto Union racing cars
The Auto Union race cars were designed by the famous engineer Ferdinand Porsche; they were based on an earlier design he had done using a mid-engined layout similar to the famous 1923 Benz Tropfenwagen, or "Teardrop" aerodynamic design. (That unique car was built under the direction of Max Wagner, who was now at Daimler-Benz, and was raced by his current business partner, Adolf Rosenberger.)
The mid-engined cars, where the drivers sat in front of the engines, were unusual; it took 30 years until this concept, made famous in these cars, became generally adopted in motor racing. This was mostly because the cars were said to be hard to master, which was in part due to the swing axle rear suspension design initially adopted by Porsche (relatively advanced for its day, it is now utterly obsolete because of its many problems), although other factors (such as simple unfamiliarity with the very different handling characteristics) were also involved in creating that reputation.
The cars used supercharged engines that eventually produced almost 550 horse-power (which also contributed toward the handling difficulties, as it promoted the oversteer which the cars already had in abundance). The engine was originally the V16 engine that Porsche had started designing earlier; when, starting in 1938, the maximum engine displacement for Grand Prix cars was limited to 3 litres for blown engines, it became a V12. It was originally designed to 6 litre specifications, but would start at 4,360 cc and 295 bhp. It had two cylinder blocks, inclined at an angle of 45 degrees, with a single overhead camshaft to operate all 32 valves. The engine was designed to provide optimum torque at low engine speeds. (Bernd Rosemeyer later drove one around the Nürburgring in a single gear, to prove the engine was flexible enough to do it!)
The suspension would be all-independent but, unlike the Mercedes, would use parallel trailing arms and torsion bars at the front, while at the rear it initially used swing half-axles and a transverse leaf spring, the latter eventually being replaced by torsion bars, with radius arms added to absorb the torque. For the 3-litre V12 car, the rear suspension would be replaced with a de Dion suspension, following the lead of Mercedes-Benz but it was too late to do anything about the reputation the cars had gained.
The fuel tank was located in the center of the car, directly behind the driver (who would be placed well towards the front), so that the car's front-rear weight distribution would remain unchanged as the fuel was used - the exact same location used in modern open-wheel racing cars, and for the same reason. The chassis tubes were initially used as water carriers from the radiator to the engine, but this was eventually abandoned after they often sprung small leaks.
Much has been written about the difficult handling characteristics of this car, but its tremendous power and acceleration were undeniable - a driver could induce wheelspin at over 100 mph! A specialized hill climbing version of the car, equipped with dual rear wheels on each side to provide the traction needed to transfer this power, was built.
Additional work was needed on the car's cornering behavior; accelerating out of a corner would cause the inside rear wheel to spin furiously. This was much abated by the use of a Ferry Porsche innovation, a ZF manufactured limited slip differential, introduced at the end of the 1935 season. The body was subjected to strenuous testing in the wind tunnel of the German Institute for Aerodynamics.
This section only includes results of second or better.
The list of drivers for the initial 1934 season was headed by Hans Stuck; he won the German, Swiss and Czech Grand Prix races (as well as finishing second in the Italian and Eifel Grands Prix), along with wins in a number of hill-climb races, becoming European Mountain Champion. (There was no European Championship for the circuit races that year, or he would have won that too.) August Momberger placed second in the Swiss Grand Prix.
In 1935, the engine had been enlarged to five litres displacement, producing 370 bhp. Achille Varzi joined the team and won the Tunis Grand Prix and the Coppa Acerbo (along with placing second in the Tripoli Grand Prix). Stuck won the Italian Grand Prix (along with second at the German Grand Prix), plus his usual collection of hill-climb wins, again taking the European Mountain Championship. The new sensation, Bernd Rosemeyer, won the Czech Grand Prix (and managed a second at the Eifel Grand Prix and Coppa Acerbo).
For 1936, the engine had grown to the full 6 litres, and was now producing 520 bhp; in the hands of Rosemeyer and his team-mates, the Auto Union Type C dominated the racing world. Rosemeyer won the Eifel, German, Swiss and Italian Grands Prix and the Coppa Acerbo (as well as second in the Hungarian Grand Prix). He was crowned European Champion (Auto Union's only win of the driver's championship), and for good measure also took the European Mountain Championship. Varzi won the Tripoli Grand Prix (and took second at the Monaco, Milan and Swiss Grands Prix). Stuck placed second in the Tripoli and German Grands Prix, and Ernst von Delius took second in the Coppa Acerbo.
In 1937, the car was basically unchanged and did surprisingly well against the new Mercedes-Benz W125, winning 5 races to the 7 of Mercedes-Benz. Rosemeyer took the Eifel and Donington Grands Prix, the Coppa Acerbo, and the Vanderbilt Cup (and well as second in the Tripoli Grand Prix). Rudolf Hasse won the Belgian Grand Prix (Stuck placed second). von Delius managed second in the Avus Grand Prix.
In addition to the new 3-litre formula, 1938 brought other challenges, principally the death of Rosemeyer early in the year, in an attempt on the land speed record. The famed Tazio Nuvolari joined the team, and won the Italian and Donington Grands Prix, in what was otherwise a thin year for the team, other than yet another European Mountain Championship for Stuck.
In 1939, as war clouds gathered over Europe, Nuvolari won the Yugoslav Grand Prix in Belgrade (with a second place in the Eifel). Hermann P. Müller won the French Grand Prix (and took second in the German Grand Prix). Hasse managed a second place in the Belgian Grand Prix, and Georg Meier a second in the French.
Almost all of the original race cars were lost during or after World War II; after the war, since Auto Union was based in Zwickau, which was in East Germany, this contributed to the problem. One of the cars was brought to Moscow to study its technology. In 1976 the car was at the ZIL factory in Moscow and scheduled to be cut up for scrap metal. Victor Kulbergs, president of Antique Automobile Club of Latvia, brought it to Riga and in 1997 it was fully restored and rebuilt by Crostwaite & Gardiner in England. It is now on display at the Riga Motor Museum (Rīgas motormuzejs).
Audi has rebuilt some cars recently based upon remaining parts, plans and knowledge. A hill climbing version was recently rebuilt by the Audi factory, and toured the major car shows, driven by Hans Stuck Jr., son of the original driver Hans Stuck, and a long-time Audi race driver himself.
Auto Union after World War II
Auto Union's pre-war rival Daimler-Benz became owners for a period of time. Volkswagen then purchased Auto Union and, when they took control in 1964, the A-U name was dropped and only the Audi brand was used to denote cars manufactured by the Ingolstadt-based company. The official name was still "Audi NSU Auto-Union AG", which was simply shortened to "Audi AG" in 1985.
Auto Union clones
In 1947, Automobiltechnisches Büro (ATB) created the Typ 650 Formula Two racer in DDR, using the talents of chassis designer Otto Seidan and engine designer Walther Träger (both former Auto Union employees), along with spare Auto Union parts. As Awtowelo, it was successfully tested but never raced, and resembled the Type D. (It is a Typ 650 on display at the Donington museum marked Auto Union Type E.)
- Cameron C. Earl, Investigation into the Development of German Grand Prix Racing Cars Between 1934 and 1939, (HMSO, London, 1948; re-printed 1996) This is the definitive technical reference on these cars (albeit now hard to find)
- Cyril Posthumus, The 16-cylinder G.P. Auto Union (Profile Publications, Leatherhead, 1967)
- Ian Bamsey, Auto Union V16 Supercharged: A Technical Appraisal (Foulis, Yeovil, 1990)
- Leif Snellman, "The Early Auto Unions, From P-Wagen to A-type", at 8W.forix.com
- Holger Merten, "Auto Union--The History of the AU Racing Department, a Tryptych of Essays on the Saxonian Marque's Racing Exploits", at 8W.forix.com
- Jeroen Bruintjes, "Auto Union Type E--The Stillborn 1.5-litre car: Why it (Almost) did Exist", at 8W.forix.com
- In February 2007, a Auto Union D Type from Adolf Hitler will be sold by Christie's in Paris. The 1939 Auto Union D-Type, thought to be one of only two in existence, was created by Ferdinand Porsche after a personal request from Hitler. It is expected to become the most expensive car ever sold at auction.
C-Type Pedal Car For Kids
Auto Union logo
- Chris Nixon, Racing the Silver Arrows: Mercedes-Benz versus Auto Union 1934-1939 (Osprey, London, 1986)
- Jeroen Bruintjes and Holger Merten, "Sokol 650--Post-war Auto Union in Disguise or Socialist F2 effort? Secrets of Tom Wheatcroft's 'Type E' unveiled", at 8W.forix.com
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|August Horch||Audi Corporate Website||A member of the Auto Union|
- Grand Prix History, Die Silberpfeile
- Auto Union Type C
- Auto Union Type D
- The small workshop that created motor racing history (1931-1935)
- What's left of the Auto Unions?
- Many private photos of Auto Union cars on Flickr
- Photos of Auto Union D-type 1939 at WireImage.com - from the ARoS art expo in Denmark