Auto Union’s legendary “Silver Arrow”
The “Silver Arrows” Mercedes and Auto Union Grand Prix cars that dominated the racing tracks in the 30s and 40s are the stuff of automotive myth.
A heady mix of design and engineering genius, true racing pedigree and extreme rarity makes these vehicles the holy grail of classic car collectors. Add the spice of pre-war intrigue and the glamour of drivers such as Hans Stuck and Tazio Nuvolare, and you have enough to make most enthusiasts swoon with delight.
The making of the “Silver Arrows”
These days we know Audi are a carmaker typified by Vorsprung durch Technik, but back in the 1930s its predecessor, Auto Union, was already leading the way in technology. It all began when then Chancellor Adolf Hitler offered 500,000 Reichsmark to any manufacturer that could help Germany beat the legendary British Bentleys, French Bugattis and Italian Alfa Romeos.
In an era personified by Hans Stuck and Professor Ferdinand Porsche, the engineering genius who invented the Volkswagen Beetle and would later give his name to another sports car classic, Mercedes and Auto Union took up the challenge. In using an innovative new mid-engined configuration in which the driver sat in front of the engine and fuel tanks, Porsche created what is effectively the first of all modern Grand Prix cars.
Even now, 70 years later, the concept remains largely the same, although the technology has of course improved considerably, but in its day the Auto Union, itself the result of a fusion of Audi, Wanderer, DKW and Horch, was the epitome of advanced engineering. Powered by the supercharged 4.3 litre V16 engine, and featuring all-round independent suspension, it broke the red, green and blue domination of Alfa, Bentley and Bugatti to herald in an era dominated by the “Silver Arrows”, so called because these large cylindrical looking bolides carried the silver racing colours of Germany.
In fact, throughout most of the 1930s and 40s Auto Union’s only serious competition came from Mercedes. Even a change to the 1938 formula, when engine capacity was restricted to 3 litres, did not break the German monopoly, as Porsche’s former understudy Prof. Dr. Ing. Eberan von Eberhorst made the necessary adjustments to produce a magnificent supercharged V12 triple overhead camshaft engine capable of producing 485bhp and a top speed of 185mph (295km/h).
By 1939, Auto Union had perfected the type, culminating in the exquisite D-Type that swept all before it in the hands of the legendary Tazio Nuvolare. The most famous of his wins was in Belgrade on September 3rd, 1939—the very day Great Britain and France declared war on Germany.
Soon, the racing would be overshadowed by war, and many of these magnificent vehicles disappeared or became extremely hard to trace afterwards.
Over the years, a long list of sumptuous classic cars has graced the stage at Christie’s annual Paris Retromobile auction, but the coming edition on February 17th is likely to be one of the most memorable of all, as the prime lot involves one Auto Union, the most legendary automobiles of all time.
The model on auction now, the most complete example ever found, was discovered by American car specialists Paul and Barbara Karassik, who had it painstakingly renovated by world renowned British restorers Crosthwaite and Gardiner.
The result is a magnificent classic car in pristine condition whose provenance, history, originality and significance make it a vital piece of automotive history, as well as a high point in car design and engineering. Don’t be surprised if this unique lot breaks Christie’s own world record £5.5 million for a motorcar.
The classic Auto Union Grand Prix racing car on auction at Christie’s Paris Retromobile this February 17th is considered the Holy Grail by car collectors. It is the finest example of the legendary “Silver Arrows” that dominated the racing scene in the 1930s and 1940s, when German Mercedes and Auto Unions driven by Hans Stuck and Tazio Nuvolare, and engineered by Professor Ferdinand Porsche and Prof. Dr. Ing. Eberan von Eberhorst, swept all before them. These vehicles are extremely rare, but this model was found by classic car specialists Paul and Barbara Karassik, and lovingly renovated by world-renowned restorers Crosthwaite and Gardiner. It has the potential to break Christie’s own world record of £5.5 million for a motorcar.