Published August 10, 2012
Well advanced compared to their competition, the Grand Prix cars launched in the early 1930s by Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union, nicknamed the “Silver Arrows” because of their unpainted aluminum bodies, are the stuff of legends. The cars were considerably faster than other Grand Prix racers of the day, sometimes reaching speeds in excess of 230 mph, and by 1937 they were making close to 600 horsepower, a feat that would not be duplicated in Grand Prix racing until the 1980s.
One of the most beautiful of these was the Auto Union Type D, an example of which has just been recovered by Audi, the Auto Union in its present form. The particular example is a twin-supercharger version developed and raced in 1939.
World War II put an abrupt end to what had become known as the supercharger era. Mercedes-Benz was able to rescue almost all of its Silver Arrow cars after Germany’s total collapse, but fate was less kind to the Auto Union. The area where the Auto Union cars were stored, Zwickau, was occupied by the Soviet Army, which claimed the cars as part of Germany’s reparation payments.
Only one Auto Union Type C was eventually recovered; it had been presented to the Deutsches Museum in Munich before the start of the Cold War but was later damaged in a bomb attack there.
At the end of the 1970, the first rumors were heard to the effect that one of the long lost Auto Union racing cars had been located somewhere in Russia. Paul Karassik, an American collector of historic cars, came to Europe with his wife Barbara, whose family came from Germany, and began to search for the car.
After a decade-long search, Karassik, relying on family contacts in Russia, finally managed to track down the remains of two dismantled Auto Union cars, one in Russia and the other in the Ukraine. The list of parts included engines, chassis, axles and gearboxes, all of which were then flown to Florida, where Karassik was living at the time.
In 1990 Karassik called on some expect authenticators, including the people at Audi’s official vehicle restoration department Audi Tradition, which acted as advisors for the planned restoration. The Karassiks entrusted the rebuilding of their racing cars to Brit firm 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 specification, and a Type D racing car in the 1939 version with twin supercharger. In both cases a complete replica body had to be constructed since none of the original body panels survived.
In August 1993 the first of the two racing cars, the one rebuilt to 1938 specification, was completed. A year later the twin-supercharger 1939 car was also ready for roll-out. With support from Audi, both cars appeared on the starting line for the first time since 1939: at the Eifel Classic at the Nürburgring on October 1, 1994.
Audi managed to purchase the 1938 specification car in 1998, and now the automaker has finally acquired the 1939 twin-supercharger example. Audi is now in procession of three of the original Auto Union Silver Arrows, the two Karassik cars and the previous Type C previously returned to it.