extracted from its increasingly exotic fuel
mixes, was a formidable weapon.
Auto Union couldn’t afford to match
such commitment for a single season.
Besides, not every board member was
convinced by Porsche’s theories; an
outsider at a company comprised of four
companies, his contract was up at the end
of the year and would not be renewed.
Yet still his car remained competitive –
in Rosemeyer’s hands at least.
Auto Union had been the poor relation
from the start. It fabricated, whereas
Mercedes-Benz forged. Its staff multi-tasked, whereas every man at M-B knew his
role by rote. It thought laterally, whereas
Mercedes plowed remorselessly ahead.
Tazio Nuvolari was
lured out of a brief
retirement to lead
Auto Union in
the 3-liter era of
1938-’ 39. His win
in the ’ 39 Belgrade
Grand Prix came
two days after the
start of World War II.
high-stress, high-revving, high-octane
element, the Auto Union remained
competitive – in Tazio Nuvolari’s hands at
least. The Italian was the only possible
worthy replacement for Rosemeyer, who’d
suffered a fatal accident at the first event
from which Porsche was absent. Just saying.
Had Rosemeyer survived his 270mph
tank-slapper on the Frankfurt-Darmstadt
autobahn that blustery January day, and
had Porsche not been offered a role by
Daimler-Benz – keep your enemies closer...
– and had the “miniaturized” 1.5-liter
Voiturette GP formula, with its increased
emphasis on efficiency, lightness and
packaging, come into play in 1940, surely
even M-B would have had to put the horse
behind the cart sooner rather than later.
The rightness of Porsche’s approach
with Auto Union possessed an inevitability
that misinformed conformists – and a
global conflict – could only delay...as John
Cooper so ably demonstrated at the
highest level some two decades later.
It was a special forces unit holding its own
against an army because its weapon was
more advanced and because it strove
resourcefully to keep in check the problems
that advancement undoubtedly caused it.
With Porsche gone, the subsequent
Type D for 1938-’ 39’s blown 3-liter
formula (normally-aspirated 4.5-liter cars
were also catered for, but were rarely more
than also-rans) remained mid/rear-engined, but softened some of his cutting
edges: driver further back in the frame,
side fuel tanks, and a de Dion rear
suspension that provided extra stability,
particularly in a straight line, albeit at the
cost of independence. Like the W125 and
its successors, it was a basic understeerer.
Set against a Mercedes-Benz now in its
“Auto Union had been the poor
relation from the start. It fabricated,
whereas Mercedes-Benz forged”
For an engineer, both electrical and
mechanical, whose academic honors
were precisely that – honorary –
Professor Ferdinand Porsche achieved
an incredible and diverse amount in his
75 years: from a petrol-electric hybrid
(in 1900) to the heaviest tank (that
never went into production), via
prescient sporting success and
important work on aero engines.