Milestones in Speed - Power

Don Sherman Matthew Phenix David Yochum
Ian Dawson Getty Images IMS Photo
David Johnson

> Bernd Rosemeyer
Der Führer succinctly summed it up: "Absolute world records on water and on land - that suits our propaganda."

Bernd Rosemeyer was Hitler's Aryan poster child - a blonde-haired, blue-eyed champion and the husband of another German celebrity, Elly Beinhorn, the first woman to circumnavigate the earth in an aircraft.

With hopes of eventually seizing the land speed record from the British, Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz began attacking class records in 1934 before and after the grand prix racing season. Rosemeyer's shot at glory came in '37. Whizzing along a closed half of the Frankfurt-Darmstadt autobahn in June, he broke seven records with a maximum speed of 242 mph for the flying mile. That set the stage for October's official record week.

Fully enclosed bodywork was the order of the day, both for the Formula Libre race at Avus, where Rosemeyer had lapped at just under 173 mph, and for the fall record runs. Arriving with four 1937 victories under his belt, Rosemeyer drove a 6.3-liter V-16 making 545 hp and had Ferdinand Porsche to wave off his runs. Mercedes driver Rudolf Caracciola countered with a 736-hp, 5.6-liter V-12 and one major impediment: bodywork that lifted his front wheels off the ground above 237 mph, a phenomenon drivers called "aviating." Both streamliners wore swastikas.

Rosemeyer won the race to 250 mph, setting two world and thirteen class records with three Auto Unions, but it was no cakewalk. On the second day of runs, exhaust fumes infiltrated his cockpit and he nearly passed out. Describing the sensation of rifling through underpasses on 25-foot-wide pavement, Rosemeyer reported, "The side blasts of air [I] felt when going through the bridges demand instant reactions . . . The strain of a ten-mile attempt is, therefore, greater than that of a grand prix, even though it only lasts about two minutes and forty seconds."

> Ferdinand Porsche
An accomplished tinkerer during his youth, Prof. Dr. Ing. h.c. Ferdinand Porsche served several automakers as an engineer and was instrumental in the designs of the Mercedes-Benz S and SSK models. In 1931, he set up his own Stuttgart design firm and soon landed the commission for the thundering Auto Union grand prix cars. Also in that decade, he adapted his own Volkswagen Beetle prototype to run with an aerodynamic coupe body, an exercise that, after World War II, resulted in the Porsche 356 and its enduring progeny, the 911. His son Ferry Porsche continued the company's development in the postwar era.

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