Great Rivalries: Auto Union vs Mercedes Benz

August 27, 2009
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In 1933, German chancellor Adolf Hitler promised Mercedes-Benz the 500,000-reichsmark (approximately $3 million today) incentive offered to any German racing team willing to campaign a car in the new grand prix era beginning the following year. To the Führer's chagrin, Ferdinand Porsche stepped forward to request equal treatment. Porsche presented drawings of a supercharged V-16 engine ideal for propagandizing Germany's technical eminence and nominated the Auto Union combine as Mercedes-Benz's sparring partner. Hitler's resolution - an equal split of the sponsorship largesse - triggered the Age of Titans, one of the fiercest rivalries in motorsports history.
The new-for-1934 grand prix formula was intended to curb speeds by limiting the maximum (not the usual minimum) car weight to 750 kilos (1654 pounds, not including tires and liquids). Rules writers expected the incumbent Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, and Maserati teams to field 3.0-liter engines producing about 200 hp. What they got was a major surprise. Before the 750-kilo era ended in 1937, the two German teams pummeled rivals - and each other - with supercharged engines that topped 6.0 liters and 500 hp. The lighter materials, exotic fuels, suspension advancements, and streamlining implemented by these so-called silver arrows fostered 200-mph racing speeds.
Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union butted heads on forty-seven occasions between 1934 and 1939, with the front-engine Mercedes cars from Stuttgart winning twenty-eight times versus eighteen victories for the mid-engine team from Chemnitz. Both teams were trumped but once, when an unstoppable Tazio Nuvolari triumphed in the 1935 German Grand Prix in an Alfa Romeo campaigned by Scuderia Ferrari.
The heroic Germans fought equally hard in mountain-climb and speed-record venues. Over six seasons, Mercedes won three climbs and shattered seventeen speed records, versus seventeen climb victories and forty-one speed records achieved by the Auto Union team.


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