Motorsport royalty

Eight decades ago the Auto Union Type C cars set the standard by which race cars were measured.

They were all-conquering in their day – cars and drivers who set the pace of world motorsport in the 1930s. Now 80 years on, the Auto Union Type C cars and the men who drove them have become the stuff of motorsport legend.

14 March, 2016

It was a golden era of motorsport, of titanic battles, new records and automotive heroes – and the Auto Union Type C race car was the one to beat. Exactly 80 years ago, the torpedo-like Type C completely dominated motorsport, winning the European Championship and turning young racing driver Bernd Rosemeyer into a household name in the process.

A former motorcycle racer, Rosemeyer became a works driver for Auto Union in 1935 and won his first Grand Prix for the brand in that year on the Masrykring near Brno in what was then known as Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). But this was just a taste of what was to come, when in the following year he absolutely dominated the sport in what has come to be known as the ‘Silberpfei’ era – the German word Silberpfeil translating as Silver Arrow.

No one could touch Rosemeyer and in the 1936 season he drove the monstrous 16-cylinder Audi Union Type C race car to victory in no less than seven races, including three of the ‘big four’ Grand Prix that counted towards the European Championship.

By the end of the season, not only had he comfortably taken out the European Championship title, but was also the German Road Champion and German Hill Climb Champion into the bargain.

Rosemeyer’s star burnt brightly and he went on to set a number of world speed records for the brand in 1937, including becoming the fist man to break 400km/h on an ordinary road – driving his Auto Union car on the Frankfurt to Darmstadt autobahn. Sadly his life was cut short during another record attempt in 1938 driving a specially built 16-cylinder Streamliner producing a massive 545 horsepower (or 406.5kW in today’s figures). After the accident, the Chemnitz-based Auto Union AG cancelled its speed record program, but his courageous drives will never be forgotten.

A monument at the site of his final accident has become a place of pilgrimage for motorsport fans from around the world. The famous Auto Union Type C race car which has become synonymous with Rosemeyer can still be seen and heard by fans as the faithfully built replica of this famous car makes several select appearances courtesy of Audi Tradition. 

This year Audi Tradition will bring the replica of this racing car to the Goodwood Festival of Speed (June 23 to 26) in England and the Classic Days show at Dyck Castle near Düsseldorf (August 5 to 7). And the Auto Union Type C will also be running at the historic Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb in England (July 16 to 17). Bernd Rosemeyer’s teammate Hans Stuck won this race 80 years ago.