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Tim's Forza History Class

Auto Union Type D

By Tim DeLong- 10-07-2015

For this history class installment, we’re reaching back, way back, to 1939. The 1939 Audi Auto Union Type D was the fourth and final product of a design program to test the limits of Germany’s automotive prowess. Wanting to show the world that Germany was at the forefront of automotive design and technology, Chancellor Adolf Hitler commissioned Germany’s top automakers to construct race cars for grand prix competition. With Germany’s automotive industry struggling, four of the top brands (Audi, DKW, Horch, and Wanderer) merged to create Auto Union. This new venture would go head to head with Germany’s established automaker, Mercedes Benz. Both company would receive monetary support from the state to further their development. The cars from this era were known as the “Silver Arrows”, silver being the national racing color of Germany. Yes, countries had official racing colors back then.

To design their racer, Audi employed Dr. Ferdinand Porsche. The “P-Wagens”, as they were affectionately known by the staff, were very advanced for the time. Such things as a mid engined layout and wind-tunnel testing, were not common in the pre-war racing era. The rules, or formula, that the builders had to follow was a maximum weight of only 750kg (1650lbs). Keep in mind that this was decades before the development of lightweight composite materials.

The Type D and its predecessors were known for their understeer, which, as Turn 10 accurately replicates, makes them a handful to drive. The 478 hp, 406 ft. lbs of torque from the supercharged V12 wants to push the Type D through every corner. I’ve found that the steering wheel is more of a suggestion to the car as to where you want to go, but it’s the throttle that actually points the nose in the right direction.

The men that piloted these machines were brave beyond measure. The racing suits were far from fireproof, their helmets were thin metal, or even just leather caps, there were no belts or restraints of any kind, and the tall, hard, skinny tires meant you had only about a 4 inch square tread patch at each corner making contact with the road, not exactly grippy.  

Auto Union employed some of the best racing drivers of the era. The most successful of these drivers was Hans Stuck whose son Hans-Joachim Stuck would also become a talented racing driver for Audi in the 1980’s and 90’s. Two driver’s lost their lives in P-Wagens. the young Ernst von Delius, in a crash in the 1937 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring and Bernd Rosemeyer who crashed while setting a land speed record in a streamlined P-wagen, on the Autobahn roadway. Rosemeyer managed a top speed of 429.6 km/h (266.9 mph) before his fateful accident.


Once war broke out, the cars were hidden in a cave near the factory. Russian troops discovered the cars and took them back to Moscow.  The Russians dismantled the cars in hopes of learning Germany’s engineering methods. Most of the cars were scrapped after being dissected.

The few cars that remain are on display at the Audi museum in Ingolstadt, Germany. The cars, and some exact replicas, built by Audi, also make appearances at vintage racing events such as, The Goodwood festival of speed.  



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