Auto Union raced the Type D in less than two grand prix racing seasons. But there’s no question it was a highly successful car.
The Type D made its debut in the middle of the 1938 season. Then, the outbreak of World War II truncated the 1939 season.
The Type D achieved a measure of success immediately. In its first race, the 1938 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Hans Stuck drove a Type D to a podium finish – third place. Later in the season, Tazio Nuvolari drove a Type D to victory in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and the Donington Grand Prix at Doningtom Park in England.
Then in 1939, Hermann Muller won the French Grand Prix en route to the “unofficial” European Championship.
AICAR (Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus) was the forerunner of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile), now the worldwide governing body of motorsport.
Due to the outbreak of World War II, AICAR did not declare a champion driver for 1939. When racing ended, Muller was leading in the standings.
Thus, the Type D arguably matched its predecessor by carrying a driver to a championship. In 1936, Bernd Rosemeyer drove the Auto Union Type C to the AICAR European Championship.
A handful of factors may have contributed to the Type D not being ready for the start of the 1938 grand prix season.
First, as the replacement for the Type C, the Type D was a new car built to adhere to a new formula. The Type D’s V12 engine was the maximum size — 3.0 liters — allowed with a supercharger. Different sources state that the car’s top speed was 185 or 205 miles per hour.
Another factor may have been that the contract of Professor Ferdinand Porsche was not renewed for 1938. Porsche had designed the cars since Auto Union began racing in 1934. His long-time protégé, Professor Robert Eberan von Eberhorst, designed the Type D.
Lastly, tragedy struck in January 1938. Auto Union’s top grand prix driver, Rosemeyer, was killed while trying to set a world land speed record on the Frankfurt-Darmstadt Autobahn. He lost control of an Auto Union Type C Stromlinienwagen (streamliner) and did not survive the ensuing crash.
While preparing for the attempt on the speed record, Auto Union had to devote manpower to the Type C Stromlinienwagen that otherwise would have been devoted to the Type D.
1938 Grand Prix Season
Auto Union intended to race two Type Ds in the first championship race of the 1938 season, the French Grand Prix on July 3 at Reims-Gueux. But both cars were crashed in practice.
Muller’s car was destroyed. And the car driven by Rudolf Hasse was slightly damaged. Auto Union ended up racing two Type C/Ds — 1937 cars with a 3.0-liter engine that conformed to the new formula.
The debut of the Type D occurred in the second championship race, the German Grand Prix on July 24 at the Nurburgring. As mentioned earlier, Stuck finished third. Nuvolari also drove a Type D, but was involved in an accident on the second lap and retired from the race. (A Type C/D driven by Muller finished fourth.)
The first win for the Type D came in the fourth and final championship race. Nuvolari won the Italian Grand Prix on September 11 at Monza. Muller also was in line for a strong finish. However, he was forced to retire when his car developed engine trouble with three laps to go.
Nuvolari scored another win in a Type D in 1938, taking the final race of the season, the non-championship Donington Grand Prix on October 22 at DoningtonPark in England.
1939 Grand Prix Season
As mentioned earlier, Muller was the unofficial champion driver in 1939. His finishes in the championship races were a win in the French Grand Prix (at Reims-Gueux), second place in the German Grand Prix (at the Nurburgring) and fourth place in the Swiss Grand Prix (at Bremgarten).
Muller began the other championship race — the Belgian Grand Prix (at Spa-Francorchamps) — on pole. But he retired from the race, which was run in the rain, on lap 26 due to valve trouble in the engine.
Also in 1939, the Type D was driven to victory in two lesser grands prix. Stuck won the Bucharest Grand Prix in Bucharest, Rumania. And Nuvolari won the Belgrade Grand Prix in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
It is safe to call the Bucharest race a “lesser” grand prix because Stuck’s Type D raced against sports cars. And it’s safe to call the Belgrade race a “lesser” grand prix because there were only five cars in the field. Four were grand prix cars – two Type Ds and two Mercedes-Benz W154s. The Type Ds, driven by Nuvolari and Muller, finished first and third, respectively.
The Belgrade Grand Prix is historically significant because it was the only grand prix that took place in Europe during World War II. The race was contested on September 3, 1939. Two days earlier, the war began with Germany invading Poland.
The Belgrade Grand Prix also was the last race for Auto Union. The Auto Union factory was located in Zwickau, Saxony in eastern Germany. As World War II wound down in Europe, Soviet Union forces advanced on Germany from the east. The Auto Union cars were “captured” and taken back to the Soviet Union for study.
Auto Union Type D at Auction
In February 2007, the prestigious auction house Christie’s had a Type D available in its “Retromobile” auction of antique automobiles. It was initially advertised as the car that won the 1939 French Grand Prix (driven by Muller) and the 1939 Belgrade Grand Prix (driven by Nuvolari) and was expected to fetch a new record price for a car at auction, up to $12 million.
After questions arose regarding the car’s racing heritage, Christie’s withdrew the Type D from the auction to conduct additional research along with Audi Tradition, a division of Audi AG charged with exemplifying, maintaining and communicating the rich heritage of Audi AG and its predecessor companies.
Audi was one of the four member companies of Auto Union, along with DKW, Wanderer and Horch. They formed the foundation of the company that today is Audi AG. The same four-ring logo that was used on Auto Union race cars is used today on cars produced by Audi AG
The result of the research was that the car was the Type D (chassis 19) that finished sixth in the 1939 French Grand Prix (driven by Stuck) and fifth in the 1939 Eifelrennen (driven by Hasse). Auto Union opened its 1939 season by entering four cars in the Eifelrennen, a non-championship race that took place at the Nurburgring.
Christie’s believed the change in racing heritage would not negatively impact the price the Type D would fetch due to its ultra-rarity.
The Type D, which Christie’s believed to be the only Auto Union to which grand prix racing results can be attributed, was placed in a closed-bid auction in March 2007. However, the car did not change hands.
At that time, Christie’s said the Type D would be put back up for auction in the future. In January 2009, this writer sent an E-mail to Christie’s asking about the stats of the car. A Christie’s spokesperson wrote in return that there is now no plan to put the car back up for auction.
For more information, please see this writer’s article, “The Story of the Auto Union Type D at Auction,” on Associated Content. The link is http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1500859/the_story_of_the_1939_auto_union_type.html?cat=14.