Audi AG now owns all three Auto Union Silver Arrow cars that had been dismantled, stored and then finally recovered in the former Soviet Union (USSR).
The legendary 16-cylinder and 12-cylinder Silver Arrows from the Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz dominated European racing in the 1930s after smashing the competition with their innovative design and mind-blowing performance.
Driven by racing legends such as Hans Stuck, Bernd Rosemeyer and Tazio Nuvolari for Auto Union and Manfred von Brauchitsch, Hermann Lang and Rudolf Caracciola for Mercedes-Benz, the Silver Arrows cars were capable of speeds beyond 300km/h. In 1937, at the famous Avus circuit in Berlin, Bernd Rosemeyer’s car was clocked at a staggering 380km/h.
But the Auto Union cars were fundamentally different to the front-engine examples from Mercedes-Benz, instead, preferring to position a rear-engine layout. After repositioning the rear air scoop to make way for a second supercharger, power was boosted from 420bhp (314kW) to 485bhp (362kW).
While Mercedes-Benz was able to recover most of its Silver Arrow cars, the Zwickau-based Auto Union racers were confiscated by the Russians as part of Germany’s reparation payments to them during their occupation and subsequent closure of the factory.
The cars remained in pieces in the Soviet Union for years until rumours surfaced in 1970 that the missing Silver Arrow cars had been discovered there.
The task of retrieving the cars was left to Paul Karassik, an American car collector who had been born in Russia but raised in Serbia and spoke fluent Russian. Karassik came to Europe with his wife Barbara to locate the cars.
After more than ten years and numerous trips to the USSR, the Karassik’s eventually tracked down the Auto Union cars in Russia and the Ukraine – still lying in pieces.
But this was the era of the Cold War making trips through the Iron Curtain to Western Europe in a delivery van was risky business. However, Karassik succeeded in transporting the engines, gearboxes and axles, which he then had shipped to the United States where the Silver Arrow cars could be restored.
In 1991, English company, Crosthwaite & Gardiner was selected by Karassik to carry out the restoration programme along with advice from various experts including the Audi AG Tradition department.
After examining the various parts found in Russia and the Ukraine, it was decided to rebuild a Type D single supercharger car to 1938 specifications, and a 1939 twin-supercharged Type D.
Unfortunately, and in both cases, bodies for both cars were not able to be recovered and necessitated the construction of replica bodies by Rod Jolley Coachbuilding in England.
The two cars were eventually completed in time to appear on the grid at the Eifel Classic at the Nurburgring on October 1, 1994. Not since 1939 had these cars been on the starting line.
In the following years, Audi was able to exhibit the Silver Arrow cars in recognition of its assistance in the restoration project and then was able to purchase the 1938 single supercharger car in 1998.
The recent purchase by Audi AG of the 1939 Type D twin-supercharger Silver Arrow means that Audi now owns all three cars that were originally taken to the former USSR.
The car is also one of the leading exhibits at the Audi Museum mobile in Ingolstadt, but will make a special appearance at this year’s Goodwood Revival in the UK from September 14 to 16.
For those still unfamiliar with the origins of the four-ringed Audi logo, it symbolises the brands Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer, which combined to form the Auto Union in 1932.