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Rare Auto Union Silver Arrow returns to Audi

Audi Tradition buys back Auto Union Type D built in 1939 and lost for years in the USSR

Published: August 12, 2012, 6:30 AM

Auto Union Twin-Supercharger Type D race car

Arguably one of the most beautiful racing cars ever made, a long-missing Auto Union Type D twin-supercharger race car from 1939, is now back at Audi.

"This is one of the most emotional moments in our heritage work... we have come full circle," says Thomas Frank, Head of Audi Tradition.

A few weeks ago, the automaker repurchased an extremely rare Auto Union Silver Arrow racing car – consisting largely of original parts.

It is the Auto Union twin-supercharger Type D dating from 1939 – one of two legendary "Karassik cars".

Audi now owns three of the five Auto Union racing cars that can claim to be original.

The Silver Arrow legend was born in the 1930s. In 1934, Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz appeared on the international motor racing scene with German racing cars of totally new design, with a silver finish and futuristic appearance.

The two manufacturers dominated racing on Europe’s Grand Prix circuits without serious opposition until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

While Mercedes-Benz relied on conventional front-engined cars, Auto Union placed the engine behind the driver – a layout that become dominant in the 1960s and remains standard race-car practice today.

Drivers such as Bernd Rosemeyer, Tazio Nuvolari and Hans Stuck (Auto Union), Rudolf Caracciola, Manfred von Brauchitsch and Hermann Lang (Mercedes-Benz) are still acknowledged as heroes by modern motor sport enthusiasts.

They often reached speeds of more than 300 km/h in races devoid of any serious safety precautions. On the long straights of the Avus circuit in Berlin in 1937, Rosemeyer’s car was timed at 380 km/h.

After the war, Mercedes-Benz was able to rescue most of its Silver Arrow cars but not so Auto Union. It's home base, Zwickau, was occupied by the Soviet Army and the company was liquidated and the factories shut down.

The Russian occupying forces found the Silver Arrows where they had been stored, in a mine building above ground, and transferred them to the Soviet Union as part of Germany’s reparation payments. All trace of them was soon lost.

When the new Auto Union GmbH (today’s Audi AG) was established in Ingolstadt in 1949, there was little hope of ever finding those legendary racers. The Cold War had already begun and the Iron Curtain was firmly in place.

Only one Auto Union Type C remained accessible; it had been presented to the Deutsches Museum in Munich before the war, but was later damaged in a bomb attack there.

But in 1970, one of the long-lost Auto Union racing cars had was rumoured to have been found somewhere in former Soviet Union.

Paul Karassik, an American collector of classic vehicles, who as a small boy had been a spectator in Belgrade at the last Grand Prix held before the war began, travelled to Europe and began to search for the car.

It took more than ten years and numerous visits to the USSR before he tracked down the remains of two dismantled Auto Union cars in Russia and the Ukraine and, eventually, was able to buy them.

Following several challenges along the way, he engines, chassis, axles and gearboxes were ultimately flown to Florida.

Beginning in May 1991 the Audi Tradition department was contacted to act as advisors for the planned restoration. The Karassiks entrusted the reconstruction to the English company Crosthwaite & Gardiner, which had the extensive know-how needed for the restoration of historic racing cars.

It was decided to rebuild a Type D single-supercharger racing car to 1938 specification, and a Type D racing car in the 1939 version with twin supercharger. In both cases a complete replica body had to be constructed, since no parts of the original bodies had survived.

Rod Jolley Coachbuilding built the new bodies in England. In August 1993 the first of the two cars, the one rebuilt to 1938 specification, was completed. A year later the twin-supercharger 1939 car was also "ready for roll-out".

With support from Audi, both cars appeared on the starting line for the first time since 1939: at the Eifel Classic at the Nürburgring on October 1, 1994.

In recognition of its support during the rebuilding project, Audi was allowed to exhibit the 1938 car in the years that followed; it was purchased by AUDI AG in July 1998.

The 1939 twin-supercharger car returned to Florida. In the spring of 2000, Paul Karassik sold it to a private collector.

The recent purchase of that car means that Audi now owns all three Auto Union racing cars recovered from what was formerly the USSR.

The collection also includes the famous hillclimb car driven by Hans Stuck, the Auto Union Type C/D. It was on display at the Car Museum in Riga, Latvia, until just after the demise of the Soviet Union, and is today one of the outstanding exhibits at the Audi museum mobile in Ingolstadt.

Audi plans to display the Auto Union Type D in the museum on a long-term basis. But first, it will make an appearance at the Goodwood Revival in England, from September 14 to 16.