A Blog by Mr. Ed
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The starting line for the 1939 Grand Prix

Designed by Porsche, the Auto Union D-Type Was Revolutionary in Its Day
By Peter Valdes-Dapena,
CNN
Posted: 2006-12-06 09:40:02

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Claire Cohne of Christie's auction house sits in the 1939 Auto Union D-Type in London Tuesday Nov. 28, 2006
NEW YORK (Dec. 6, 2006) -- A rare 1939 German sports car commissioned by Adolf Hitler is expected to command the highest price ever paid for any automobile at auction, according to Christie's, which will conduct the auction in Paris in February 2007.
The car, one of five remaining "Auto Union D-Types," is expected to sell for as much as $12 million, said Rupert Banner, head of Christie's motor cars department. In 1933, after becoming Chancellor of Germany, Hitler offered 500,000 reichmark for a company to design a race car to show off the nation's technological prowess. Originally, Mercedes-Benz got the nod. But Ferdinand Porsche, then an engineer working with Auto Union, which today is known as Audi, was able to secure the financing to build a revolutionary car he had designed. That car was modified over the next few years to become the 1939 Auto Union D-Type. The D-type had a number of features that were extremely advanced for its day, including an engine mounted behind the driver and four-wheel independent suspension. Its twin-supercharged 3-liter V12 engine can produce 485 horsepower, giving the car a top speed of 185 miles per hour. In many ways, the D-type offered a glimpse into what would become the future of racing. It's fundamentally very similar to Formula 1 and Indy race cars of today. "It's the same as a modern day race car, just without fins," said Banner.
One thing it doesn't have, of course, is modern safety technology. Race cars in those days didn't even have seatbelts. It was seen as preferable to be thrown from the car in a crash. One safety advance the D-type did have was a removable steering wheel, allowing the driver to be more easily removed in the event of a fire.

D-type cars won several Grand Prix races throughout Europe. Two days after Germany invaded Poland, the same day that Great Britain declared war on Germany, the car Christie's will be auctioning won a Grand Prix race in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Banner said. It was the last race held in Europe until after the war. "This was a legendary period in racing," Banner said of the pre-war years.
A number of D-type cars were lost or destroyed after World War II, according to Christie's. The car that will be sold in Paris was taken to Russia after the war, where it was disassembled to study its technology. The car was re-discovered in Ukraine in the late 1980s. It was still in pieces, but was otherwise undamaged. Another car discovered nearby had had its chassis sawed in half, Banner said. The current record for a car sold at auction, according to Christie's, is £5.5 million, or almost $11 million. That was paid for a 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale Sports Coupe sold by Christie's in 1987. As for the connection to Hitler, "It's not something people really want to be associated with," Banner said. But the car's value rests on its technological importance, Banner said.
Ian Kelleher, managing director of RM Auctions, a competing auction firm that specializes in classic cars, agreed that the Auto Union D-type is extremely valuable, but felt that it might not go for as much as Christie's was expecting. The market for single-seat race cars is simply very limited, Kelleher said. "You can't drive the Auto Union anywhere but on a track, and it's a lonely way to spend $10 million," he said, referring to the low-end estimates of the car's value. The D-type will be sold as part of Christie's "Retromobile" auction of antique cars. Ferdinand Porsche also designed another car for Hitler, but for a very different purpose. That car, inspired by the success of the inexpensive Ford Model T in the United States, ultimately became known as the Volkswagen Beetle. It also had a rear-mounted engine as do today's Porsche sports cars.

The rare 1939 German sports car commissioned by Adolf Hitler is expected to command $12 million - the highest price ever paid for any automobile at auction

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UPDATE: 2007

World's most valuable car' fails to sell

Following postponement to research its background, Hitler-era German race car finds no buyer.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer
POSTED: 2:58 p.m. EDT, March 12, 2007

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- After a sale was postponed to answer questions about the car's racing history, an ultra-rare 1939 German racing car expected to fetch the highest price on record for any automobile did not find a buyer at an auction.
The results of the investigation revealed that the car did not have the exact history that was originally believed, but that was not expected to substantially alter its value, Rupert Banner, head of Christie's motor cars department, told CNNMoney.com before the sealed-bid auction.
The car, an Auto Union-Grand Prix V12, is one of five remaining "Auto Union D-Types." Its value had been estimated at more than $12 million.
Best of the Geneva Motor Show
The sealed-bid auction was completed March 4. A Christie's spokeswoman declined to comment on the number of bids received or the amount of the highest bid.
Christie's plans to auction the car at a later time, the company said, but a date for that has not been set.
The car was originally scheduled to be sold in Paris on Feb. 17. That sale was cancelled Feb. 9 when Christie's and Audi Tradition announced that further investigation was needed to confirm the car's racing history.
Audi Tradition is a branch of Audi that researches the brand's history and heritage. In the 1930s, Audi was one of four brands that made up Germany's Auto Union car company.
Later, after the firm was reconstituted in West Germany following World War II, the company was named Audi but retained the four-ring emblem that symbolized the combination of four companies.
In 1933, after becoming chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler offered 500,000 reichmarks for a company to design a race car to show off the nation's technological prowess. (At the time, 500,000 reichmarks was equal to about $150,000, or $2.3 million in modern terms, according to the Economic History Services Web site of Miami University of Ohio.)
Originally, Mercedes-Benz got the nod. But Ferdinand Porsche, then an engineer working with Auto Union, was able to secure some of that financing to build a revolutionary car he had designed. That basic design was modified over the next few years to become the 1939 Auto Union D-Type, the last of the line.
The D-type had a number of features that were extremely advanced for its day, including an engine mounted behind the driver and four-wheel independent suspension. Its twin-supercharged 3-liter V12 engine can produce 485 horsepower, giving the car a top speed of 185 miles per hour.
In many ways, the D-type offered a glimpse into what would become the future of racing. It's fundamentally very similar to Formula 1 and Indy race cars of today.
"It's the same as a modern day race car, just without fins," Rupert Banner, head of Christie's motor cars department, said in an interview with CNNMoney.com in January.
One thing it doesn't have, of course, is modern safety technology. Race cars in those days didn't even have seatbelts. It was seen as preferable to be thrown from the car in a crash. One safety advance the D-type did have was a removable steering wheel, allowing the driver to be more easily removed in case of a fire.
D-type cars won several Grand Prix races throughout Europe. This car was originally believed to be the one that won a Grand Prix race in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, the last race held in Europe until after the war. In fact, it was not.
The car did race on the famed Nurburgring track in 1939, the investigation revealed, finishing in 5th place. It also finished 6th at the 1939 French Grand Prix, a race in which two other D-types finished 1st and 2nd.
The car was one of 18 that were hidden in a mineshaft in eastern Germany during the war. They were discovered by invading Russian troops at the war's end. A number of the cars were subsequently lost or destroyed, according to Christie's.
It was taken to Russia after the war, where it was disassembled to study its technology.
The car was rediscovered in Ukraine in the late 1980s. It was still in pieces but was otherwise undamaged. Another car discovered nearby had had its chassis sawed in half, Banner said.
The current record for a car sold at auction, according to Christie's, is £5.5 million, or almost $11 million. That was paid for a 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale Sports Coupe sold by Christie's in 1987.
Ferdinand Porsche also designed another car for Hitler, but for a very different purpose. That car, inspired by the success of the inexpensive Ford Model T in the United States, ultimately became known as the Volkswagen Beetle. It also had a rear-mounted engine, as do today's Porsche sports cars.

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UPDATE: 2009

[Source: Bonhams]
PRESS RELEASE 2009

Bonhams & Butterfields to Offer Hans Stuck's Legendary Auto Union Grand Prix Racer at Quail Lodge in August
Bonhams & Butterfields is delighted to offer for sale by auction nothing less than one of the most charismatic Grand Prix racing cars ever built – the 1939 Auto Union 'D-Type' with rear-mounted 3-liter twin-stage supercharged V12-cylinder engine. The annual collector's motorcar car auction is set for August 14, 2009 in Carmel, CA.
This legendary racing car - absolutely confirmed today as chassis number '19' - was driven to placing finishes in the 1939 Grand Prix racing season. Handled by Auto Union factory team drivers Rudolf Hasse and Hans Stuck, this pioneering rear-engined Grand Prix projectile finished fifth in the German EifelRennen event on the North Circuit of the Nurburgring, and sixth in the Grand Prix de l'Automobile Club de France around the super fast public road course at Reims-Gueux.
The 1938-39 V12-cylinder Auto Union racing car – retrospectively classified postwar as the Chemnitz company's 'D-Type' model – was developed to meet a new set of international regulations governing Grand Prix racing. They specified a maximum engine capacity of 3-liters and a minimum weight limit of 850-kilograms. The 'D-Type' Auto Union was based upon a highly sophisticated and advanced new chassis design, featuring de Dion rear suspension and its fuel load centralized in pannier tanks hung along each side, within the wheelbase. The 3-cam V12-cylinder engine developed some 420bhp in 1938 single-stage supercharged form, rising to some 485bhp at 7,000rpm when two-stage supercharging was adopted for 1939.
That final pre-war season – whose leading cars such as this Auto Union represent the absolute high-tide of 'Silver Arrows' period technology - then opened on May 21 with the EifelRennen, at Germany's Nurburgring, where Nuvolari's 'D-Type' finished second and Rudi Hasse fifth in chassis '19' now being offered by Bonhams & Butterfields.
During the 1939 racing season, Auto Union deployed 11 'D-Type' chassis in the six significant Grand Prix Formula events contested. In addition to Nuvolari's second place in the EifelRennen, Hasse finished second in the Belgian GP, before his team-mates H.P. 'Happy' Muller and 'Schorsch' Meier brought the team a wonderful 1-2 success in the French race at Reims-Gueux.
It was there that chassis '19' raced for the last time, driven by Hans Stuck, the veteran Austrian star. In his hands, this 'D-Type' Auto Union completed the works team's day by finishing sixth.
Today, Auto Union 'D-Type' chassis '19' is the only proven surviving Grand Prix car of its type with contemporary 1939 racing history. It is one of the classic car world's most charismatic machines, and is exquisitely well-restored to running order. In a world hungry for genuine intrinsic value, it has much to commend it.