An Afternoon in Holly Wood

Auto Union, Bernd Rosemeyer, DoningtonThis is a truly classic and historic image as Bernd Rosemeyer drives his Auto Union through the picturesque Holly Wood section of the prewar Donington circuit during the Donington Grand Prix on October 2, 1937. Like certain other Klemantaski photographs, it was shot contre jour with the sunlight behind the car, thereby  giving a unique and highly emotional feeling to the resulting image. At Donington Rosemeyer had a race long duel with the Mercedes W125 of Manfred von Brauchitsch who had qualified fastest. On lap 55 of the 80 lap race the von Brauchitsch Mercedes blew a front tire and the resulting extra pit stop gave Rosemeyer just the opportunity  he required to win by 38 seconds.

Rosemeyer had a great talent for mastering the difficult Auto Union grand prix cars of the 1930s and he never seemed to be bothered by their handling eccentricities. He first raced a grand prix car in 1935 at A.V.U.S., finishing second.  He won the European Championship in 1936 and continued to be very competitive in 1937. Tragically, this shooting star performance was ended at a speed record test on the Frankfurt-Darmstadt autobahn on January 27, 1938 when a gust of crosswind caused Rosemeyer to loose control of his Auto Union streamliner at something like 270 mph. A monument stands today where his body was found.

At Donington Rosemeyer was driving the Auto Union Type C which had a supercharged V16 motor displacing 6 liters under the 750 kg maximum weight formula then being used and had been developed to produce over 500 hp. The then rules for Grand Prix racing had been set by the prewar forerunner of today’s FIA, the  Association Internationale des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus. They had thought that a maximum weight formula would work to limit engine power and, hence, speeds. Seeing that the creativity of designers had overcome the supposed limitations, the formula was changed for 1938 to 3 liters supercharged or 4.5 liters normally aspirated with a scale of new minimum weights. This would not limit speeds either.

The Auto Union had originally been designed by Ferdinand Porsche who pioneered the rear-engine concept. The high power and swing-axle rear suspension, combined with the narrow and hard tires of those years, resulted in a very difficult control challenge for the drivers. The wheelspin problem was somewhat alleviated by Porsche’s idea for a cam-type limited slip differential unit which was further developed by ZF. The four-ring symbol of the cars of Auto Union continues today with Audi.

Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection –



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