February 2, 2007 What could become the most expensive car ever to be sold in the history of the prestigious auction house Christie's is due to go under the hammer at the international vintage car fair Retromobile in Paris later on February 17. The ultra-rare 1939 Auto Union Type D Grand Prix car was driven by the likes of Nuvolari and is one of just two remaining examples of the Auto Union which won the 1939 French Grand Prix and 1939 Yugoslavian Grand prix and could fetch as much as UKP8 million (12 million euros). Its 12-cylinder supercharged engine produces 460PS output, giving the beautiful silver bullet a top speed of 205mph. Formed in the Thirties through the amalgamation of four German automotive marques, Auto Union was a precursor to the modern day Audi brand. The car was made in Zwickau in eastern Germany, was taken back to the former Soviet Union after World War II by the Soviet occupation forces as spoils of war and was purchased from Russie before undergoing a full restoration with Audi’s assistance.
American Paul Karassik eventually brought them to the West in the 1980s after searching for them for over 10 years and eventually finding them stripped down into individual parts in the former USSR. He then had them reassembled by East Sussex-based car restoration experts Crosthwaite & Gardiner, with technical support from AUDI AG. Subsequently AUDI AG acquired the 1938 car from Paul Karassik. The 1939 D-Type passed into private ownership.
The Auto Union engineers, headed by Robert Eberan-Eberhorst, developed the 12-cylinder Type D racing car for the 1938 racing season, in which new international Grand Prix regulations were introduced, limiting engine capacity to three litres. The fundamental technical design of the car – mid-mounted engine, torsion bar suspension, supercharged engine – essentially followed the model of its Type C predecessor, developed by Ferdinand Porsche for Auto Union with a 16-cylinder V-engine. In 1938 Auto Union won the Italian and British Grand Prix with the Type D racing car.
The car was modified in 1939 with the addition of a twin compressor, which increased its engine power output from 420 to 460PS. Its top speed was 205mph and it was driven to victory at the Grand Prix in France and Yugoslavia. The top drivers of the Auto Union Type D racing car were Tazio Nuvolari, H.P. Müller, Hans Stuck, Rudolf Hasse and Georg Meier.
Audi Tradition, based in Ingolstadt, Germany, now owns four Auto Union Silver Arrows – the original Type D and Type C/D hill-climbing car and replicas of the original Type C Grand Prix car and the Type C Avus Streamline racing car. A further replica is still to be produced this year – an Auto Union Type D racing car of the 1939 generation with twin compressor.
The four rings of the Audi badge symbolise the brands Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer, which were later combined under the umbrella of Auto Union. Auto Union and NSU, which merged in 1969, made many significant contributions towards the development of the car. AUDI AG was formed from Audi NSU Auto Union AG in 1985. Together with the two traditional companies Auto Union GmbH and NSU GmbH, Audi Tradition nurtures and presents the deep and diverse history of Audi. The Audi museum mobile at the Audi Forum Ingolstadt is open from 9am to 6pm.