In the thirties, Chancellor Adolf Hitler summoned two German automobile manufacturers, Auto Union and Mercedes Benz, to build the fastest race car on the planet as a symbol of Nazi superiority. The result was the Silver Arrow.
During the Depression, four German car companies, Audi, Horch, Wanderer, and DKW, were hit hard. For survival, they banded together and formed Auto Union. Their company logo was four interlocked rings, each ring representing one of the four partner companies. (A side note: The four-ring logo has survived as the logo for Audi.)
To accommodate the Hitler’s order, Auto Union hired legendary automotive designer Ferdinand Porsche.
The Grand Prix
In Grand Prix racing, Auto Union’s Silver Arrow faced stiff competition from Italian car companies, particularly Bugatti, Alfa-Romeo, and Maserati. Between 1934 and 1937, Auto Union’s Silver Arrow won 37 out of 54 Grands Prix.
In 1937, Hitler awarded Ferdinand Porsche the German National Prize for Art and Science for his automotive design. The Silver Arrow’s record of wins slowed after Porsche left Auto Union and after the death of star race driver Bernd Rosemeyer in a fiery crash during track testing.
World War II
Starting in 1940, all race car production stopped in Germany in order to gear up factories for the war effort. During World War II, Auto Union hid all their Silver Arrows in a mine shaft.
After the war, the darkest side of Auto Union’s efforts to build the world’s fastest race car was revealed. Slave laborers had been used in production, and there were min-concentration camps at each factory. As in other Nazi labor camps, these men and women were beaten, worked, and starved to death. When the Russian army overran the plants, they executed plant managers. All but two of Auto Union’s Silver Arrows were found and destroyed for scrap by the Russians.
In 1947, the Audi and DKW companies were reborn, thanks to the Marshall Plan.
The World’s Most Expensive Car
Thanks to the efforts of American classic car collector Paul Karassik, the surviving Silver Arrows were tracked down and found in Russia.
In 2007, Karrasik’s 1939 Auto Union Class D (Silver Arrow) race car was put on the auction block at Christie’s for an expected $15 million.
This particular Silver Arrow had won two Grands Prix and had attained speed records up to 185 miles per hour. These records wouldn’t be matched and beaten until the advent of turbo-charged Formula One race cars in the eighties. When compared with those first Formula One cars, the Silver Arrow only lacked in safety features.
“Hitler’s $15 million race car”, Paul Tharp, NY Post
“Built on the orders of Hitler”, David Harrison, Telegraph