Rosemeyer’s Baby

Classic and Sportscar, June 1994

"This is how Professor Ferdinand Porsche's
roadgoing V16 Auto Union supercar would
probably have looked. This artwork was
especially commissioned by Classic and
Sportscar and is by technical artist Brian
Nation, who had just a handful of factory
drawings on which to base his highly
detailed cutaway. Although the car was
never made, the influence of Komenda's
wind cheating shape was to be seen
decades later in the Porsche 911."

"Think Gordon Murray's mid engined, three seater McLaren F1 is novel? Ferdinand Porsche proposed just such a supercar*based on his Grand Prix Auto Union*60 years ago! Chris Nixon investigates

Imagine! It is July 27, 1936 and you are standing on the vast concrete apron that forms the starting area at the Nurburgring. Yesterday you were among the 300,000 people who cheered Bernd Rosemeyer to the echo as he won the German Grand Prix for Auto Union. Today, you will be the envy of them all, for he is going to take you on a high speed drive around the 'Ring in Professor Ferdinand Porsche's latest creation.

This extraordinary machine stands silent on the concrete before you, its silver paintwork shimmering in the strong sunlight. Based upon the mid engined Grand Prix car, it is the Professor's idea of what a sports car should be, so low and streamlined, so futuristic that it could have had a starring role in the new film of HG Wells' "Things to Come".

As you gaze upon it in awestruck silence, a beautiful Horch coupe appears and out steps Rosemeyer and his bride of two weeks, Elly Beinhom, the famous aviatrix. They greet you warmly, then Bernd ushers Elly into the Auto Union and, for the first time, you notice it retains the central driving position, with a passenger carried either side, but set back a few inches. He climbs in behind the large, four spoke steering wheel and then beckons you into the seat on his right.

You clamber in as Rosemeyer turns the key and presses the starter button. Immediately, the cabin is filled with the thunder of that fabulous, supercharged V16 which, even with silencers fitted, makes speech impossible. Elly puts her fingers in her ears and Bernd engages first gear. He turns to look at you with that impish grin of his, and raises his eyebrows as if to say, "Ready?" Before you can nod your assent the Continental rear tyres are shrieking against the concrete and you are pushed back in your scat by the raw power of that massive V16 behind you. Bernd snicks through the gears, you rocket past the pits towards the South Turn and you're off*on a 14 mile lap of the Nurburgring in the most advanced sports car in the world, driven by the man who will soon be crowned European Champion. This is the Auto Union Type 52 and it is Rosemeyer's Baby, Dream On!

Now, back to the future. In CLASSIC AND SPORTSCAR'S Ferrari Supplement (April 1993) Mike McCarthy reminded us that there is nothing new under the sun by pointing out that Gordon Murray's sensational, mid engined McLaren F1*with its three seats and central steering*was preceded by the Ferrari 365P Guida Centrale of 1966. This was an experimental car powered by a 44 litre V12 set amidships and clothed in a Pininfarina body with three seats abreast in line; in the McLaren, the passenger seats are set back a few inches.

However, even the Guida Centrale was old hat when it appeared, as the prolific Professor Ferdinand Porsche had drawn up a design almost identical to Gordon Murray's configuration*60 years before the McLaren was announced.

The 'dream machine was more than just a gleam in the eye of Professor Porsche, for it was based upon a Grand Prix car he had designed for a new company called Auto Union, formed in 1932 by the amalgamation of Audi, DKW, Horch, and Wanderer. Soon afterwards, Porsche was advised that he might be asked to design a racing car for the new Grand Prix formula that was due in 1934. Without waiting for a contract, Porsche and his business partner, Adolf Rosenberger, formed a new company called Hochleistungs Motor GmbH (High Efficiency Engines Ltd), in Stuttgart and began setting out his ideas for a supercharged, mid engined Grand Prix car, designated typ 22.

In placing the engine behind the driver, Porsche was undoubtedly influenced by his friend Rosenberger, who had raced the revolutionary Benz 'Tropfenwagen' in 1923. This had been a mid engined car and, although Benz had not pursued the design, Rosenberger had been greatly impressed by it.

To power this new racing car Porsche drew up a vast, supercharged V16 engine of 4.4litres capacity which produced 295bhp. This compares favourably with the 320bhp produced by the V12 unit (also of 4.4 litres) which Ferrari used in 1966, but it is small potatoes against the Mclaren's latest claimed output of more than 600bhp.

In May 1933, Professor Porsche and the chairman of Auto Union, Klaus von Oertzen, went to see Germany's new chancellor, Adolf Hitler. Just two weeks earlier, Hitler had agreed that Mercedes Benz should be given 500,000 Reichmarks towards its racing programme for 1934. Now Porsche showed him drawings of the new V16 engine and managed to persuade him that two teams racing for Germany would do better than one.

Hitler then agreed to divide the 500,000 RM between the two companies. Porsche returned happily to Stuttgart and the design of the typ 22 began in earnest.

With just 12 months in which to complete the design and build a team of cars for the 1934 season, you would have thought Porsche's technicians would have had enough on their plates. But the good Professor and his chief engineer Karl Rabe were already toying with the idea of using their as yet unbuilt grand prix car as the basis for a road car, in both sports and limousine versions!

All that remains of the plans for this 'lost supercar'* is a handful of drawings in the Porsche Archive. Dated November 14,1933, the very first shows a low, sleek and streamlined shape that can fairly be described as the granddaddy of the Porsche 911.

It is not difficult to trace the ancestry, for the drawings are numbered K3317 and K3318, which almost certainly means they were made by Dr Erwin Komenda. He was responsible for the bodywork that was to appear on the Auto union GP cars and, after the war, he styled the very first Porsche sports car, the 356. Also involved with the latter was Professor Porsche's son, Ferry who later styled the Porsche 911 and acknowledged Komenda's influence.

Looking at Komenda's sleek, flowing lines, one can only bemoan the fact that they were never transformed into metal, as the result would have stunned the motoring world. The limousine was unlike any that had gone before. In the mid '30s, such cars were built on the perpendicular, so that gentlemen in top hats and ladies in extravagant bonnets might be accommodated without removing them.

Komenda, however, had no such concerns and styled his karroserie to slice through the air with minimum resistance and maximum speed, It is also clear that he planned to transform the Grand Prix car into a passenger vehicle with the minimum of modification and so, in a daring move, he retained the former's central driving position and placed a scat either side, but slightly to the rear of the driver's.

In the limousine, however, all three are in line abreast, to allow proper legroom for the two passengers in the back. There is provision for a spare wheel to be carried in the car's sloping rear end.

By early 1934, the road car project had been given its own identity and was designated typ 52. Komenda's chassis drawings show he had added a longitudinal framework to which the body and large twin exhausts could be fixed. Hubs have also been drawn either side of the V16 to carry spare wheels, presumably in order to afford some luggage space in the rear of the body. The tyres on the road car were to be 5.50x20 all round, rather than the differently sized rubber of the racer.

Although the engine capacity of the Typ 52 was to remain at 4.4 litres (supercharged) the power was to he reduced from the racer's 295bhp at 450Orpm to a more manageable 200bhp at 3650 rpm. This, the Porsche design team believed, would give the sports car a maximum speed of 125mph in fifth gear and a 0 60mph time of around 8.5 secs, a quite sensational performance for 1934

The limousine would not have been much slower; to put things in perspective it's worth looking at the performance of what would have been the Typ 52 five seater's main rival in the mid '30s*the Mercedes Benz 540K. This behemoth weighed in at a colossal 57121bs, whereas the planned weight of the sports Auto Union was only 38581bs. Even the limousine would still have been a lightweight compared with the Mercedes. To propel its massive 54OK's 5.4 1itre, straight eight engine managed a paltry 115bhp and an unremarkable 180bhp when the supercharger was engaged.

In 1938 The Autocar tested a 540K, and managed a maximum speed of 104 with an 0-60mph time of 16.4 secs. The Auto Union would have blown the Mercedes away. ( not only, due to its vastly superior power to weight ratio, but also because, aerodynamically, the former would have been as sleek as a speedboat, whereas the Mercedes, was like a galleon set to royals.

Sadly, the Typ 52 project fizzled, and today no one quite knows why. Once Auto Union's racing programme was under way Porsche's design team had to concentrate their efforts upon that, but there's no doubt* the typ 52 could have been built by any one of the four Auto Union member companies, had the will been there.

On the race tracks it soon became clear that Professor Porsche's mid engine required a special talent to get the best out of it, and it was not until 1935 that an old maestro named Achille Varzi and a young wunderkind named Bernd Rosemeyer managed to do that. It is quite possible, therefore, that Professor Porsche decided his road car would be too much for ordinary mortals to handle, even in detuned condition.

Whatever the reason, the Typ 52 project was allowed quietly to die and the motoring world has had to wait for years for its like* *the McLaren F1, designed by Gordon Murray* to appear. However, had the roadgoing Auto Union been built, we can be sure that our friend Bernd Rosemeyer would have demanded the first off the line. He was like a son to Professor Porsche, who would surely have denied him virtually nothing, recognising the value of having his star driver and his wife seen driving around Europe in his sensational new creation.

We can be equally sure that Bernd wouldn't have been content with the 200bhp engine that the Professor had in mind for the Typ 52 By 1936 the size of the Auto Union V16 had been increased to 6 litres and the power had gone up to an impressive 520bhp. No doubt Bernd would have insisted upon having at least 450bhp under his right foot, and that would have been Rosemeyer's Baby!"

These sketches are from a proposed but never realized sportscar based on the technik from the 16 cyl AutoUnion Typ A racecar, by the "Hochleistungsfahrzeugbau GmbH" of Ferdinand Porsche.
Desing sketches by Karl Rabe.

Proposed engine : 4.4 l, V16 cyl engine, supercharged with 200 PS at 3650 rpm

Propsed measures for the short 3 seater:
Length : 4700 mm
width : 1800 mm
High : 1400 mm

wheelbase : 3000mm









A german magazine commissioned an artist's interpretation, which doesn't have quite the panache of the version above, with these knife edge narrow guards, and huge chrome radiator surround. The headlights seem to perch out front with no shaping or nacelle merging back into the guards.