Thursday, 9 February 2012

Silver Arrows land on Goodwood

So, the Second World War is really over. Goodwood welcomes the Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union grand prix cars to the Revival in September. It is really about time. Westhampnett, satellite to Tangmere during the Battle of Britain, will echo to the noise of engines made by its adversaries and 75 years after their first appearance in the UK, it promises to be one of the most spectacular historic vehicle events ever.
(Top, Nick Mason drives the V12 Auto Union, above and below, W 125 Mercedes-Benz of 1937-1938)
It is 75 years since their first time in Britain and 74 since their second. This was 1938 for a Donington Grand Prix arranged on 2 October, but the teams had to pack their cars back into their transporters and retreat to Harwich for a ferry back to Germany as the Munich Crisis deepened. Only after Mr Chamberlain brought back his piece of paper was the race rescheduled for 22 October.

Although effectively British Grands Prix the 1937 and 1938 races were called the Donington Grand Prix. Dear old RAC, member of the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR founded 1904), was chary about allowing provincial Donington to use the title. Even though Fred Craner, of the Derby and District Motor Club, and JG Shields, landowner, managed to persuade Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union to race against what were essentially local amateurs, the RAC couldn’t quite persuade itself that it should be a British Grand Prix.

Auto Union won both races, Bernd Rosemeyer in 1937, Tazio Nuvolari in 1938 after some disarray in the Mercedes camp.

D-type Auto Union, reconstruction of Nuvolari's winner.
There could be ten Silver Arrows at Goodwood. There were only six at Donington in 1937, eight in 1938 and they will compete with some of the also-rans, ERAs, Maseratis, Rileys, Bugattis and MGs. They will overwhelm them just as they did three quarters of a century ago. The German cars have appeared occasionally in Britain since then, John Surtees drove an Auto Union at Silverstone in 1990, along with Neil Corner in a Mercedes-Benz, but the prospect of seeing - and hearing – them all together is a heady one. Mercedes-Benz W25, W125, W154 and W165, plus the extravagantly rebuilt Auto Union Types C and D will take part

Perhaps it will make the Revival a touch less jingoistic. Motor racing at Goodwood was, essentially, a creation of the 1950s; it was only happenstance that it took place on a wartime airfield. Douglas Bader (below) and his brave contemporaries would be agreeably entertained by the most spectacular grand prix cars of all time on their old “perry track”.

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