response to the Stock Market crash of 1929 and the resulting downturn in the World's
economy. Mercedes was forced to temporarily stop their racing program. Their team manager,
Alfred Neubauer lived for racing and the idea of being re-assigned to some factory or even
worse desk job held no appeal for him. When directing the racing team, Neubauer's word was
law, now he would be just another worker among the masses but the new Auto Union team had
approached him with a invitation to join them. Could he really leave Mercedes after all
these years. Auto Union promised to embark on a future racing program but the future of
Mercedes, at least when it came to racing was at best uncertain. Neubauer met with the
managing director of Auto Union, Klaus von Oertzen. That night Neubauer wrote a letter of
resignation to Daimler-Benz.
Twenty-four hours later Dr. Kissel,
our Managing Director, asked me to go and see him. He came towards me as soon as I opened
the door of his office, an anxious look on his face. 'My dear Neubauer,' he said, almost
pushing me into a vast leather armchair.
'What in heaven's name has come over
you? You're not seriously thinking of leaving us.'
'I'm afraid so,' I muttered.
'But why? What's the matter?'
My eyes wandered for a moment to the
picture that hung behind Kissel's desk. It was a portrait not of President von Hindenburg
or of Kaiser Wilhelm but of Rudi Caracciola. 'It's racing that's the matter,' I said. 'I'm
only half-alive without it, an office desk doesn't suit me.'
Dr. Kissel gave me a long, earnest
look. 'You shall have your racing,' he said solemnly. 'I promise you that, while I have
any say here, we'll be building racing-cars again, as soon as it's economically possible.'
My heart lifted. Then I realized with a shock of alarm that I had already signed a
provisional contract with the Auto-Union.
'Let me see it,' said Kissel.
He read through it quickly. When he
saw the salary they were offering me he raised his eyebrows. Then he folded the document
carefully. 'Please leave this with me,' he said. 'I'll arrange it somehow. As for your
salary, you can earn as much with us as the Auto-Union have offered-and a bit more. As
from today.' I was lucky. I could at least afford to wait till motor racing became
economically possible' again.
(Speed was my Life by Alfred Neubauer)
After much discussion the decision was
made at Untertürkheim to build a new 750 kg Grand Prix racing car for the 1934 season.
Behind locked doors and barbed wire fences the work was started to build cars that would
forever change the face of automobile racing.
Initially the overall responsibility
for Mercedes' racing efforts was held by Dr Hans Nibel but after his untimely death from a
stroke in November 1934 that duty was assumed by Max Sailer. During their peak years of
1937-38 the team was divided into three main departments, headed by Fritz Nallinger who
was in charge of Design, Rudolf Uhlenhaut of Construction and Preparation and Alfred
Neubauer of the Racing Department. The Design department was sub-divided into two main
sections, Engines under Albert Heess and Chassis under Max Wagner (who ironically, while at
Benz, was involved in the design of the famous rear engined Tropfenwagen)
In contrast to modern practice the cars
were prepared for each circuit back at the factory and the practice periods during the
race weekend was used mostly for driver familiarization. George Monkhouse, the English
photographer and writer, told of seeing an enlarged map of Donington Park pinned to a
drawing board with all the corner radii and gradients marked and measured off, enabling
them to estimate the gear ratios they would require as well as any other factors in
advance of the race. When the cars were being built or reassembled after each race they
would be placed in individual bays. Above each bay was a board which listed the car's next
race, its driver, the engine and chassis numbers, etc. Building of a new car would start
with a bare chassis placed on four jacks. First on were the front and rear suspension
assemblies, followed by the gearbox, engine, radiator, transmission, controls and other
bits and pieces. Finally the large rear fuel tank, body, exhaust pipe and driver's seat
were added. Last of all would go the wheels and tires.
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The car would then be moved to a sound
-proofed enclosure and placed on a wheeled dynamometer and driven for hours on end at
different speeds while facing a large fan which helped to adjust room temperature along
the regular room controls. Various loads were applied to the car and all of the gears were
utilized in order to best reproduce race conditions.
Once at the track the came under the
control of Neubauer and his famous flags. Much was made of the German teams precision and
a large part of it can be directly attributed to Neubauer as even his rivals at Auto Union
were forced to admit. Neubauer was a natural born organizer and all details were noted on
paper, and instructions regarding work on the cars were written and passed on to the
mechanics. As mentioned earlier the race weekend was used for driver practice. At just the
precise time Neubauer would signal the start of practice and the mechanics would engage
the electric starter, and the engine would burst into life. After another signal the car
would be driven for a few laps at moderate speeds and then coast back into the pits. As
soon as the car stopped the mechanics would descend on the car and check the plugs in
order to adjust the proper fuel mixture. If the plugs were sooty the mixture was over-rich
and need to be weakened by changing the carburetor jets. If the plugs looked dry and burnt
then the mixture need richening. Taking into consideration the practice performance by his
drivers as well as that of the opposition, Neubauer would decide on race tactics. Meeting
with his drivers the evening before the race the battle plan, for there could be no other
word for it, was laid out. Some times the drivers would quietly agree to the tactics but
other times the drivers would argue long and hard over perceived slights. Neubauer's
orders were though always followed, almost. Just as critical as his pre-race tactics were
it may have been his ability to adjust them as the race proceeded that would prove to be
his greatest skill. Pitstops were also practiced and the Mercedes team was renowned for
their quick and precise work. But more than just a stickler for details and practice,
Neubauer was a leader of men who was held in a mixture of awe and affection by all who
worked for him. With this flawless organization and a strong driver line-up would Mercedes
go into battle and the legend of the Silver Arrows was born.