Peter Brock
Peter Brock
6/18/19 11:09 a.m.

The years just before World War II were some of the most exciting and technically interesting for motorsports enthusiasts everywhere. A handful of the most visionary minds in Europe and the U.K. were developing concepts that would remain dominant in the field for years to come.

One particular hotbed of innovation was the battle for the worlds land-speed record being waged among several wealthy privateer sportsmen in England. The Germans had the tantalizing potential to defeat them, armed with the technical superiority and financial backing of the rising Nazi regime, but they had other priorities.

The Germans were on a quest for Grand Prix dominance against the tenacious Italians within Maserati and Alfa Romeo. At the same time, Germany’s two Grand Prix teams, Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz, were locked in a surprisingly intense internal rivalry for road racing superiority.

One man, however, pushed for a change in focus. Famed racer Hans Stuck wanted to use those government resources and technology to bring the prestige of the land-speed record to Germany.

In 1936, Stuck was determined to be the fastest human on Earth. He was among the elite few capable of taming the powerful mid-engine Auto Union Grand Prix racers of the era, and he began using his considerable influence to convince personal friend Adolf Hitler and several high-ranking members of the German government that his land-speed dream was feasible.

He and Dr. Ferdinand Porsche had already been working together at Auto Union since 1934, when Stuck used one of Dr. Porsche’s specially prepped 4.4-liter, mid-engine Gran Prix racers to run a 134 mph average on the Avus circuit. This particular Type A racer was actually capable of some 174 mph, but the tight turnaround at one end of the Avus track limited Stuck’s record speed. Still, this feat was considered of great propaganda value in Europe.

With government approval and financing of his land-speed record plan, Stuck then approached Mercedes-Benz’s cautious management to inquire if they might allow the use of one of their state-of-art, supercharged DB600 W16 aero engines, then being tested for the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter planes. At that time, the DB engine’s 33.9 liters produced some 2500 brake horsepower.

Mercedes agreed, then hired on Dr. Porsche to the project; his contract at the manufacturer’s archrival, Auto Union, had just expired. Equipped with the powerful aircraft engine and Dr. Porsche’s imaginative design genius, the Porsche-Stuck collaboration was expected to easily top British contender Malcolm Campbell’s then-current record of 301.129 mph.

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65289Cobra
65289Cobra New Reader
6/18/19 6:21 p.m.

Interesting article!  In September 1961, at age 23, I attended the Scuderia Hanseat driving school held at the Nurburgring;  we utilized both the North and South loops.  Among our instuctors was Hans Stuck Senior.  Many of my fellow students were too young to be in awe of him, but I was well aware of his prewar prowess.  He was driving a tiny BMW 700 2-door sedan and extracting every last ounce of performance out of it!

Joel Nelson

 

GeoWeb
GeoWeb
6/19/19 1:18 p.m.

Peter: I know that your list of "the Records" was of necessity incomplete.

However, I am surprised that you failed to mention the heroic efforts of the Arfon brothers, especially Art Arfon's 555 mph record run on Nov 7, 1965

At the recent Canadian GP, I met David Tremayne, an authority on the LSR, having collaborated on an updated version of Cyril Posthumus' definitive history of the "Land Speed Record", He reminded me of another excellent history: "Speed Duel" by Samuel Hawley which covers the "sixties" part of the history.

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