Mercedes and Audi have been racing rivals for several decades. Before it was Audi, the company name was Auto Union, which was the joining of four companies to create one larger company.
This Auto Union would eventually become Audi. As two of the early German automakers that offer high-class luxury cars, these two brands have gone head to head for many generations, even before World War II. Let’s take a journey into the rivalry that gave the world the entertainment desired on the race track.
East vs West in Germany
We’re not talking about the time of the Berlin Wall and the devastation that ensued after World War II. What we are talking about is the butting of heads between two car companies representing the East and West regions of Germany. This was a time with Auto Union took on Mercedes-Benz for domination on the track. The precursor to Audi performed well enough in the 1930s that Adolf Hitler split the pot won during racing and gave half to each company, much to the chagrin of the Mercedes-Benz team. Of course, the money wasn’t the issue, the loss on the track was what hurt Mercedes more than anything else.
The Heritage Brand Was Mercedes-Benz
Since the early days, Mercedes-Benz offered large, well-made cars that gave drivers confidence and plenty of quality features on the road. Along with the luxurious models from this brand, many racing cars were made and the company enjoyed a great deal of motorsports success. It didn’t seem much of anything would take this car brand from its throne, but a company in dire straits was exactly the right challenger for the top spot. If Mercedes was the Goliath of the German Auto World, Auto Union was the David, taking on the large champion.
Auto Union Almost Didn’t Become Audi
The rivalry between Mercedes and Audi on the track dates back to a time when Auto Union faced the threat of bankruptcy. The brand we know as Audi was a merger of Audi, DKW, Horch, and Wanderer. One of the brands convinced the group to think much bigger than other companies that faced bankruptcy at the time. This created the movement toward racing that would allow Auto Union to challenge the Mercedes dominance on the track. Racing between these two brands began in 1932, only four years after all four brands combined to create Auto Union.
Porsche and Alfa Romeo had a Hand in the Racing
Professor Ferdinand Porsche moved from Austro-Daimler in 1923 to Mercedes-Benz but left five years later. The strict adherence to process and policy was too much for the professor which happened to be a free thinking spirit. When it came to the Alfa Romeo influence, the idea was to limit performance of the grand prix racing cars to the level of the Tipo B. This meant cars were limited to 215 horsepower and a top speed of 160 mph, which was pretty quick for the 1930s.
Professor Porsche took the Auto Union Car to New Racing Heights
The free thinking imagination of Porsche allowed him to develop a racing car that would easily rival Mercedes-Benz. The P-Wagen changed the way this sport operated and gave us a car with a narrow engine with 16 cylinders. This big engine was placed behind the driver but still in the wheelbase to allow for a much better center of gravity than if it was ahead of or behind the wheels. Porsche also found a way to reduce weight for the Audi racer as the team poised to take on Mercedes on the track.
The end result was less drag, faster acceleration, and a higher top speed to give the team the ride desired on any track.
Mercedes Brought a Fantastic W25 Racer to the Contest
Mercedes went in a different direction with a straight-eight cylinder engine in front of the car. This engine also used a supercharger to produce more power and performance while being much lighter than a car with more cylinders driving the wheels. This racing machine was based on an idea Porsche offered when he was with Mercedes-Benz. Of course, it also had influences by both Dr. Hans Nibel and Max Wagner.
Going Head to Head on the Track
When it came to experience, financial support, and racing structure, Mercedes-Benz had an incredible dominance over Auto Union. When the 1934 racing season arrive, the competition was close with both cars having some troubled areas. Mercedes dominated the European circuit that year, taking wins at Nürburgring, the Italian Grand Prix, Spanish Grand Prix, German Grand Prix, Swiss Grand Prix, Czech Grand Prix, and the German Hillclimb Championship. This domination showed the experience and willingness to adjust to new challenges by the Mercedes team, which had previously been stuck in its ways.
The Years Were Unkind to Auto Union
Although the Auto Union team kept bringing cars to the track, they didn’t find another time when success would be their over Mercedes like it was in 1933. Several attempts to find the right design, the right driver, and the perfect amount of power failed miserably. Eventually, Professor Porsche left Auto Union to start his own company, which put the final nail in the coffin. While the Audi team performed admirably on the track for many years, they never found the same level of success against Mercedes as what they had in the early days.
In the End Audi Won Overall
Even though Mercedes-Benz continued to be the brand that dominated the racing circuit throughout Europe, Auto Union won with sales and performance success. The financial growth of the four rings allowed the Auto Union team to grow and flourish because of the success at the track. Many times, the Auto Union cars were only slightly behind the Mercedes teams out on the track. The rivalry between Mercedes and Audi dates back nearly a century, but since it first began on the track, these two brands have challenged each other for attention in Germany.
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