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Hagerty Employee

16 cylinders and 270 mph, in 1938: The Auto Union V-16 was an audacious engineering feat

Here at Hagerty, we are reminded that the word driving has meant since pioneer days the controlling of the movement and direction of a powered thing. Nature's four hooves eventually gave way to man's own engines as the power source, and the latter became the canvas for mechanical geniuses such as Ferdinand Porsche.

These were amazing cars and I wager few of todays F1 drivers could match the lap times of the original drivers. These took drivers with no self preservation instinct.

Or perhaps denial of the potential consequences. Both part and parcel of youth.

I think you mean sculls, not "skulls". Excellent article, regardless. You couldn't play bumper cars with these monsters.
Intermediate Driver

Thank you for this wonderful article. I particularly enjoy the technical description, pictures, and drawings of the engine. What a majestic piece of work.
Can you do a series of articles on the contemporary competitors to this Audi (Mercedes, Alfa Romeo, etc.)?

Hey Don, I think you meant racing shells. Sculling (with a c not a k) is the act of rowing a shell.
Intermediate Driver

I think he meant sculls because they are sleek and fast.
Pit Crew

I wonder what WW2 German aircraft this engine ended up in? What a beautiful piece of engineering!
Pit Crew

It never became an aircraft engine.
Advanced Driver

The 2-stage superchargers on the DB-601 came out of DB's racing engineering while trying to exceed the AutoUnion and Italian/French powerplants. The Bf-109 used DB-601 and later descendent motors throughout the war.. and virtually every nation had implemented multi-stage supercharging by 1944-45.
Intermediate Driver

Amazing that tires of the day held up at those speeds
Advanced Driver

It would be nice to read a technical article on tire evolution over the years.
New Driver

A nice article indeed. I watched these machines perform laps at Laguna Seca the year Audi was the celebrated Mark. I would suggest that the four circles re-appeared at least a decade earlier as DKW used them throughout the fifty’s. Keep up the good work.
New Driver

The Type C and Type D were fast about 190 to 200 MPH but pretty sure that should read 270 KPH!!!
Pit Crew

Yes, it really was 270 MPH. See this article as well:

He wasn't driving a Type C but a streamliner using the same engine

Thank you for a wonderful and informative article. These cars are phenomenal and probably beyond the capacity of the roads they ran on as well as some of the skills of the
drivers, but no matter. The drivers were heroes, and the cars were wonders.
New Driver

great information of technology of the early development of engine, supercharger, compression, fuel,overhead cams, wieght of opponents vs big cubic in. it has not changed to much. a friend of mine Emil Andrea an indy driver finished 4 th at the indy 500 told me the time he met Rosenberg at a race in New Jersey In1936 . it was a race with the indy cars and formual 1cars . the Germans had the best of the best. we had Miller engine they were as good if not better then Mercedes.
the difference in the out come of the race was Brakes . Emil said we had 12 inch brakes (shoes and drums ) Mercedes had 16 in drums. the wheel then were 19 in by 5 in. not alot of ares on the ground for traction. he said he could run as fast as Rosenberg he couldn't drive as deep in the corner. the Germans were on top of technology at the time. he also said Rosenberg was nice fellow and stood on the gas!!

Pretty amazing engine. It looks so cool. Would have been great to hear it at full throttle.
Pit Crew

What a great article I always marveled at the engineering (and speed) of these machines. Many details that where very interesting for 1930's technology.

Don Sherman does a sterling job describing these sophisticated monsters. But remember, the Nazi government supplied as much as a quarter of the funding diminishing to slightly more than a fifth for both Auto Union and Daimler-Benz 1934-38 abetted by longtime German state public spending, even as the British govt. and RAF poured staggering amounts the same years into radar, cryptology, jet engines, aerodynamics, keeping those industries "warm" 'til war production required.

The Nazi silver arrows were the product of mechanical ingenuity aided by massive funding. The Reichsbank president for the second time in March 1933 buoyed the mark price of gold by imposing foreign exchange controls and barter arrangements for foreign trade. Germans daring to
directly settle foreign debts with their creditors were threatened with the death penalty.

What Rene Dreyfus did with an outgunned Delahaye in 1938 on a comparative shoestring budget against the MB W154 is also a good story.

Truly incredible that one 2-barrel carb fed 16 cylinders through a supercharger at over 6 liters and still had so much fuel left unburnt it had to be ejected before it backfired.

Can think of several American muscle cars with 6-8 barrels of carburetor on half the cylinders without super chargers.
Pit Crew

Excellent article!
Pit Crew

So we have Bugatti Chiron with 100X the technology matching the speed achieved in 1938. I always loved American V-8s best, especially the pushrod SBC. But the Auto Union's 520 hp @ only 5000 rpm and 629 ft lbs of torque @ 2500 rpm from 386 cubic inches makes the C8 Corvette engine seem like a joke. Maybe someone can further develop a V-16 (that cleanly runs on modern fuel) before the ICE is finally dead.
Advanced Driver

you HAVE noted that the C8 vette motor lacks the DaimlerBenz and Auto Union's forced induction, right?

The insane skills and fearlessness of these drivers I wonder if any of them became Luftwaffe
pilots. I knew a few hotrodders I grew up around in the 60's-70's and instead of a year in county jail and with their skill set opted for military service, all became Helicopter pilots and hot-rodded the sky's of Vietnam.
Intermediate Driver

Great article by Don Sherman - who's also a great guy! If you find this pre-WWII era of Grand Prix competition interesting, I highly recommend reading the book "Faster" by Neal does a great job of giving insights into the cars, factories, drivers and competition of GP racing - and the world record runs on the Autobahn - in the 1930's - a must read for enthusiasts!
Intermediate Driver

What a neat piece of machinery!

& today
We think we are so special with our 'tec BS'
Intermediate Driver

check out this book:

Great read on exactly what was discussed above and more.

Right. That's the Rene Dreyfus/Delahaye V-12 feat i was referring to. Merci.
Intermediate Driver

Even more audacious were the drivers (mad men) that careered them round - and often above - the dangerous tracks and roads of the day.
Pit Crew

Hang on, a 16-cylinder, twin crankshaft engine from Alfa? That's big news to this Alfista! I know they made a bimotore, but that was with, you know, two straight-eight engines, one in front of the driver and one behind.
New Driver

Awesome article! It's good to get a history lesson every now and then. It's too bad that era didn't have the suspension and aerodynamics expertise we do today. Rosemeyer and other drivers who lost their lives may have survived.