The pre-war period was a weird time for Grand Prix cars. Engineers had figured out that by cramming more fuel and air into ever more cylinders, you could create vast amounts of power. They hadn’t quite figured out the chassis and tires yet, however, which led to Auto Union’s V16 dually beast.
Officially given the catchy and expository name of “Auto Union 16-cylinder hill-climb racing car type C/D,” it did exactly what it said on the tin. With a 6-liter V16 belting out 520 horsepower, Audi’s offiial specs give it a top speed of “approximately” 155 mph.
Although Audi pins it as a 1939 model, it’s a bit of a mish-mash of different parts from different years, as Car and Driver noted back in 2001:
The 6.0-liter C-type engine wore a 1936 date stamp, the gearbox carried 1938 identification, and the nose shape was D-type. Driver Hans Stuck probably piloted this short-wheelbase, dual-rear-tire machine to his fourth Deutsche Bergmeister (“German hill-climb master”) championship in 1938. Hermann P. Muller drove the car in 1939. For the final mountain climb before the war, Muller benefited from two significant updates — a D-type de Dion rear axle and four-leading-shoe brakes.
But hillclimb cars aren’t about top speeds, they’re about control and acceleration in low-grip situations.
Which means that sometimes four skinny tires aren’t enough. Sometimes you need two more. And extremely luckily for us, this thing still runs and drives, and Audi occasionally trots it out just so people can experience it:
It’s an absolute hellbeast, making the sort of noise sound engineers are still dreaming of piping through cabin speakers today:
But even with the two extra tires on the back, it’s still a handful to drive, as Hans-Joachim Stuck once told Petrolicious a few years ago:
“It is a car where you have to be the master. It is not a car that has traction control and anti-skid technology, nor a Playstation gearbox and stuff like that. The engine is superb—so much torque—and the throttle response is fantastic. I only used about a third of the throttle travel because the tyres were already spinning. But thanks to my Dad, who invented the twin rear wheels on the back because with only single rear tyres the car would only go sideways, it was OK.”
“But it is not easy, everything feels so heavy—the clutch pedal, the brake pedal, the steering, the gearbox—everything is difficult. So I ask myself, ‘How could they do a 500km Nürburgring Grand Prix in a car like this?’ And I really don’t know.”
But my favorite part about is the mystery surrounding it. The car somehow survived World War II, but was then taken by the Soviet Union as war reparations. After that the trail goes cold, and the story just turns into a bit of a blank space, with only a few details here and there, until the cars re-surfaced in the 1990s.