Last weekend Audi sent a car to a small village in Worcestershire to drive up a hill. This wouldn’t normally be news. However, when the car in question is a Type C pre-war Auto Union and it’s being driven by the son of the man who made it famous, and on the exact same, unchanged hillclimb course as it had been 80 years before, you start to realise just how many stars had to align to make this happen.
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Audi's incredibly rare, gorgeous Type C racer is back!*
Sort of. Pre-war Auto Union racer returns to Shelsley Walsh. TG witnesses the V16 fury
Shelsley Walsh is the world’s oldest motor racing venue still to be held on its original track. 111 years and not a single corner has been changed. To be fair it would be a tricky process since the road leads up the contours of a steep-sided wooded valley.
It’s almost exactly a kilometer long and in that distance it climbs 100 metres – so an average gradient of 10 per cent. It looks deceptively simple, a handful of left kinks followed by a tighter left, then a right and then the finish. But in quick cars those kinks pile on top of each other, connected by bumpy, oddly cambered straights. In places the banks are tall which means in the lower-slung stuff you’re basically driving up a ditch. It’s a massive challenge.
A brief bit of history. Hans Stuck senior was a European Hillclimb champion who came to Shelsley a few times, setting the outright hill record in 1930 in an Austro-Daimler. When he came here in June 1936 with the Auto Union he was widely expected to lower the record yet further – after all, bringing the 520bhp Type C to Shelsley in 1936 must have been like turning up at your local village fete in a flying saucer – the locals would never have seen anything like it.
On the day rain didn’t exactly stop play, but did make it more alarming. Motor Sport magazine reported that Stuck had “the most ferocious series of tail wags we have ever witnessed, his elbows in turn rising high above the car’s side as he corrected the skids, and finished the run with a skid across the line which must have made the timing officials jump for their lives”.
On the day it recorded a best of 45.2 seconds.
Behind the (seatbelt-less) driver sits a supercharged 6.0-litre V16 that as well as developing 520bhp, has 626lb ft of torque at 2500rpm.
The engine isn’t original. I don’t know how familiar you are with the story of the Auto Union racing cars, but during or soon after WW2 they were spirited off to Russia, and gradually resurfaced through rumours and hints some 40 years later. None were in one piece.
This car, the most original of them all, was reclaimed from a car museum in Latvia. The restoration work was done in Britain by a firm called Crosthwaite and Gardiner, who had to rebuild the engine from scratch. The cost doesn’t bear thinking about.
Hans-Joachim Stuck, son of Hans Stuck, is no slouch. He was the 1990 DTM champion and won Le Mans in 1986 and 1987, partnering Derek Bell in a Porsche 962.
When he was invited to come to Shelsley to drive the Type C, he went up to his attic and came down with his father’s goggles and leather skull cap. How cool is that?
The run up the hill
It’s warm and sunny at Shelsley Walsh. Bees are buzzing about and the genteel atmosphere of an English picnic pervades. A V16 running stub exhausts does rather knock a hole in the calm…
The noise is bananas, amplified by the steep walls of the Teme valley. It really could be 1936 is all I can think as it comes into view, cannoning up the narrow track, bellowing and roaring along. It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye. Later, Hans-Joachim will freely admit that he found the occasion rather emotional.
During practice in 1936 Stuck senior was recording times of around 40 seconds – during the weekend, with a rolling start to prevent too much gearbox wear, his son isn’t far off.
80 years of the Auto Union isn’t the only thing Audi is celebrating. Back in 1986, at the end of the Group B era, the firm sent the S1 Quattro to Shelsley with Hannu Mikkola at the wheel. It shot to the top in 29.51 seconds, setting a closed car record.
Today it’s being demonstrated by two-time British rally champion David Llewellin. Who’s driving it like he’s trying to give Mikkola a run for his money. The amount of roll and movement as it whistles and bursts its way up is alarming.
But on the day, neither it nor the Auto Union were the fastest things up the hill. That honour went to Nic Mann’s self-designed, self-built Mannic-Beattie (pictured). If you want to see what a British man is capable of constructing in his shed, dig out clips of this.
At its core lies a turbocharged 1.7-litre Ford four cylinder, but air supply for that comes from a helicopter gas turbine auxiliary power unit. A small jet engine. It’s 4wd, has a four speed gearbox and features a blown diffuser. The engineering is remarkable, the sound is pure jet turbine and the speed off the line is unholy. Apparently it’s capable of pulling 2g acceleration as somewhere in the region of 600bhp shoves along 700kg.
Fastest run? 25.47secs. For a kilometer, up a steep hill, around tricky corners, from a standing start. Awesome stuff.
But the weekend at Shelsley Walsh belonged to Audi. The sight, sound and smell of the Auto Union bought tears to the eyes of old boys in flat caps. It was utterly majestic.
Oh, and if the only hillclimb you’ve been to has been the Goodwood Festival of Speed, please go and watch a proper one. I can’t guarantee Hans-Joachim Stuck will turn up, but I can guarantee you’ll have a great time. It’ll be friendly, intimate, uncrowded and a good excuse for a picnic on someone else’s lawn. And we Brits love a bit of that.