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Category: Goodwood Festival of Speed

Audi recreates 16-cylinder super-sedan designed in 1930s but never built


Auto Union — one of the companies that Audi traces its roots to — set several world records in the 1930s with a series of race cars grouped under the Silver Arrow label. These cars were designed exclusively for track use, but the brand also envisioned a street-legal version called Type 52 that used the same 16-cylinder engine. The sedan was never built, so Audi dusted off decades-old blueprints to make it a reality.

Type 52 was an internal designation; Audi notes that the model would have likely been launched as the Schnellsportwagen, which means “fast sports car” in German. It’s a fitting name: Ferdinand Porsche’s design office started the project in late 1933 and planned a sedan built around a de-tuned version of the supercharged, 4.4-liter 16-cylinder engine that powered the Type 22 race car. In spite of the lower compression, the engine was projected to develop about 200 horsepower and 322 pound-feet of torque, which was enough for a top speed of 124 mph. Had it gone on sale, the Schnellsportwagen would have stood proud as one of the fastest and most powerful cars of its era.

Visually, the Schnellsportwagen featured an aerodynamic, wing-shaped silhouette characterized by an unusually long wheelbase required to accommodate the massive mid-mounted engine. It had four rear-hinged doors, and the interior layout placed the driver front and center and the two passengers on either side — this layout made the McLaren F1 famous nearly 60 years later. Auto Union even fitted a small trunk.

Auto Union’s plans to build a test car were canned when the project was abandoned in 1935, so the Schnellsportwagen was consigned to the pantheon of automotive history. Recreating it using archive documents and design sketches was easier said than done, especially since none of the people that worked on the project are still alive. Audi commissioned an England-based restoration shop named Crosthwaite & Gardner to tackle the project. Every part of the car had to be built from scratch including the chassis, the engine, and the body panels.

One of the bigger issues that the shop, which worked closely with members of the Audi Tradition department, ran into is that the car never made it off the drawing board. “One insight that came out of our intensive exchange is that the developers in the 1930s would probably have had to adjust some of the technical details in the course of testing,” explained Timo Witt, the head of Audi’s historical vehicle collection.

The wheelbase was consequently extended in order to package the front suspension system, the steering components, the engine, and the transmission. The engine was updated as well: the modern-day Schnellsportwagen uses a version of the 1936 Auto Union Type C’s 6.0-liter 16-cylinder, which is supercharged to 520 horsepower. It runs on a blend of 50% methanol, 40% gasoline and 10% toluene. None of the period documents clarified the car’s color, so Audi painted the car in the same Cellulose Silver that appeared on the Silver Arrow race cars.

Over 90 years after it was designed, the Auto Union Type 52 will make its public debut at the 2024 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

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