Posted 17 January 2004 - 13:07
First of all, I'm no AU expert as Ray may believe, but frankly spoken, I have some problems with the way the Daimler-Chrysler PR department is handling the "silver arrow story". They indeed neither "invented" the silver colour, nor the wording "silver arrows".
The topic of the "PST" (paint scratching tale) has been followed up internally by some of the German speaking TNF members, not because we wanted to exclude others from the discussion, but due to the simple fact that using our mother language is much more easy for us. You should consider that writing down a longer text in English takes about 3 to 4 times longer than in German - at least for me.
The preliminary results of this discussion I have put online here
The text is in German, and I have to mention that this is not the final version, only a kind of a concept. However, I will try to translate the whole thing into English language hereafter.
Eifelrennen Nürburgring early June 1934, the night from Saturday to Sunday, hectic acitivity in the Mercedes pits, because all mechanics are fully busy grinding and scratching the white paint from the new grand prix cars from Stuttgart, in order to eliminate the one kilogram of overweight which is necessary to reach the magical 750 kg limit, and which was the reason that the technical officials refused race participation of the W25's.
Who does not know this story? Published countless times, and repeated by reputable journalists and authors over and over again, it has became a vital part of the legendary German racing history of the 30's.
But did it really happen like this? Where are the roots, who can confirm it, and which contemporary reports do we have? And which indications, arguments, and proofs are speaking against it? Did an event really took place, only because it has been reported over decades? This question I would like to follow up in this article.
Let's start with the origin, or better said the most likely origin. The first mentioning known to me can be found in the memoirs of Alfred Neubauer, the legendary Mercedes race director, published under the title "Speed was my life" (German original "Männer, Frauen und Motoren") in 1959. Let us listen to him:
(Not the wording of the original English version, but my personal translation from German to English)
"The evening before the race the cars had been weighted - and found too heavy. Only 750 kgs the "silver arrows" are allowed to weigh - without fuel, cooling water, oil, and tyres. But as the mechanics push the first car to the scale, it shows 751 kilograms. What to do? Tomorrow is race day, I cannot give order to remove vital parts, everything is calculated up to the gram. "What about one of your famous tricks?", said Brauchitsch. "Otherwise we are the lacqered ones…" (German wording for "otherwise we are the fools"). "Lacqered?" I asked, and at the same moment it made click. "Of course - the lacquer, the paint, that's the solution!" The whole night the mechanics scrubbed the white paint from our silver arrows, and as they are put on the weighing scale again the next morning - the weight was exactly 750 kilograms.
Hmm, why is Neubauer calling the race cars already before the paint removal action "silver arrows"? And even some pages earlier, recalling the Monza tests in February, Neubauer talks about "our new silver arrow", and also during the tests on the AVUS one week before the Nürburgring the W25 was already a "silver arrow"…!
"Speed was my life" in a rather fascinating way mirrors the motorsport world of the 20', 30's, and 50's. Alfred Neubauer, who during all of his life was always a perfect story teller, is presenting here himself at its best, and Harvey T. Rowe has perfectly managed to put the single episodes onto paper. It is surely one of the most fascinating books I ever red. But exactly this is the problem - it's a story book (Geschichtenbuch), and no history book (Geschichtsbuch).
If one has good knowledge of the motorsport historic details of the period, then repeatedly in Neubauer's memoirs items can be found which are not in full accordance with the proven facts. Whereof surely the allegedly lottery cheating at Tripolis 1933 is the most recognizable. Not only that the incident in such a way never has taken place, but Louis Chiron, quoted by Neubauer various times, was not present that year, and Governor Italo Balbo surely was not able to start the race, because he took over this position only in January 1934. And last but not least - also Alfred Neubauer was not present at Tripolis in 1933.
By all who know him Alfred Neubauer always was described as a phantastic entertainer and story teller, and that his tales do not become boring, he developed and extended them constantly. And in the end we are confronted with fairy tales like the Tripolis lottery, and - probably - also the paint scratching at the Nürburgring.
What about other contemporary witnesses? What does the often quoted Manfred von Brauchitch has to tell? His first book "Kampf um Meter und Sekunden" has been published already in 1953, years earlier than Neubauer's "Männer, Frauen und Motoren". In the chapter "Sieg" he describes in detail his first victory as Mercedes works driver at the 1934 Eifelrennen, but no word at all about weight problems of the racing cars, and about a nightly paint scratching action.
Only in his second book "Ohne Kampf kein Sieg", published 1964, he takes over Neubauer's description:
….. Still looking for somebody owning the book, in order to quote the exact text …..
This story will follow von Brauchitsch for the rest of his life, and in the end he was not only convinced that it is true, he even believed that he and not Neubauer had the alleged idea of removing the paint. Here an extract from a TV interview from the 90's:
“Now you start with that scratching, with that fat guy who scratched the paint. I was present, and could tell you something else ..., we both had that idea, but the paunch liked to brag of it, but let him do so!”
Alfred Neubauer and Manfred von Brauchitsch are always quoted as contemporary witnesses for the story, but the reliability of both must be heavily doubted. Before Neubauer's memoirs from 1959, for 25 years no single written word can be found about the "PST", and von Brauchitsch obviously has simply copied Neubauer.
But there is another witness of the era, namely the Mercedes race mechanic Eugen Reichle, who in an interview (Motor-Klassik 2/94) has said:
"The cars never had been painted white, so there was no paint to grind off. They simply had let us drive like that."
As this statement obviously does not fit into actual interpretation of history, it seems to have been simply forgotten, even at its original source. One has to read in "Motor Klassik 11/01" the article "Silberschmuck" by Clauspeter Becker. Oh, by the way, the "Eifelrennen" was on June 3, and not on July 10…!
Is this now fickleness, or journalistic freedom? Because the same magazine in edition 4/03 published an obituray on the late Manfred von Brauchitsch, author Eberhard Reuss, which says
"Strange only, that none of the contemporary writers and reporters has spotted somewhat of this myth, no single word about the "birth of the silver arrows. Nowhere."
And again one year later Claupeter Becker in his book "Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows" reconfirms again the paint scratching, and even goes one step further:
"At this stage (Eifelrennen, MM) the Auto Union cars were still all in white, but it was not long before silver was adopted by both teams as the new racing color for German cars - though with silver paint covering the bare aluminium, of course".
Bad research, or a morally obligation towards the title of the book…?
The international race colours at that time had not only been a sign of a certain national pride, but also had been part of the AIACR sporting regulations for international race events. If therefore over night the new and long-awaited race cars from Stuttgart would have lost their national white, would this had not been worth mentioned somewhere in the contemporary press? And also the - provisionally - exclusion of the Mercedes race cars at their debut race due to a single kilogram would have caused a cry of indignation in the press, or? Well, let's have a look.
(The thumbnails can be clicked for download the full pages)
Thus no word about a surprising colour change at Mercedes, and also nothing about a threat for disqualification on Saturday. Both the Auto Unions as also the Mercedes' are described as "silver-glossy", and that in a way as if this colour had been the most normal thing on world for both teams. Unfortunately the photos are strongly retouched, so they are unsuitable for proving the exact colour of the cars.
(More articles for download)
Silver-shining race cars, aluminium bodies flashing in the sun - obviously for nobody a surprise. So it is very likely that the "new colour" has been introduced already before the Eifelrennen.
To be continued, lack of time, sorry!