This is really turning into a soap opera (like high end collector car auctions aren’t far down that road already). For quite some time now, there’s been a pre-war Auto Union Grand Prix racer floating around on the market. At first, it came out of nowhere, and the car collecting sharks were salivating like you wouldn’t believe.
How many of these were made? Six? Eight? How many still exist? I remember reading stories of them being hauled off from Das Reich by Stalin’s troops, never to be seen again. So when one pops up at auction, it’s a big deal.
And then when questions start to crop up, things like where and when and how this particular car got from 1930s Germany to the 2008 (and later 2009) auction circuit and those answers make collectors nervous … well, like I said, it’s soap opera time.
The Bonhams Auction at the Quail lodge in Monterey was expected to bring some of the biggest auction numbers of the vintage car-gasm that is generally referred to as “the Monterey vintage races” (although it includes umpteen concours, side shows, auctions, lunches, brunches, teas and the like). The Auto Union Type D bidding stalled at $6 mil and went no further. Another “no sale” of a car that didn’t sell the last time out either. At least not at these prices.
The problem, in general, is that these days, it’s almost too easy to fake a vintage car (and I’m not saying that this particular Auto Union Type D is a fake). And the motivation is there for the unscrupulous, especially when you can net millions of bucks for some shady work.
If you look at the methods of construction of a car like this, they’re almost laughably primitive by today’s standards. Although sophisticated in concept, featuring such goodies as dual stage superchargers and magnesium alloy bodies, the execution of those sophisticated concepts back in 1930-whatever was, for the most part, close to agrarian.
I’ve got a video of a BBC show about these cars that’s hosted by Alain de Cadenet. At one point in the show, while discussion Audi’s factory recreation of some of their pre-war cars (even Audi doesn’t have this stuff anymore, it would seem), he tells the tail of taking the casing for the stage one blower to a metallurgist for analysis before having them re-cast.
When he asked the metallurgist about the composition of the casing (which is mostly magnesium) the lab coats responded that it was closer to modern day garden furniture in quality than anything they would recommend for a car, let alone a race car.
So with a bar set that low, and sale prices hovering in the stratosphere, you could see where those with less than angelic morals might think twice about having a go at a grand scam. And hence, the (continuing) sad tail of this Auto Union Type D that Bonhams is trying to sell. It’s probably the real deal, but until you can positively show to a bunch of guys with more money than Croesus that it is genuine, then the hesitations will continue.