Auto Union Is A No-Sale At Bonhams Monterey

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...
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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.

Source: AutoBlog. Photos from AutoBlog and Flickr users Bechster and tienvijftien.

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  • Brian DR1665

    Shame, really, as it’s a beautiful car. Makes me wonder, if it’s such a relatively simple thing to make a bootleg version, why do we not see more modern day versions of the classic racers?

    Sure, there are Cobra and E-type kit cars, but wouldn’t it be neat to build one of these in your garage and roll it out on the weekends? Sure, some might look upon such an undertaking as borderline shady, but if you like the way something looks and it’s, well, agrarian in it’s fabrication, why not try your hand at it?

    • Rosemeyer

      Well, funnily enough I am actually building an Auto Union, but a C type rather than a D, and I am looking forward to just rolling it out at weekends and revving it up. V8 unfortunately as quite rare to find V16s in the scrappie.

  • Simon

    Tony Borroz is asking the right questions and I would like to add that both Christie’s and Bonham’s were offered indisputable information on that very car from leaving Zwickau in 1945 to the day of auction by genuine documents without any interest from the auction houses. Apparently they are not interested in the documented provenance of important auction lots.

    As far the photo selection is concerned the car on top is the AUTO UNION Type D, the next one is the so called Sokol 650 from the Donington Collection of Single Seater Racing Cars, incorporating a late 1939 Type D chassis layout and a 1950-52 East Germany designed V12 cylinder, normal aspirated 2 ltr. F2 engine. The third photo looks like from a model, in any dase it shows the dashboard of the Type A with rev counter and speedometer.

  • Erwin Spiess

    This very car was recently purchased by Audi and reading the Audi press release creates more questions as it answers.
    Audi spending 8 million – was it Pounds Sterling or Euros? – for used parts
    2007 the web was crowded with Christie’s announcement of a 1939 Auto Union GP car that was supposed to become the most expensive car sold at auction. As one may remember Christie’s withdrew the car only some days before the auction with the statement “Further investigations in the racing history” had become indispensable. The whole world was laughing since everybody knew that it was the disputable identity of the car which has not been clarified to this day.
    Since some days an Audi press release is spreading out in the web:
    This Audi press release creates more questions than it answers.
    I remember very well the fuss created by the withdrawal and the following close-down of Christie’s Motor Car Department. Without being an expert in the thirties racing history of the Auto Union everybody knows that the value of a racing car is mainly depending on its racing history as well as its traceable originality.
    Though the car in question is the one offered by Christies the press release does not mention one word on the identity of the car, commonly referred to as the chassis number. It is no question the one offered by Christie’s in 2007 with chassis number 21 and in 2009 by Bonham’s with number 19. The Bonham’s catalogue is referring to a Martin Schroeder who asserts that he got documents. Did Audi approach this gentleman?
    The question is, what has changed with this car re its identity that makes Audi buying ‘used parts for 8 million, is it Pound Sterling or Euros, i.e. 10 to 12 million US$?
    Quoting the press release „After detailed examination of the racing cars’ components, it was decided to rebuild a Type D single-supercharger racing car to 1938 specification, and a Type D racing car in the 1939 version with twin supercharger” one must understand, that Audi decided on the building of the cars. That would mean that Audi was involved in the wrong identity of the Christie’s car and the fuss generated by a disputable identity.
    In a statement published in the German old car magazine Motor Klassik Peter Kober of Audi Tradition is quoted with: “The history of the chassis was irrelevant for our decision. For us the only important matter of fact is that this is the car with the highest number of original parts.“
    Every manufacturer of replicas and/or fakes will be happy for this statement, since it is easy to put some “original parts” into every “recreated” Bentley, Mercedes S Type or Ferrari GTO.
    Also “the car with the highest number of original parts” raises the question of the identity of the 1938 Auto Union Type D purchased from Karassik in 1998.
    A lot of questions that car collectors are requiring hard evidence from Audi.


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