My favourite topics of discussion? Auto racing and German cars, with Audi at the top. I’ve attended many endurance races, including (more than once!) the 24 Hours of Le Mans as an accredited photographer for QuattroWorld.com. So I was excited when Michael asked me to take part in #bcotd. It gave me a chance to find and research an interesting vehicle from the Audi history books.
Road rallies push drivers and their cars to the edge of human endurance. They’re not always about high-speed runs and setting distance records, though. The more extreme competitions often take place on roads many people will never get to experience and only locals know about.
They deal with extreme elevation and weather changes while crossing great distances—almost enough to make the 24 Hours of Le Mans seem like a drive to Burger King.
The Liège-Rome-Liège is one such rally. In period, it covered 3500 km (2174 miles) over some of the toughest terrain in Europe. Stopping was only allowed for re-fuelling. One thing is for sure: two drivers, with little sleep and nourishment, would share the journey of a lifetime.
Let’s discuss the route, though there’s not much information available for the 1939 Liège-Rome-Liège. The drivers would tackle many mountain passes, scenic, undulating, paved and gravel roads.
We know the teams sat at the wheel non-stop for more than 100 hours. They started in Liège, Belgium and the route crossed through the Ardennes, through some of the highest passes in the Alps—the snaking Apennine Mountains of Italy—and once they reached Rome they would turn back. They would cover some of the toughest terrain in Europe.
The organizers also limited the rally to small displacement sports cars, which in 1939 meant that most vehicles had between 50-70 horsepower. The regulations also stipulated that the cars could not exceed an average speed of 50 km/h (31 mph)…which seems like a joke.
However, driving at that speed would mean that you would end up at the checkpoints long after they have closed, because in reality the drivers would have to push their cars much harder to compensate for traffic, terrain, weather, and any unplanned stops. Sustained speeds of more than 70 km/h (44 mph) are rather difficult for small engined cars.
To complete in the Liège-Rome-Liège, Wanderer constructed three streamlined racers, early examples of streamlining a production car chassis. In 1939 three aluminum-bodied W-25 Streamliners left the assembly line, combining Wanderer's W-24 chassis; the DKW schwebeklasse’s (floating axle; the axle was suspended from a high-level laterally-mounted leaf spring.)
Powering the cars was a Ferdinand Porsche designed, 1950cc straight-6 with three carburetors, which saw duty in the production W-25K. The engine produced an estimated 70 bhp at 4,500 rpm. Top speed? A stout 160 km/h (100 mph), more than 52 km/h (32 mph) faster than the W-24.
The completed Streamliners measured 4.35 meters long, 1.65 meters wide and 1.28 meters high. Weight? Just 900 kilograms (1,984 pounds), 220 kilograms (485 pounds) less than the W-24 road car.
The Streamliners would only race only twice, in 1938 and 1939. In 1938, none of the three cars finished. They returned in 1939 and two of the three tied for a 4th place finish and the 3rd entry finished 12th. As a result, Auto Union landed the Cup of Constructors for the best team performance.
Looming on the horizon, though, was the Second World War. When the dust settled, it is not known what happened to the racers. Many great works of automotive history from that period met their demise including, the three W-25 Streamliners. In the late 1990s, however, a chassis and axle turned up.
A chassis, axle, and other period parts? It was all they needed.
D'Ieteren, the largest Volkswagen distributor in Belgium, used the remains and historic photos to reproduce an example. They completed one W-24 Streamliner special with almost all original mechanical parts, with the exception of the transmission gearing and intake manifold.
After the team at Audi Tradition saw the car, they decided to build two more. In 2004 after 66-years the three cars reunited for a running for the Liège-Rome-Liègeis.
Now reborn, Audi Tradition frequently shows their Streamliners at vintage rallies and other classic car events—a happy ending, indeed.
Sources / Recommended reading
- Wanderer W-25 Streamliner: Audi (1, 2), autogallery.org.ru, heinkelscooter.blogspot.com, blickpunkt-ingolstadt.de, gtplanet.net
- Wanderer: Wikipedia
- Liège-Rome-Liège: telegraph.co.uk, luiscezar.blogspot.com, Wikipedia (France)
- Correction: An earlier version of the article claimed an engine size of 19,500cc. This is true, if you then divide by 10. ;)