We Watched Hans Stuck Slide His Dad’s Auto Union Type C At Shelsley Walsh
Written by Angus Frazer // Photos by Scott Denis Photography and Dean Smith
Hans Stuck adjusts his goggles, tightens the strap of his leather helmet and pulls his leather gloves on. When he is happy that the supercharged 512 horsepower 6.0-litre V16 engine idling right behind his back is warmed up, he depresses the clutch and eases his works Auto Union Type C towards the start line of the Shelsley Walsh hill climb for the first time. It’d be 80 years before his son would do the same.
In June of 1936, the spectators held their breath. Never had they seen machinery as technically advanced as this before. The air of expectation was palpable. But the weather was not kind though, and as the screaming Silver Arrow racer launched its attack on the hill, a sharp shower of rain drenched the course.
Simply keeping this behemoth on the narrow track had become the priority. Even though his Auto Union Type C is a hill climb special, with unique twin wheels and tyres on each side of its rear axle designed to provide optimum traction, taming its torque in the wet required a herculean effort from Stuck.
The following month’s Motor Sport Magazine reported, “…colossal wheelspin” simply to get the car off the line. But there was no thought of throttling off. The man they still call ‘King of the Mountains’ was going for it, rain or not. Only his lightning fast reactions and precision-perfect daps of opposite lock prevented disaster that day.
According to Motor Sport Magazine, the run saw, “…the most ferocious series of tail wags we have ever witnessed, his elbows in turn rising high above the car’s side as he corrected the skids, and finished the run with a skid across the line which must have made the timing officials jump for their lives.”
While the timing officials may have jumped, they didn’t neglect to stop the clock. Despite the rain Hans Stuck set a time of 45.2 seconds, giving him victory in the Over 5 litres Supercharged class.
That all happened decades ago at Shelsley Walsh hill climb in England’s idyllic Worcestershire; the 1000-yard course is the oldest motor sport venue in the world still in use, as cars first began climbing the hill in 1905.
First, you should know that the car seen here is not the exact car that Hans Stuck drove, but a precise replica, commissioned by Audi to honour its Auto Union ancestor company and constructed by British firm Crosthwaite & Gardiner using around 50 per cent original 1930’ parts. It is, of course, 100% authentically accurate, right down to its double wheel rear axle.
The man sitting in the car today is wearing the same goggles, leather helmet and gloves and is trying hard to blink back the tears that are threatening to come. Sixty-five year-old Hans-Joachim Stuck has come to pay tribute to his father by driving the Auto Union Type C up the hill.
Much as he would love to, he will not be doing so in his father’s racing gear. Reluctantly, after the photographers have got their shot, off come the goggles, leather helmet and gloves. In order to keep the race officials, and his wife Christa-Maria who is watching, happy, Hans-Joachim pulls on his modern full-face helmet and his fireproof racing gloves.
The V16 roars into life and Hans-Joachim blasts off up the hill for the first time. He only flew to the UK from his home in Austria this morning, and has only been up the hill once, as a passenger. Quiet practice runs with no one watching? Pah! No need for any of that.
Today the sun is shining on the beautiful, aluminium, silver-painted bodywork of the Type C. The track is bone dry, affording Hans-Joachim much more traction than his father had at his disposal eighty years ago. With a thunderous roar the Silver Arrow flashes past. Hans-Joachim is not going for a record today, but that does not stopping him from drifting the car through the bends.
A task like this requires supreme skill and concentration. Whatever his thoughts before the start there is no time to think of his father now. His mind is focussed solely on his driving and the challenging of conducting his fearsome charge with inch-perfect accuracy. Afterwards though, on his way back down the hill, it is a different matter.
“Yes, on the way up I had to careful,” Hans-Joachim tells us when I caught up with him. “I was well aware that I was driving a piece of history. And you know I am a piece of history too – my wife wouldn’t like it if I crashed!”
Then the joking stops as he reflects on his run back down the hill. “I am not afraid to admit it that I had some tears running down my eyes. It was very precious to me knowing that this is my Dad’s car, knowing how crazy it must have been for him to drive this car and it gave me such a fantastic moment.”
So just what was it like to drive this ‘crazy car,’ the legend of which had always been there all throughout Hans-Joachim’s childhood. “It is a car where you have to be the master. It is not a car that has traction control and anti-skid technology, nor a Playstation gearbox and stuff like that. The engine is superb—so much torque—and the throttle response is fantastic. I only used about a third of the throttle travel because the tyres were already spinning. But thanks to my Dad, who invented the twin rear wheels on the back because with only single rear tyres the car would only go sideways, it was OK.”
“But it is not easy, everything feels so heavy—the clutch pedal, the brake pedal, the steering, the gearbox—everything is difficult. So I ask myself, ‘How could they do a 500km Nürburgring Grand Prix in a car like this?’ And I really don’t know.”
Bear in mind: this is coming from a man who won Le Mans in 1986 and 1987 in a Group C Porsche 962 in the days when the Mulsanne straight was taken flat out, and then clinched the German Touring Car Championship in 1990 in an Audi V8 quattro.
Despite the huge variety of machinery Hans-Joachim has raced during his 42-year racing career, the Auto Union has clearly made a big impression on him. “I must thank the guys at Audi Tradition who look after the car so well. This car is in such good shape. I tell you, Daddy is looking down and would love to drive it again!”
If Hans Senior is indeed looking down, I wonder what he might think of his son’s driving, especially the drifting through the corners? Hans-Joachim laughs and recalls how his father taught him to drive, sitting beside him for his first lap of Germany’s legendary 14-mile Nürburgring race circuit when Hans Junior was only nine-years-old.
“I did a decent speed perched on two cushions so that I could reach the wheel with Dad sitting next to me. He had big balls to do that, you know. Then when I started racing, when I used to come into the pits I had more squashed bugs on the doors than on the windscreen and he said ‘Bubble, my little boy, don’t drive too much sideways,’ and he was right, because I was too wild in those days.”
Wild driving and the Auto Union Type C could well prove to be a disastrously potent cocktail, and that maybe explains why Hans-Joachim is not quite ready to hand over his father’s goggles, gloves and helmet to the next generation just yet. “Both my sons Ferdinand and Johannes are racing. The other day the oldest one, Johannes, asked me, ‘Hey when can I drive grandfather’s car?’ so I told him, ‘First you behave and then we will see!’”