1934 Auto Union Type 52 engineering sketchEnlarge Photo
If ever the words "ancestral supercar" belonged together, this is it.
With the merging of Audi, DKW, Horch, and Wanderer together as Auto Union in 1932, Ferdinand Porsche and former Mercedes team driver Adolf Rosenberger founded Hochleistungs Motor (High Power Engines) on the speculation they would be tapped to develop a Grand Prix car for the newly established automaker's race team. It did come to pass, and the mid-engine Type A through D cars were tricky to handle but dominant in the right hands.
But Porsche being Porsche, good enough wasn't enough. With design work from Erwin Komenda (who later drew the 356's lines) and engineering from Karl Rabe, Porsche envisioned a car for the road. It wasn't the Volkswagen Beetle, though that was under initial development around the same time.
Instead, the Auto Union Type 52 was to have four times the cylinders and eight times the horsepower of the original People's Car. The Type A race car's supercharged V-16 was to work civilian duty amidships, simmered down from 295 horsepower in race trim to an even 200 horsepower. Connected to a five-speed gearbox, performance would have set the supercar standard--had there been one at the time. Zero to 60 mph would have taken an estimated 8.5 seconds on the way to a top speed of 125 mph.
Under the avant-garde streamlined body, cockpit orientation featured a central driving position, slightly ahead of a passenger seat to either side. It would be three decades before the layout would be seen again in the Ferrari 365P Berlinetta Centrale concept, and more recently in the production McLaren F1. A 'limovariation' on the Type 52 featured rear seating as well, potentially making Auto Union a double threat. The closest competitor would have been the Tatra 77, though the Type 52 would have trumped the Czech car in style and speed.
So with a theoretic slam-dunk on its hands, why didn't Auto Union produce the Type 25? That's the nagging, unresolved question not even Porsche's immensely helpful archivists can answer. All we can do is wonder what might have been.