Between 1934 and 1938, Mercedes and Auto Union, which were already facing each other on the circuits, engaged in a tough fight to break records, such as the 5 kilometers, the Mile and the Kilometer, or the 10 miles and 10 kilometers, released. Except once, when the Berlin Avus circuit is used, the usual setting is the new German motorways. And the cars are the Grand Prix single-seaters, yes, very modified especially at the aerodynamic level.
But in the midst of this battle between the brand of the rings and that of the star, in 1936 Hans von Stuck (father of ‘Stucki’, an F1 driver in the 1970s) thought to attack the absolute world record for speed on land. It is not difficult for him to convince the authorities of the National Socialist regime, experts in using motor sports as an example of their power, and who see in this challenge an important propaganda effect, one more step to humiliate the English, the that already expire in the circuits.
Yes, and it is that this pure speed is a closed preserve of the British. In his particular fight on the track of the Salt Lake of Bonneville (USA), Malcom Campbell with the ‘Bluebird’; Georges Eyston with the ‘Thunderbolt’; and John Cobb with the ‘Raylton’, between March 7, 1935 and September 16, 1938, they have carried the mark of 445,472 km / h to 572,217 km / h.
When he launched his idea, Hans von Stuck was 36 years old and had a brilliant track record. He had started his sports career at Austro-Daimler and Mercedes, dominated the European Mountain Championship since 1930, and in 1934, as the first driver of the new Auto Union team, he won the Grand Prix of Germany, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. And in 1935 it was imposed in that of Italy. And he is also the one who drives the cars of the four rings in his first highway records.
But to make his idea effective, a Grand Prix car is useless, however modified it may be. You have to start from a blank page, conceive an express car for this record. Professor Porsche, designer of the famous Grand Prix Auto Union, had been his patron until 1936, but Stuck also maintained good relations with the people of Mercedes: Alfred Neubahuer, the famous crew chief, the prestigious engineer and driver Max Sailer, and even the Chairman of the Daimler-Benz Board of Directors, Wilhelm Kissel. Stuck is also a close friend of Ernst Udet, World War I aviation ace and now head of the Luftwaffe technical department. All of these relationships will allow Stuck’s project to get under way.
On the one hand, Ferdinand Porsche, who has opened his own study office (together with Karl Rabe, his chief engineer, and Josef Mickl, an expert in aerodynamics), is ready to develop the record-breaking car. And on the other hand, on March 11, In 1937, Porsche itself signs a contract with Daimler-Benz AG for extensive participation in all areas of engine and vehicle design.
The T 80 project was not without criticism within the Stuttgart company. This was mainly due to Hans Von Stuck himself. How would the public respond if Stuttgart’s successful racing department hired a driver with an image tied to Auto Union for their absolute world record attempt? Therefore, many of the company’s decision makers wondered if it would not be better to entrust the pilot Rudolf Caracciola with the attempt. Stuck himself would have preferred the car to carry the four Auto Union rings, but the Ingolstadt brand had a large budget already committed for its Grand Prix cars and so it turned to Daimler-Benz.
Initially, the financing was arranged as follows: Daimler-Benz would bear the cost of building the chassis. The body was to be built and paid for by aircraft manufacturer Heinkel. The organization of the attempt to break the record itself would be financed by Stuck himself. Kissel had already established this when he met with Stuck on October 21, 1936.
On January 13, 1937 the agreement with Mercedes Benz was ratified: they will put the money (1 million marks) and the technical means to build the record car. But you need an engine, and not just any one.
Professor Porsche believes that this engine should offer more than 2,500 hp of power. Daimler Benz manufactures an engine of these characteristics for the Heinkel and Messerschmitt aircraft, but does not have automatic access to such a unit, as the Ministry of Aviation has the exclusive rights of use on all aircraft engines produced in Germany. Udet intervenes, and manages that his partners have two V12 Type DB 601, 33.9 liters and supercharged.
Lighter than the British
Five months later, in June 1937, Ferdinand Porsche and his team presented the blueprints for the record-breaking car, under the reference T 80: the ‘T’ stands for ‘Type’ in Porsche cabinet projects.
The car, with six wheels (it has a double rear train), is very long (8.23 meters) and with a wheelbase of 4.82 meters. But, instead, it is very narrow: 1.74 meters (3.20 meters counting the two side wings). It weighs 2,896 kilos (without gasoline or oil) of which 807 correspond to the engine and its supercharging system, and 125 kilos to the chassis. It may seem heavy, but it is actually very light compared to its British rivals: Eyston’s ‘Thunderbolt’, which carries two Rolls Royce engines (73,164cc and 4600hp), gave 7 tonnes on the scale.
We had pointed out that the DB 601 engine had been used but finally it was considered insufficient and the 44.5-liter Mercedes DB 603 V12 was used, which offered a power of 3000 hp. This engine with a compressor, direct injection, one overhead camshaft per row of cylinders, and double ignition, was mounted almost in the center of a chassis made up of two spars made of light metal. The transmission to the four rear wheels was effected through a three-disc clutch and a torque converter. A system independent of the action of the accelerator, could regulate the fuel flow in case of uncontrolled wheels. These were made of spokes and shod with Continental tires (7.00 x 32 and just 1 to 1.2 mm thick rubber). Continental tested the wheels intended for the T 80 on a test bench, and during a high-speed test at 500 km / h in January 1939, it found severe deformation of the spoked wheels supplied by Hering in Ronneburg, Thuringia. In May there were still slight deformations at 480 km / h….
On these wheels were the huge brake drums, with a diameter of 0.50 centimeters. Most of the fuel was located at the rear end, while the oil tank (30 liters) was located under the pilot’s seat. This one was in a very advanced position in the style of the Grand Prix mid-engined Auto Union, and was holding a flat-bottomed steering wheel in its hands: it was not really necessary to turn more than 9 degrees, as its function was to preserve the trajectory in a straight line.
On a tubular frame, which covered the entire assembly, the bodywork made of aluminum panels was placed, a bodywork that could be removed in record time, to carry out any mechanical intervention. Along the same lines, it had an advanced system of built-in hydraulic jacks, something that will be seen much later in sports cars in endurance tests.
The aerodynamic study of the body was the work of Josef Mickl, who had even planned to place a huge spoiler (in the style of the Chaparral or Formula 1 cars almost thirty years later) between the two rear axles. It not only had a stabilizing function but also, being mobile, it acted as an aerodynamic brake. Some vertical drifts were also considered and even a spoiler was placed at the front. Finally, after the first aerodynamic tests of the model, they opted for side wings inspired by Fritz von Opel’s rocket cars from the 1920s.
Spinning with the track
In this configuration, the T 80 was studied to exceed 650 km / h and thus be able to beat without problems the 594,847 km / h reached by John Cobb’s ‘Railton Mobil’ in Bonneville, on August 23, 1939.
The attempt would be in the spring of 1940. Originally, the plan was to use the track at Bonneville, in the United States, where the last world records had been achieved. In mid-1938, this gave way to a plan to use in its Place a specially prepared section of the motorway between Dessau-South and Bitterfeld, near Berlin. In August 1938, the German Inspector General for Roads, Fritz Todt, announced that the date for the proposed launch of this section of the highway for use would be October 1938: the National Socialist authorities wanted the glory of a hundred percent success. one hundred German: car, pilot …, and stage.
The issue of the location of the record attempt was never really resolved. Thus in 1939 there was still talk of the USA: the reason for the resumption of the discussion at Mercedes-Benz could have been the difficult driving conditions on the manually paved median between the two lanes in the planned section of the freeway.
But everything remained in pure speculation. The war had broken out and the V12s of the T 80 were recovered by the Lutfwaffe, with other less “sporting” objectives.
To the museum
The T80 is discovered, half-assembled, by American troops in 1945. Mercedes-Benz exhibited the car in the company’s museum in Untertürkheim. When the museum was reorganized in 1986, the body and chassis were separated and the latter was put into storage. The new Mercedes-Benz Museum opened in 2006, also presented the T 80 in the permanent exhibition with its original body, frame and wheels, but without the chassis.
In 2018 the chassis was exhibited along with a replica of the frame that supports the bodywork and the sectioned engine, to make the scale of the impressive T 80 project more visible to the public.
After the war, on September 16, 1947, John Cobb with the slightly modified ‘Railton’, reached 634,390 km / h, absolute record of speed on land. It would not be beaten until in 1964 Donald Campbell and the Bluebird achieved 648.587 km / h.
Hans Stuck and his entourage thought during that time that the T 80 was potentially faster than its opponents. But at Daimler Benz, other were the concerns. And the dream of Hans Von Stuck, who died in 1978, never came true.