Clarity was crucial; displays had to be precise and readable at a glance. Drivers only had fractions of a second to scan their instruments when they were zooming along racecourses at speeds of up to 340 km/h (210 mph). Instruments of the legendary Auto Union Grand Prix race cars served Audi Design as an inspiration for the look of the Audi centennial watch.
Especially the speedometers played a key role for race drivers Bernd Rosemeyer, Tazio Nuvolari and Hans Stuck. Then as now, it is ultimately the right time to change gear that is one of the decisive factors of optimum race car control: shifting too early results in a loss of power; yet, if the revs are too high, then the power drops again or the high-performance engine’s well-being could even be seriously at risk. Audi Design developed its own typography from the very sharp and quickly readable graphic appearance of those instruments from the 1930s. It provides the basis of the special dial face of the Audi Tachoscope.
Auto Union race cars represent a very special milestone in Audi’s corporate history. They always stood out from the starting lineup at Grand Prix races. Not only because they usually started from right at the front, but rather because they had a strikingly new appearance: the Auto Union drivers no longer sat behind the engine, but in front of it.
The engines – usually powerful, 16-cylinder powerplants – were located at the middle of the car. This mid-engine layout improved weight distribution and traction. The advantages were compelling: Today, this layout has long since become standard. Even high-performance sports cars for the road, such as the Audi R8, benefit from the dynamic handling strengths of the mid-engine layout.
Already at its debut in 1934, Hans Stuck set a new world record with the Auto Union Type A. In 1936 the young driver Bernd Rosemeyer captured both the German and European championship titles with the Type C, powered by more than 500 hp. By the end of 1937, Auto Union had competed in 54 races and won 32 of them – setting 15 world records in the process. When Tazio Nuvolari jumped out of the car on September 3, 1939, after his victory in Belgrade, this marked the end of this incredible racer’s era.