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German F2 specials taking on Ferrari



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Hans Klenk


Veritas Meteor (self-entered)




XV German GP (3 August 1952)


Rudi Fischer


Ecurie Espadon Ferrari 500




XV German GP (3 August 1952)


The winner and runner-up of the 1952 AVUS GP had nothing much in common, apart from the fact that they both spoke German and were born in Germany, entered Veritas Meteors for other drivers and competed side by side in the 1952 German GP. While Hans Klenk was a gritty ex-Messerschmidt fighter pilot who transformed into a low-flying daredevil, Rudi Fischer was a well-to-do restaurateur and proficient amateur driver who with his Ecurie Espadon became a much-seen figure in early-fifties Grand Prix events, combining a limited World Championship programme with a large number of lesser GP events across the European continent.

For a driver of his talent - he was exceptionally good for a gentleman racer - Fischer's GP career spans a mere three years, and it was a great surprise to see him leave the scene after the 1952 season, only coming back for a couple of hill-climbs every year, which were some sort of a speciality for the Swiss.

Zürich-born Fischer came to prominence in 1949 when racing a HWM to sixth at the Prix de Berne, sharing with Moss. Having discovered his talent he made no qualms of ordering a specially-built Ferrari 212 for himself to go Grand Prix racing in 1951.

His World Championship participations were limited to the nearby Swiss, German and Italian GPs and he certainly did not make a fool of himself. Profiting from his local knowledge the bespectacled Fischer put his F2 car a magnificent 10th on the grid, ahead of all the Talbots, Maseratis and HWMs. He was less lucky in the race, finishing 11th, 3 laps down, as the two-hour race wore him down, but he soon found success in non-championship events such as Bordeaux (second), San Remo (third), Syracuse (third) and the Dutch GP at Zandvoort (fourth). Next to that he took three F2 wins - at AVUS, Aix-les-Bains and Angoulême - while also starring in hill-climbs.

In the German GP Rudi finished just outside the points in 6th, having started an outstanding 8th, and the promise was already showing. He delivered in 1952, of course helped by his acquisition of one of the latest Ferrari 500 models. But speaking volumes for his ability is the fact that he took his best World Championship results - second at his home GP, third in Germany (our picture) - at real drivers' circuits: Bremgarten and the Nürburgring. He was less lucky at Rouen-les-Essarts, blowing the engine of his 500 in practice and having to resort to the back-up 212, while in Britain he was pushed back by a drone of fast locals - from Downing to Collins - on a circuit unknown to him. Another engine blow turned his last GP appearance into a disappointment, but not before this underrated driver took convincing wins at AVUS (leading Hans Klenk) and in the Eifelrennen.

Sportscar ace Hans Klenk will always be known as Vulture Man, for his epic contretemps with a vulture that hit his svelte Mercedes 300SLR during the 1952 Carrera Panamerica became instant history - as much a classic as Stefan Johansson colliding with a deer in practice for the 1987 Austrian GP. Co-driving with his friend, old Mercedes hack Karl Kling, Klenk mastered the gruelling Latin American road rally and turned the fifth and last sporting appearance of the Gullwing car into a victorious journey, vultures coming their way or not.

1952 was the comeback year for Mercedes-Benz's motorsport division - and it was a return with a bang. The sportscar codenamed W194 was launched as the 300SLR and made its first racing appearance at the Mille Miglia on May 4. With its streamlined body - reaching a Cw value of just 0.25 - the car looked stunning and was immediately on the pace. Fittingly, one of the Stuttgart cars was entrusted to Rudi Caracciola, who went on to finish fourth, while Hermann Lang was out after 220 kilometres, a stone having damaged the rear axle. This left Kling to defend silver honours, and things were looking good until well into the race - no doubt thanks to Hans Klenk's innovative "prayer book", which became the mother of modern rally pace notes. Unfortunately the K&K challenge was blunted by a flat tyre getting stuck to the car leaving the red Ferrari 250S of Bracco to win by four minutes.

Two weeks after the Swiss sportscar GP took place at Berne, where Mercedes scored an emphatic one-two-three with Kling leading Lang and Rieß, there was sorrow as well as Caracciola rammed a Bremgarten tree, putting an end to his distinguished racing career. Also, this was the only occasion on which Mercedes cars didn't race as the Silver Arrows. Expect for Rieß' 300SL, which remained silver, Caracciola's car was red, Kling's dark green and Lang's pale blue.

Next stop for the 300SL armada were the Le Mans 24 hours, where everyone was expecting a Mercedes tidal wave. It happened, but not before the ACO stewards had objected to the car's doors. Mercedes team boss Neubauer (see above) compromised by allowing the door openings to be lowered, thus creating the well-known "Flügeltüre". So this is how the 300 SLR received the famous "Möwenschwingen" or Gullwing nickname. In practice Mercedes also dabbled with a so-called "air brake", a moveable spoiler on top on the roof that could be put in use by the driver to assist the drum brakes. But it was not until 1955 that the contraption, in a somewhat adapted form, actually raced.

While the cars were favourites, they had the win not coming their way, as Pierre Levegh - in a monster solo effort - led the race until the 23rd hour before his Talbot broke. That left a clear road for a Mercedes double, Lang/Rieß in the No.21 car winning ahead of Theo Helfrich/Helmut Niedermayr in the No.20 car. Hans Klenk, in his Mercedes debut, and Karl Kling had to retire the No.22 car during the night.

The toughest challenge followed in Mexico during the third edition of the multi-day Carrera Panamericana event: 3500 kilometres of torture for both man and machine. Mercedes sent four 300SLs to Mexico: Karl Kling and Hans Klenk led the way in the No.4 car, Erwin Grupp partnered Hermann Lang in car No.3, while John Fitch and Eugen Geiger with starting number 6 drove a Spyder version, as did Auto Motor und Sport reporter Günther Molter in the No.5 car, which was there as a spare. Molter also acted as an assistant to Neubauer, which won't have done any good to the impartiality of his reporting!

After 19 hours of racing Kling/Klenk were the victors, with Lang/Grupp coming second. Mercedes were prevented a clean sweep when Fitch/Geiger were disqualified for allegedly crossing the startline of the penultimate stage in reverse gear! While this seemed preposterous enough, the winning car suffered a memorable mishap of itself along the way, a vulture (others speak of a buzzard) demolishing the windshield. Hans Klenk, acting as the co-driver, was hit straight in the face by the dead bird. Klenk continued with his head injuries while overnight the car's windshield was replaced by some welded iron bars… In this shape the car is still to be seen at the Daimler-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.

It was the final appearance for the purposely built W194 sportscar, having won four of its five starts in 1952. The W198 road-car follow-up had its fair share of racing as well in the hands of privateers.

Since, the car has become a myth. Today a 300SL Roadster will raise approximately 400,000 DM on the car classics market while a genuine Gullwing won't go below 550,000 DM. In 1999, when classic magazine Motor Klassik invited 50 experts to select their sportscar of the century, they unsurprisingly went with the 300SL.

Meanwhile, Klenk's career in monopostos centered around converted Veritas sportscars. Having built specials in 1950, Hans soon moved to racing the streamlined Veritas Meteor previously used by his friend Karl Kling. He was pretty successful with it, finishing second twice in 1952, at the typical German high-speed tracks, AVUS and the Grenzlandring. Klenk also entered the car in the German GP, using a self-developed open-wheeled body, along with many other Veritas privateers and BMW specials. Shortly after the start of the race Hans had another scare, with Felice Bonetto spinning right in front of him (and Marcel Balsa's BMW) at the entry of the Südkehre. Here is a newspaper clipping related to the event.

The back side of this newspaper clipping shows a few words written by Klenk himself: 'The ONS [the highest German Sports Authority] awarded me with the No.128'. A strange remark… Didn't he like the combination of one, two and eight? Or did he feel the need to explain the peculiar German numbering system for that event?

The Veritas (Latin for 'truth') car company was established by pre-war BMW engineers Ernst Loof and Lorenz Dietrich in 1947. As it was hard find any suitable parts in battle-scarred Germany, Loof, Dietrich and former Auto Union driver Schorsch Meier had to scour the nation for components to get started. They began by converting pre-war BMW 328 'Brescia' sportscars into racing machines - a common practice at the time, as the BMWs were streets ahead of anyone else in the aerodynamics department. Veritas cars - be it the racing cars or the road-car derivatives - thus always looked the part. Despite the French ban on German cars several French enthusiasts bought Veritas cars from the Messkirch factory in the French sector of Germany. To avoid importing obstructions the cars were sold as kit cars and appeared in France under other names…

Then Loof began to develop his own engine design to complement his 1948 single-seater design. The 2-litre six-cylinder unit was built for the company by Heinkel (the light-alloy casts of the block and cylinder heads were too complicated to do themselves) and featured a single overhead camshaft that activated a similar pushrod layout to the 328 engine. It had three Solex carbs and ran on methanol, giving it an output of 140bhp.

The cars and engines were quite successful in the late 1940s although its overambitious plans to conduct parallel racing and road-car projects caused the company to run into trouble. In 1950 it was closed down. Loof moved to new premises at the Nürburgring and started again, producing the Veritas Meteor chassis for Formula 2 racing. At the 1950 Salon de Paris Veritas unveiled a single-seater with a streamlined body and de Dion rear axle, especially designed for high-speed circuits such as AVUS and Hockenheim.

It was the start of a true Veritas revival. In June 1951 Paul Pietsch won the Eifelrennen at the Nürburgring, and the marque had been almost solely responsible for re-elevating the German motorsport scene to a professional level of competition, giving cars to such drivers as Karl Kling, Hans Klenk, Hans Herrmann and Wolfgang Seidel. With the World Championship being run to Formula 2 regulations in 1952 it allowed the cars to take part in the German GP, with Belgian amateur Arthur Legat also entering his home GP. That year Veritas engines were also seen in Eugene Martin's Jicey and Toni Ulmen won the West German title in a works car. But then the pressure grew to remain competitive and Veritas quickly faded away, unable to keep up with the pace of development. In 1953 fewer Veritas-Meteors were seen in the German championship, although six cars turned up at the GP. A two-three-four result for Klenk, Theo Helfrich and Herrmann at the Avusrennen, trailing Jacques Swaters' private Ferrari, looked good but the works teams had stayed away. Shortly after Loof was forced to close the company and went back to BMW to work as a development engineer. Sadly, he died of a brain tumor three years later.

In 1954, the 1.5-litre days over by now, Hans Klenk produced his own derivative of the Veritas Meteor, the Klenk Meteor. It made Klenk the only man to have one GP appearance as a driver and one as a constructor, but not in the same GP! Klenk's racing career cut short by a nasty accident while testing for Mercedes during 1953, he invited Theo Helfrich to race the Klenk in the 1954 German GP. The car qualified 1.5 minutes (!) slower than the fastest Ferrari and lasted eight laps before retiring with an engine failure.

Reader's Why by 'Uechtel'

This is Hans Klenk´s one and only world championship Grand Prix in which he took part.

After the war it was not very common for German drivers to race abroad. The country was mainly occupied by its own resurrection and only a few amateurs, being drivers, mechanics and team-owners in one person, went racing with whatever machinery they could get. Of course due to the economical circumstances their money was virtually worthless in other countries so, even after German drivers were admitted to international racing again in 1950, they mainly concentrated on events on their home ground. With the excellent pre-war BMW 328 sportscar engine available, a busy scene grew up both in the western and also in the eastern part of the country.

When the early post-war years were over some of the efforts became more and more serious. Even some kind of race car manufacturers appeared, like Veritas, who were the most successful of them. The company had been founded by Ernst Loof and shortly after the war he began building up sportscars, using the BMW 328 engine. These cars dominated the local scene completely and so Loof made a step forward into Formula 2 in 1949.

Despite being often regarded as just another BMW derivate the Veritas Meteor was in fact a completely new design with the first German post-war Formula 2 engine installed, even if it was very similar to the BMW engine in general layout and also in power output and its fragility. Interestingly the engine was produced by the Heinkel factory, famous for their airplane design and production during the war.

The first car was delivered to Europe-based American Alexander Orley who entered it as the "Orley Speciale" in different events all over the continent and the inspired Loof announced a whole production series of this type. Obviously the design and the relatively low price was just that what many enthusiasts had already waited for and so Loof received a lot of orders, even from some foreign customers from Switzerland and Belgium. But selling cars is much easier than building them and Loof made the mistake of wanting too much in a too short time. So he overstressed the company's financial potential by simultaneously trying to set up a production series of road cars, so he spent most of his customer's money on this project rather than building the already paid for Formula 2 cars. So his customers ran out of patience and when the ordered Meteors were finally delivered they were not very well finished and awfully unreliable. The result was a big scandal, a series of legal procedures for financial compensation, and a total loss of reputation - the end of the Veritas company.

But in spite of these difficulties the Meteor still was among the most competitve machinery a German driver could get his hands on and when Hans Klenk entered the scene in 1951 he was glad to purchase such a car from Karl Kling. This car was different from the others as it had a full enveloping body, which was a not too unfamiliar view on the relatively fast German tracks like Avus or Grenzlandring. Klenk made his debut during the 1951 Eifelrennen where he finished fifth and soon established himself among the local opposition.

When Grands Prix were held for Formula 2 cars in 1952 there suddenly opened up a big chance for taking part in a real world championship event, and of course everybody of the local boys tried to make an entry. Altogether 15 German drivers appeared for the race, some of them even from East Germany (as the Berlin wall had not yet been built), and of course Hans Klenk was among them. Especially for this race he had fitted his car with a new open-wheeled bodywork, which he regarded more suitable for the twisty and difficult Nürburgring. In that the car looked more similar to its sister cars but still differed by detail and looked much more elegant.

During practice Klenk qualified for the third row, second fastest of the German drivers behind his marque fellow Paul Pietsch. Shortly after the start he just managed to avoid Bonetto's accident by some centimetres, but soon he began to drop further back and in the end he finished four laps down, too far back to be classified.

Early in 1952 Klenk had also been invited by the Mercedes team to take part in the Mille Miglia as co-driver of Karl Kling in their 300 SL sports car. The idea of the team was that the co-driver should assist for tyre changes and technical problems. Klenk realized that it would be a waste being unoccupied most of the time whereas no driver would be able to learn the whole of the 1000 mile track completely by heart. So he earned his real merit for motor racing when he introduced the so-called "Gebetbuch" (prayer book), in which he recorded every turn, slope and dangerous spot during his careful preparations for the race. This fully paid out and the Kling/Klenk combination would have won the race had they not lost a lot of time during a tyre change when they could not get the wheel off the car after they had hit a stone. So they had to be content with second place behind Bracco's Ferrari.

For 1953 Klenk completely re-engineered his Meteor for the 1953 season and replaced the marque's name by his own: "Klenk Meteor". He intended to enter his home race again but he crashed a Mercedes 300SL sportscar during a test session and suffered severe injuries just before the Grand Prix. So he gave the cockpit to Hans Herrmann, who finished the race as the best German driver, in 9th position.

The car turned up again one last time in 1954, again in the German Grand Prix. But meanwhile the new 2.5-litre formula had been introduced and Helfrich, who drove the car, had no chance against drivers like Fangio or Gonzalez in the Mercedes or Ferrari works cars.

Reader's Why by Alessandro Silva

Zürich restaurateur Rudolf Fischer had excellent results in a very active 1948/'52 period and was one of the most successful private entrants in all of the early WDC history.

We find Fischer driving the 1946 Simca-Gordini 02GC at the 1948 Prix de Genève for 1100 cars where he did not finish. The car was loaned by the factory and entered under the Ecurie Espadon banner, that was going to become the usual name of his racing outfit. Gordini was impressed and loaned the 1947 05GC to the Swiss driver for San Remo and for the Prix de Berne. After this race, Fisher negotiated a contract under which he hired the car on a permanent basis and was allowed to keep it. The car was painted in a weird livery, the front half white and the rear one red. With it Fischer won several minor local events and finished second only to de Graffenried's Maserati at Erlen. The following year, Fischer took the Gordini to a fourth in Angoulême, again faring well in Swiss minor events after which the car went back to the factory and then to Argentinian "Eymart" Tornqvist.

In 1950 we find Fischer driving F1 in San Remo on board a SVA with supercharged Fiat engine, a car about which this writer would like to know more, and for the HWM works team in Bari. In F2 he drove an OSCA MT4 for one of the variously named Geneva based racing outfits instigated by former driver Basadonna. He was 4th at Erlen, 8th at Aix-les-Bains, and drove a works HWM in other races with the best of 6th at Berne.

The big break in his career came when he ordered a specially made Ferrari single-seater with a 212 V12 engine of 2540cc capacity, chassis 212-100. In an amazingly active 1951 F1 season, Fischer was 3rd at Siracusa, 6th at Pau, 3rd at San Remo, 2nd at Bordeaux, 11th at Berne, 6th at the Nürburgring and 4th at Zandvoort and finally crashing the Ferrari in practice at Monza. Not content, he also ran a full F2 season mounting a 166 V12 engine on the Ferrari. He won at Aix-les-Bains and Angoulême and was 6th at Monza, 3rd at the AVUS and 2nd at Erlen, retiring only at Marseille and Genoa.

Undoubtedly impressed, Enzo Ferrari gave Fischer the drive of one of the new works 500 F2 for the F1 Valentino GP at the beginning of the 1952 season. Fischer finished 3rd behind the 4500cc Ferraris of Villoresi and Taruffi. When the WDC switched to F2, Ferrari sold to Fischer a car numbered 184F2, a customer version of the pukka 500 works car. In WDC races Fischer was 2nd in Berne and 3rd at the Nürburgring, finishing 4th in the table with 10 points, one of the highest finishes by a private entrant in WDC history, sharing it with up and coming Mike Hawthorn. In non-championship races, Fischer won the Eifelrennen and the Avusrennen and was 3rd at Siracusa, 4th in the International Trophy, 3rd at Monza and 5th at Modena. During the season Ecurie Espadon also entered the old 212 for other drivers.

Suddenly, at the end of the season Fischer retired from international racing, a painful decision by a driver at the top of his form. 184F2 was seldom entered by Ecurie Espadon for Peter Hirt in 1953 with no success, showing that the previous successes were mainly due to its driver, and was last seen at Turin in 1955.

This picture, in this writer's opinion one of the more beautiful racing pictures ever, perfectly catching the unique atmosphere of the 'Ring, shows Fischer wearing a peculiar crash-helmet of the kind used by bicycle racers in velodromes until say 20 years ago. Helmets of that kind were used also in te same years by Étancelin (over his reversed cloth cap) and by Dennis Poore.

The 1952 German GP saw another show of the all-conquering Ferrari 500 team. Ascari and Farina were the fastest in practice (as usual) but the first row was shared with the Gordinis of Trintignant and Manzon. Taruffi on the third works Ferrari, Fischer and Pietsch (as usual very fast on the 'Ring, albeit 50" slower than Ascari) on a Loof-engined Veritas were following. Only one works Maserati was entered with Felice Bonetto at the wheel.

Ascari took his usual lead from the start followed by Farina and Manzon. Soon Taruffi got past Manzon whose car later lost a wheel. The race went on uneventfully with only Farina and Taruffi exchanging places a few times until when Ascari made a pitstop with two laps to go to add oil. Farina went by but did not speed up, so that Ascari caught on him very quickly for another emphatic victory. Fischer was third and the last unlapped driver: Taruffi had broken his back axle on the penultimate lap but was able to bring the car home with the rear wheels at a weird angle. Behra was fifth on the slowest but strongest of the Gordinis followed by Belgian Laurent in a sister car of Fischer's but two laps down! Riess was seventh in the first German car, a BMW-powered Veritas, followed by Ulmen. In typical Bonetto style, Bonetto, who had finished fourth on the road, was disqualified for outside help after a mishap.