The Story Behind Grand Prix’s Biggest Starting Grid

All Research and Biographies by ‘uechtel’.
Introduced and Edited by ‘PTRACER’


Typically, a journey through historical Grand Prix entry lists throws up occasional oddities – a one-off drive here, a sole failed attempt at qualifying there, or perhaps an interesting statistic.

The German Grand Prix of 1952 and 1953 stand out in all three cases.

Firstly, no less than 30 drivers lined up onto the grid for the 1952 race and a whopping 34 made it in 1953, making the latter the largest ever grid in World Championship history. Secondly, almost fifty-percent of the entrants were local German drivers in one-off German cars – seen for these two rounds and never again.

Lining up alongside the Ferraris and Maseratis of greats such as Ascari, Fangio and Farina were ‘unknown’ names such as Toni Ulmen, Theo Fitzau and Ernst Klodwig in machines called AFM, EMW and Veritas. Such is their obscurity that, until very recently, we had only scant biographical information on them and in some cases, not even a photograph. This scarcity of information can only spark curiosity.

So who were these drivers, what were their cars and why were they were entered?

Toni Ulmen, Theo Helfrich and Rudi Krause lead the rest of the midfield, local German drivers at the 1952 German GP (Source: Revs)


Well, simply, these events were technically two races combined into one. The ‘regular’ Grand Prix boys made up one half of the entries, while the other half comprised of German F2 and Sportscar championship racers. With the sports car round being held at the same meeting, the Grand Prix provided some extra starting money and the openness of the rules meant that they could race in their sports cars. In the case of the West German F2 Championship, rather than holding it separately from the Grand Prix, the organisers decided to combine the two into one.

So, not only was the Großer Preis a round of the WDC, but it also counted as a full points round of the West German F2 Championship! Alas, only drivers with West German nationality were eligible to score in latter, thus excluding East Germans (and all other nationalities) from points.

The drivers knew each other well and were close compatriots (Source: Revs)


Far from being ‘random’ names, these drivers had much in common. Almost all began racing around 1947/8 and ended their careers in 1953/4. They competed together in German F2, F3 and sports cars throughout this period, exclusively driving German-made vehicles from small works outfits or modified home-built specials. Many had backgrounds in vehicle engineering and worked for car manufacturers or ran dealerships, so they certainly had the skills to develop their cars.

What must be understood is that the post-war German racing scene evolved in complete isolation. The war had killed off the mighty ‘works’ Mercedes and Auto Union teams in 1939 and the post-war economy was far too weak to revive such expensive outfits, so what arose from the ashes in 1946/7 was distinctly low-cost, low-tech and amateur in comparison. Additionally, after the war, ‘Germany’ was divided and no longer had full nationwide sovereignty, meaning it could not be represented within the FIA. Therefore, Germans were restricted to competing solely in Germany from 1946 to 1949 and, although something was sorted out for 1950, drivers still needed special permission from the ONS (the German motor sport authority) to race abroad. With the country divided into the very distinct Western bloc and socialist Eastern (DDR) zone, the German racing scene was one of two halves. Both West and East Germany had their own F2, F3 and Sports Car championships. Each side produced their own vehicles and honed their own drivers. This was the closest Germans could get to ‘international’ rivalry.

West Germans freely ventured over to the East to compete, but were ineligible for points in East German championships due to their nationality. East Germans could only travel to the West if issued with a special passport by the state, where they were equally ineligible to score. So, any DDR drivers who crossed the border were doing so as representatives of the socialist state to ‘prove’ their strength.

With all this in mind, the motor racing world outside of Germany must have seen inconsequential. It would be incorrect, therefore, to assume that these German racers were stepping into the world of Grand Prix racing. More accurately, Grand Prix racing had stepped into the world of these German racers.

Klodwig looks on as his mechanic works on his home-built special’s engine (Source: Revs)


Most databases list the vehicles they drove as AFMs, Veritas, BMW and EMW. So, what were they?

Well, AFM and Veritas were small ‘works’ outfits operating factories in West Germany. The Veritas factory was situated on the Nürburgring’s doorstep and was run by 1953 Grand Prix entrant Ernst Loof. The cars running in the races were hardly factory standard – most had received modifications of some kind by their drivers to gain an advantage over the competition.

EMW (also known the ‘Rennkollektiv’) was the pride of the East and was officially run and financed by the state.

The remaining vehicles – often listed in databases as ‘BMW’ – were essentially home-built specials. Most of these started life as a BMW 328 sports car; the chassis’s were stripped down, altered and the cars re-bodied. In almost all cases, the BMW 328 engine remained in situ. For that reason, they were officially listed in the programme as BMW, BMW Spezial, BMW-Eigenbau (‘Self-built’), or simply Eigenbau, but as the photographs show, the cars were all very different.

Interestingly, the photographs also show that many of these cars were closed-wheel, offset-seated sportscars. As discussed in detail here, the Formula 2 rules at the time allowed practically any vehicle to be entered so long as the engine did not exceed a certain capacity. Some of the vehicles entered into the F2 race were seen in the Sports Car event the same weekend sporting slightly different bodywork, which was bolted on or unbolted to the chassis to convert between open wheel and sports car configuration.

For 1952 and 1953, these amateur efforts were the best Germany had to offer against the international competition. In 1954, ‘Formula 1’ was back and the works Mercedes team was revived to great international success. In line with the FIA, Germany abandoned Formula 2 rules for 1954, rendering most of these amateur cars – which were nonetheless hopelessly outdated and outclassed on the international stage – unable to race anywhere in Germany.

These major changes placed a firm bookend on the racing careers of many names featured in this article, most of whom were already in their late-40s or 50s anyway. Those that retired from motor sport altogether went on to concentrate on business ventures.

Now, let’s take a look at each of these drivers one-by-one.

Click on their corresponding car number below to view a full biography their photographs as written by ‘uechtel’:

Driver 1952 1953  
Adolff, Kurt #34  
Barth, Edgar #35  
Bauer, Erwin #31  
Bechem, Karl-Günther #130 #41  
Brudes, Adolf #126  
Fischer, Ludwig #131  
Fitzau, Theo #28  
Glöckler, Helm #39  
Heeks, Willi #123 #23  
Helfrich, Theo #122 #24  
Herrmann, Hans #32  
Karch, Oswald #26  
Klenk, Hans #128  
Klodwig, Ernst #135 #37  
Krakau, Willi #133  
Krause, Rudolf #136 #36  
Loof, Ernst #30  
Merkel, Harry #134  
Niedermayr, Helmut #124  
Peters, Josef #129  
Pietsch, Paul #127  
Rieß, Fritz #121  
Seidel, Wolfgang #22  
Stuck, Hans #21  
Ulmen, Toni #125  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.