The Story Behind Grand Prix’s Biggest Starting Grid

#35 – Edgar Barth — EMW – BMW
Grid: 24th / Race: Retired (12 laps / Piston Failure)

(Source: Revs)
Born: 26th January 1917
Herold-Erzegeberge, Germany
Died: 20th May 1965
Ludwigsburg, Germany
Appearances: 5   (1953, 1957-8 & 1964 German GP, 1960 Italian GP)


East German racing hero and perhaps the DDR’s most talented driver of his time was born in 1917 and grew up in the Saxonian village of Herold, almost in the shadow of the nearby DKW factory at Zschopau. No wonder he made his first steps into motor sport then at the age of 16, starting in trials and other competitions on a DKW motorcycle.

In 1937 he was chosen into the DKW works team for the Six Days Trials in Britain, but then his career was interrupted by the war. When motor racing started over in the Eastern Zone again, Barth soon became one of the young state’s most successful motorcycle riders with his 500 cc BMW. And just like many other drivers of his time, he made the successful step from two to four wheels, when he was invited to drive for the “Rennkollektiv” in one of their DAMW cars in Formula 2 trim at Halle in 1951. There, his performance was good enough to drive more regularly for the team in 1952, while still carrying on with the motorcycle races so he could make double starts at each event.

Soon he demonstrated that he had as much talent in cars as he had shown on the bike, which almost inevitably brought him into conflict with the team’s leading driver Arthur Rosenhammer. In fact, Rosenhammer had been technical director of the East German “national” team, but with his selfish behaviour (on and off the tracks) had alienated enough people to be demoted to being “just” a driver – though he retained No. 1 status in the team and not least because of his journalist activities, which held much influence over East German motorsport in general. So, Rosenhammer certainly must have had ill feelings for Barth at the first race of the 1952 season at Rostock, where he was sanctioned by the team for damaging yet another engine during practise and had to watch from outside as Barth drove in “his” car! Perhaps to avoid further conflict, it was decided that Barth would start in Formula 2 races while Rosenhammer was given the 1500 cc sports car. Barth thanked the team by winning his first race at Leipzig as well as the two subsequent championship events at Halle and the Sachsenring (the latter against respectable opposition from West Germany) to become DDR Formula 2 Champion of 1952. At the end of the season he was also invited by the team to his first “international” race outside Germany at Brno, Czechoslovakia, where he finished second to Pavelka´s “Formule Libre” V8 Tatra.

In 1953, Barth was relocated from Berlin-Johannisthal to the EMW factory in Eisenach, where the “Rennkollektiv” worked on a new, real monoposto for Formula 2. However, like almost everything in the DDR, the reality fell far behind intention, so Barth had to be still content with the multi-purpose offset-seater, now re-christened “EMW”. With this car, he was sent (together with Rosenhammer in his rebodied 1500cc sports car) to West Germany for the first time to the Eifelrennen. Of course they would not have expected to challenge the Ferraris or Maseratis, but at least the West German privateers should have been well within their reach. And so it happened. In the rain-soaked race, Barth’s EMW was first German-made car over the line in fifth place, with ‘only’ De Graffenried in his Maserati, the two HWM of Frère and Collins and Adolff in his Ferrari in front of him. Motivated by this result, the team reappeared again at the Avus, where Barth’s car was fitted with a streamlined body, while, for once, Rosenhammer started alongside him in the Formula 2 class in a standard EMW model. However, after qualifying a solid 5th (Rosenhammer) and 8th (Barth) on the grid, in the race neither of them could repeat Barth’s Eifelrennen performance and both had to retire. While at home in the East German races, Barth achieved victory after victory to win his second consecutive championship title. In the East-West challenge the drivers of the Rennkollektiv were already facing strong headwinds.

The disappointment must have been the greater when Barth was able to qualify only for 24th on the grid at the season highlight at the German Grand Prix and after an unspectacular race among the backmarkers had finally to retire with piston failure, followed by another zero-result after a crash at the Schauinsland hillclimb. His only consolation for this was his subsequent victory at the Sachernring, where he was able to beat all the West German guests, among them Hans Stuck.

With no Formula 2 in 1954, the team planned a new attack with a completely new designed sports car for the 1.5 litre class. It was a very beautiful ‘lowline’ design that looked able to challenge the factory Porsches and Borgwards in this class. Yet, as usual, the development of the cars limped behind the time schedule, so at the Eifelrennen both cars suffered from teething problems and the race turned into another big disappointment. At mid-season, the cars were even taken out of action completely in order to prepare for the important support race at the German Grand Prix, but yet again Barth’s sixth place was the best what they could achieve.

Over the winter, the Rennkollektiv worked hard to produce a completely revised model and with no less than four of these cars at the season opener at Dessau, the team seemed very much determined. This was immediately confirmed at the Eifelrennen when Barth duly set best practise time in their class to drive to an impressive double victory ahead of his team-mate Paul Thiel in the race. After this, the team reappeared again for that year’s 500km race at the Nürburgring (the German Grand Prix had been cancelled after the Le Mans catastrophe) and Rosenhammer and Barth shared the car, which was probably the best way to keep them out of each other’s way on the track. They took another fine third place in their class, albeit being beaten by Von Frankenberg’s semi-works Porsche on this occasion. With this result, Barth was now leading the All-German Championship (which was carried out for the first time in this season), but while he would have only needed to finish third at the Avusrennen, the accelerator linkage of his car broke in the race and after Frankenberg’s second win Barth was once again left empty-handed.

At least success had come within grasp and so the Rennkollektiv started yet another attempt for 1956. In the meantime, the DDR had been acknowledged as a fully-fledged FIA member, so starts in other Western European countries were now allowed. The Rennkollektiv celebrated this with an outright success at their first journey to Montlhery with a 1 – 2 – finish, with Barth ahead of Rosenhammer in the “Coupe Valvoline”, followed by a third place in their class (again sharing the car) in the 1000 km race at the Nürburgring. Nevertheless, the works Porsches turned out to be – perhaps slightly – but decisively faster and the Rennkollektiv (now called AWE) were not able to beat them. Moreover, since the East German economy was in trouble, the factory at Eisenach had now been ordered to stop production of the expensive BMW-derived models in order to concentrate the whole East German car industry on the new two-stroke philosophy.

At least this was a good excuse for the state to stop funding the expensive – and so far not very successful – Rennkollektiv for 1957; a decision which obviously caught the drivers quite by surprise. Without a drive Barth received an invitation from Porsche team director von Hanstein for the 1000 km race at the Nürburgring, but did not get a permission from the East German authorities. Pretending to be on the way to some motorcycle race Barth managed to travel to the Nürburging anyway and when he and his Italian team-mate Maglioli finished with a class victory and in fourth place overall, the East German officials were so upset, they banned him from racing for life! Of course, after this Barth was not too eager to return home and settled near Stuttgart instead to become a Porsche works driver. For them, he won the 1959 Targa Florio and three European mountain championships in 1959, 1963 and 1964 before he died far too young at the age of 48 from cancer.

1953 German Grand Prix, Edgar Barth (Source: Revs)

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