1921 Avus-Rennen – The Complete Story


Until 10:00am, the track, the grandstands and the spectator areas in the forest were all but bare and empty. But then began the invasion of thousands upon thousands with their automobiles. Railway carriages and horse-drawn vehicles descended upon the course, while those on foot shuffled en-masse along the roadways. Fortunately, the authorities had accounted for the extra build-up of traffic, otherwise transport would have been impossible. The most imposing sight was probably the motorcade on the access roads, with an endless queue of popping and crackling cars of all types reaching all way to Eichkamp, where a car park had been established. It seems as though all of Berlin was making their pilgrimage to the track, with its tall gatehouse, its grandstands, its black signal boards and its tents and colourful pavilions containing chocolate, sausages, juice, brandy, roast goose, pancakes and fruit.

The police, the fire brigade and the Rescue Office Berlin were highly prepared for the event and distributed personnel in and around the locale. A strong team of police officers kept the flow of people in check and all parts of the circuit were controlled; not only to prevent the spectators from breaking onto the race track, but also to be on hand at incidents should intervention be necessary. The Kommando – the fire brigade sent to the racetrack – was on hand with motorised hoses and all kinds of extinguishers, while the Rescue Office Berlin under Dr. Frank provided a large medical team. Ambulances and delivery trucks whizzed down the track towards the Südkurve. It would be many decades before such provisions would become standard at a motor race.


The First Race

Since the early hours, the starting point at the Nordschleife³ was the site of the typical pre-race chaos. Side-by-side, drivers and mechanics worked to refine their machines, checking and rechecking the engines, pipes, plugs, valves, and pressure gauges to ensure reliability. Individual cars went out for a sighter lap, albeit at a reduced pace.

At Opel and Brennabor, there are changes to the advertised lineup. A few days before the competition, experienced racer Carl Jörns, who was entered into all three ‘A’ races, suffered a 130kph accident at the Opel test track in Rüsselsheim. Thrown out onto his back, Jörns fractured six ribs, his pelvis and several vertebrae, putting him out of action until the following year. Franz Breckheimer took his seat. Meanwhile, the two Brennabors, which were piloted in practice by founder Carl Reichstein and director Albert Hagen, were now handed over to engineer Hans Jacobs and factory driver Albert Mitzlaff. Finally, the two Dürkopp of Horn and Fiedler, which were white during practice had now acquired some attractive red stripes.

The drivers queued up for the start of VIIIA

Under the direction of Admiral von Rampold and the Lord von Arnim, along with the starter, C.O. Fritsch, the operation slowly got into order. Shortly before 11am, everything was ready to start. The starter’s order were given and Uren and Gischel are the first pair to be released. They are followed 45 seconds later by Jacob’s Brennabor and Köster’s Selve and then the third row with Lehmann and Mitzlaff.

The start © Daimler AG

Everyone got away well and, by the start line at the judge’s stand, only one of the Fafnirs has gained any ground under acceleration.

The first lap already brings surprises, when Köster’s #4 Selve overtakes the #2 Presto of Gischel and then catches up with the #1 Fafnir of Uren. At the Südkurve, everyone gets through except for the #5 Selve of Ernst Lehmann. Apparently he has lost control in the curve and in trying to save it on the rough surface, has damaged something on his fragile car. He finally completes the lap in last place having lost seven minutes on the others. Meanwhile, the #14 Opel of Fritz von Opel has gained ground and has overtaken the #12 Heim.

On the second lap, Köster’s Selve suddenly gives out. The #1 Fafnir holds up well, but Von Opel is having his best lap yet and has gained a minute over him by the line. The third lap sees problems for various cars. The #6 Brennabor of Mitzlaff breaks down and heads in for repairs, while Lehmann retires with his engine badly misfiring. Klöbe is running strong laptimes in the N.S.U and veteran Ernst Kordewan is the only other driver able to lap under the 10 minute mark.

The charging Fritz von Opel battling with Kordewan on Lap 3

After four laps, Von Opel has won another two minutes over the leading Fafnir and goes in front at the end of lap 5 having completed them in a time 5 minutes and 15 seconds faster. In the Nordkurve, Uren watches as he overtakes on the track. The fifth lap brings another change. Gischel’s Presto has apparently gone missing and the #10 Stoewer of Kordewan has lost over 10 minutes due to a technical problem. He would get going again, but would finish well down the order. Shortly before the end of this lap, the #15 Opel of Breckheimer suffers an engine problem and loses three minutes. He had been driving well and had slowly been catching up, but didn’t have the pace of #14 Fritz von Opel.

And so Fritz von Opel took the victory in one of his own cars. He drove his last lap in 9 minutes 4 seconds, reaching his fastest average speed of 133kph. Georg Klöbe finished a fine second in the N.S.U., while Franz Heim, also driving one of his own machines, drove a careful and steady race to finish third. The second Opel with Breckheimer at the wheel was still running at the end and was able to come home in sixth place.

Most retirements were caused by leaking bearings, piston knock and spark plug failures.

24th September – 11:00am – Class VIIIB – 7 laps x 140km

 1  14 Fritz Von Opel           Opel 8/25       1:04'23 (130.4kph)
 2  9  Georg Klöbe              N.S.U 8/24      1:09'57
 3  12 Franz Heim               Heim 8/30       1:12'20
 4  1  Wilhelm Uren             Fafnir 8/22     1:14'10
 5  3  Hans Jacobs              Brennabor 8/24  1:14'45
 6  15 Franz Breckheimer        Opel 8/25       1:15'11
 7  13 Ewald Fiedler            Dürkopp 8/24    1:17'14
 8  8  Jean Horn                Dürkopp 8/24    1:17'31
 9  10 Ernst Kordewan           Stoewer 8/24    1:20'50
 10 16 Arno Kermer              Presto 8/25     1:22'45
 11 11 Carl Reedl               Stoewer 8/24    1:27'54

    7  Carl Springsfeld         Fafnir 8/22     6 laps
    2  Georg Gischel            Presto 8/25     3 laps
    5  Ernst Lehmann            Selve 8/32      2 laps (Misfire)
    6  Albert Mitzlaff          Brennabor 8/24  2 laps
    4  Willi Köster             Selve 8/32      1 lap

Saturday – Race 2  [NEXT]

³ ‘Nordschleife’ literally translates in English to ‘Northern Loop’, referring to the long, looping corner that was the Nordkurve. All further references to ‘-schleife’ have been edited to ‘-kurve’ to avoid confusion.