1921 Avus-Rennen – The Complete Story

Fritz von Opel


What had begun in 1914 by the Emperor had now been realised. The meeting’s concept and the race track itself was the like of which the Berlin public had yet to experience and an estimated 3-to-400,000 spectators had descended upon the AVUS to witness the spectacle.

Essentially, the course was two straight lines with a slow, tight corner at either end, so the challenge was inexorably on the mechanical side than on the skill of the drivers. Despite being brand new, the racing surface turned out worse than expected and the track became very worn during the meeting. The wear in the curves was not that much stronger than the wear on the straights, as one might have expected, perhaps owing to the fact the drivers were braking early and taking the turns carefully. On the southbound stretch, there was a particularly nasty bump which cars were hitting at 125kph, leading them to become slightly airborne. The springs on many of the cars were not prepared for that kind of punishment and it put an unnecessary strain on man and machine. The more experienced drivers did learn to navigate around it.

Ultimately, the flavour of the weekend was unreliability. The contemporary press noted that many machines were simply unprepared for driving at flat out speeds over a 120+ kilometre race distance. Most had not even been tested for durability during practice. From the beginning, engines were noted to be running too rich and were badly misfiring as they sat in the staging area pre-race. With engine failures plaguing almost all of those who retired, cooling and lubrication were also blamed as the biggest potential causes; the smell of burning castor oil was said to overpower that of the burning gasoline and many cars were clearly over-filled as they smoked their way down the straights.

However, this was the very first event of many. The 1922 race attracted even more names and several new manufacturers appeared. One notable entry was that of young, future superstar Rudolf Caracciola, driving one of the same Fafnirs which appeared in the 1921 race

Over the years, the Avus-Rennen grew and grew and arguably became the second biggest racing event of the German racing calendar after the German Grand Prix. The gatehouse fell into disuse and was demolished. The famous steep banking came and went. The Südkurve was moved closer to the Nordkurve. Barriers were finally erected to separate the two opposing lanes. The Südkurve was moved again. And then again. Temporary chicanes were added. After a 77 year history, it was finally returned solely to its original purpose – as a highway in 1998.