That the oldest vehicle of the weekend can look back on a longer history than the tradition-steeped Nürburgring itself is unusual even at the AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix, but the 1920 Protos in which Roland Engel (Lollar, car #18) competes in the Vintage Sports Car Trophy easily tops the age of the Eifel circuit that was inaugurated in 1927. Of course that makes the racing car from Berlin a perfect fit for the Historic Paddock where the oldest vehicles of the weekend are located. This is where some three dozen pre-war racing cars, each of which could fill a small history book of its own, meet. And their drivers have a few stories to tell as well. After all, some of them number among the most ‘senior’ participants of the entire weekend.
Riley, Delage, Frazer Nash: the Historic Paddock is the place where quite a few automobile marques can be found that have long been forgotten. For instance, the Belgian duo Christian de Mayer / Cyrille Pastorek that won last year’s Vintage Sports Car Trophy is racing a small Rosengart RL 2 Sport. The vehicle dating to 1928 has a mere displacement of 700 cubic centimetres and was produced in France. Small and economical – those were the hallmarks of the vehicles that left the plant in Neuilly-sur-Seine between 1928 and 1955.
The oldest vehicle of the weekend – a rarity
However, the Protos built in 1920, which makes it the oldest racing car of the entire weekend, stands out from the marques in the field of pre-war cars, some of which are regarded as exotic from today’s perspective. In 1898, the company that existed until 1928 began to build vehicles in Schöneberg (now a district of Berlin). While all the cars of this marque enjoy the status of absolute rarities, the racing car competing at the AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix is the only known one of its kind. In addition, it represents a piece of East-West German history. “The engine numbers among the components which are no longer originals,” explains driver Roland Engel. “The car is powered by a six-cylinder truck engine from the early 50s. Nobody knows why this engine was installed. The Protos was discovered in this state in Brandenburg in 1993.” However, apart from this, the vehicle is in its original condition in many respects. “About 85 per cent of the current state stems from the original vehicle,” says Engel. At the Nürburgring, the old racing car is being fielded for the first time and the regularity test poses a real challenge to the archaic technology. Engel, for instance, explains that the racing car from the 20s is decelerated only on the rear wheels, “and when the brake gets hot, its effectiveness clearly degrades. Except for that, the vehicle is really comfortable to drive with its long wheelbase and responsive steering.”
Drivers from day one – the founding fathers of the AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix
When the AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix was launched as a small meeting of enthusiastic classic and vintage car owners in the 70s, some of the vehicles competing at the Nürburgring this weekend had not even been built. Other racing cars made for a fine pastime for sporty drivers. These are the days from which the participants that have taken part in the event from the very beginning can tell their stories – such as Ulrich Sauer (Iserlohn) who with his 1938 BMW 328 is the event’s most loyal participant. He is the only driver not to have missed a single running of the AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix – an accomplishment that naturally has earned him the privilege of driving car #1 in the Vintage Sports Car Trophy field. Another driver from day one is Baron Kurt von Hammerstein (Nonnweiler) who is driving a 1931 Rehberger MG this year. Aged 87, he is arguably the oldest racing driver of the weekend as well. The British sportscar with near-0.9 litres of displacement, though, is only on loan: “This is the first time for me to drive an MG here. I’m already very excited. Next year, I’m hoping to be on the grid in a 1927 Opel. It’s still in the garage at the moment and exactly the vehicle I drove in the first AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix.” That would also make the car made in Rüsselsheim a very special one because “I received it first-hand – from my godmother,” relates von Hammerstein. He discovered motor racing for himself at an early age even though there was never enough time for really major racing commitments due to his work in his own forestry operations. He found his way into circuit racing via rallies in historic vehicles. “At the time, though, it was incredibly difficult at first to make this reality,” the sporty baron recalls. “Ultimately, not least with support from Mercedes’ former race director Alfred Neubauer, we managed to organise this first race for historic sports and racing cars from which the AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix subsequently emerged.” By the way, the Club historischer Renn- und Sportfahrzeuge (Club of Historic Racing and Sportscars – CHRSN) which today jointly organises the event with the AvD, Histomobil and HMSC was founded in those early days as well.