Silver Arrows – Part II: Where does the name come from?


Published 02/05/21

Continuing my write-up, now it’s time to talk about the name. Why are they called Silberpfeile? There are two versions to the origin of the term, the fantasy version and the more boring but factual version. Well, of course I’ll start with the romantic version. And that version starts in October of 1932, when the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) introduced a new Grand Prix formula for the 1934 season. The AIACR was the controlling body of motorsports in the 1930s, and they decreed that for 1934 GP racing would follow the “750 kg Formula”. According to this new formula, GP cars could weigh no more than 750 kg (without fluids, tires or pilot). At the time, and as always with racing, the governing body felt that cars were too fast and dangerous, so this new formula came to make racing safer.

The W25 prototype was white, but at the AVUSrennen it was already silver.

Enter the legendary Alfred Neubauer. Brought to work at Daimler Benz by none other than Ferdinand Porsche, Neubauer became the first “racing team manager” in 1926. From than on, he orchestrated all of Mercedes victories until he retired in 1955 after the Le Mans tragedy. Consequently, he was there when Mercedes’ “Silver Arrow Program” (I just made that term up) started in 1933. The first race of Mercedes’ new W25 race car was the XII ADAC Eifelrennen, in June of 1934 and under the new 750 kg rule. An important detail to this story is that back then cars boasted national colors. For instance, Italian cars were red, British were green, and German cars were white – independent of manufacturer.

Typ A, B and C. At a glance it’s really hard to tell which one is which.

Everything was set for the race, but first all cars had to go through scrutineering, on the last day before the race. However, to Neubauer’s horror, the W25 tipped the scales at 751 kg! Therefore they were illegal and could not race. Oh no, what to do? Fortunately, Neubauer came up with a solution – scrap the paint off the cars to reduce weight. With that, the mechanics passed the night striping the white paint off the cars. On race day the three W25 were scrapped to their bare silver aluminum bodies, but weighing exactly 750 kg. With W25 #20 coming in first place, the specialized press nicknamed them Silberpfeile, and the term caught on. This story appeared in 1958, in Alfred Neubauer’s autobiography “Speed Was My Life”. It has become so widespread that even Mercedes officially acknowledges that story as the origin of the term.

The Typ A managed a third place in the AVUSrennen in May 1934. On July it came in first at the German GP.

And now the more boring and factual origin. At the time, the German national color for racing cars was either white or silver. In May 1934, Auto Union’s Typ A won the AVUSrennen, and Auto Union’s cars were never white, but always silver. Besides, the W25 was at AVUS in May, but Mercedes withdrew all three cars before the race due to technical issues. And more importantly, at AVUS the W25 was silver. Furthermore, Manfred von Brauchitsch on the AVUSrennen of 1932 piloted a streamlined silver SSKL called Silver Arrow in a live radio coverage. By the way, Mercedes built a replica of it in 2019… So the W25 was not the first German silver car to win a 1934 race, the W25 was seen in silver before the Eifelrennen and the term Silberpfeil was first used in 1932 🤔.

After 1933, the Silberpfeile were seen all over Europe, including in hill climb races.

However, the most critical fact is that the Eifelrennen of June 1934 was NOT a 750 kg Formula race. After the AVUSrennen in May, both Auto Union and Mercedes were struggling to adapt to the new formula. With the two brands being the stars of the show, the AIACR allowed the Eifelrennen to run under Formula Libre rules. And in Formula Libre there was no weight restrictions. Strangely, the story that Alfred Neubauer tells in his autobiography never surfaced before his book. Add up all these details, and it’s obvious that there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. Being honest, I don’t have nothing against Alfred Neubauer’s “poetic license”. But mighty Mercedes-Benz AG trying to make this true? Sorry, but I hate when a corporation tries to adulterate historical facts to suit their purposes 🤥. I’m a HUGE admirer of Neubauer, but it’s demeaning to praise him this way.

Silver Arrows – Part I: What are the Silberpfeile?
Silver Arrows – Part III: When is a silver car a Silberpfeil?

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