Cutaway view of the Mercedes T80 land speed record car showing upside-down 44.5L V12 engine and massive wheels.

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Very cool! The T-80 had a primative traction control system. There were sensors on the front wheels and on the driving wheels. These inputs drove a miniature differential. When the inputs rotated at the same speed the carrier gear remained stationary. When there was a difference the carrier gear could rotate, and through a series of gears was linked to a lever that controlled the mechanical fuel injection system. More rotation indicated more slipping, and the engine was throttled back. The whole thing was totally mechanical and very, very German.

From Ludvigsen:

“The slip-controller consisted of a set of differential gears like those in a rear axle. One of its side bevels was driven by an internal shaft from the driven side of the clutch; hence it reflected the speed of the rear wheels. The other side bevel was turned in the opposite direction by the drive from the front wheel. The drive ratios to the slip-contoller were chosen so that the outer gage that carried the differential pinions would be at rest when the speeds of the front and rear wheels were synchronized.

The outer cage of the differential was connected by a fast-response linkage to a centrifugal governor mounted just below the controlling differential. A wheel-speed difference of more than five rpm was sufficient to start the differential cage moving fast enough to trigger the governor to begin pulling back on the fuel-injeciton metering rack, through a linkage of push-pull rods. This would reduce engine power and cause the slip to fall to zero again.”

I wrote about the Nazis and auto racing for an askhistorians post. Here is the text:

Auto racing in 1930s Germany enjoyed Hitler’s personal blessing. Not only would racing bring glory to the Reich it also acted as a land based proving ground for advanced technologies like lightweight high power engines and aerodynamics especially important in aviation development.
The Mercedes and Auto Union Silberpfeil (silver arrows) racing cars were hugely successful at the hands of drivers like Hermann Lang, Manfred von Brauchitsch (nephew of Field Marshall Walter Von Brauchitish C-in-C of the German Army of the first years of WWII) and Hans Stuck.

Hiter was introduced to Stuck in 1925 by Julius Schreck, the first commander of the SS. This meeting started a cozy relationship which greased this skids for Stuck’s pet project–breaking the land speed record. The Mercedes Benz T-80 was the fruit of this effort. Designed by Ferdinand Porsche and powered by a Daimler Benz 603 inverted V12 engine derived from one used in the Bf-109 fighter plane, the engine was sourced through another personal connection: Ernst Udet. Udet was a WWI war hero, a barnstormer, and a personal friend of Hans Stuck. Udet’s position as head of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Ministry of Aviation) ensured the engine would be available. In any event however, WWII started and the land speed record attempt was abandoned.

In conclusion, huge sums of money and the personal intervention of high ranking Nazis, going all the way up to Hitler personally, played a huge role in advancing auto racing in 1930s Germany.

Sources: Karl Ludvigsen, Mercedes-Bens Quicksilver Century 1995

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