If you visit the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart, you’ll come across a massive and thoroughly outlandish creation of a car on six wheels. Its shape doesn’t do anything to hide that it was created with the sole intent of setting records. It’s called the T80 and it was a Hitler-dictated corporation between Porsche and Mercedes-Benz.
More than 80 years ago – in 1937 – Adolf Hitler was already in a position of significant power within Germany, and had developed his own quite unique methods of marketing strategy. One of them was to make it clear to the whole world that Germany was a shining light to be reckoned with when it came to design, engineering and not least the continued evolution of the automobile. With that in mind, Hitler and the famous German racing driver, Hans Stuck, approached Ferdinand Porsche. Stuck was to manage the whole project, while they needed Porsche’s knowledge and innovation for both the design and the general construction. The goal was to cement Germany’s leading ingenuity with a car which could surpass 550km/h. This was Hitler’s objective. However, at the same time, the Brits George Eyston and John Cobb both managed to set some very impressive land speed records in the UK, so Hitler was reluctantly forced to up the stakes by aiming for 600km/h instead.
Towards the end of 1939, the project had been completed and the T80 was ready to set a new record. Hitler had raised the goal post yet again and had furthermore proclaimed to the world that they should prepare to be impressed by the German superiority. The new record would be set with nothing less than 750km/h! It sure sounded impressive, and the Nazis obviously loved the propaganda as it was all to take place on a stretch of the new Autobahn – on German ground of course…
Beneath the T80’s rounded, futuristic and aerodynamic shape lay the enormous Daimler-Benz DB603 engine. An absolute monster of a V12 with a huge displacement of 44.5 litres. The engine was a further development of the DB601 engine which was the power source in the later much-feared Messerschmitt Bf109 fighter aircraft, which were already in full production by this time. The new DB603 variant promised an earth-shattering 3,000hp which in broad terms is double what the British Spitfire could muster. Money flow was certainly not an issue for the project as the team was given carte blanche to achieve their goal. Porsche utilised all of his experience and skills to create an eight meter long, highly slippery body in an attempt to cheat aerodynamic drag and reach the highest achievable speed on the planet in 1939. This rolling missile weighed in at all of 2.7 tons despite every component being constructed from the lightest materials available at the time. No doubt the engine alone was responsible for a disproportionate amount of the total weight.
Naturally, the German racing driver, Hans Stuck, was set to pilot the enormous T80 to its new world record. A special stretch of the Autobahn just south of Dessau had been prepared for the record attempt. They had paved over the central median making the Dessauer Rennstrecke 25 meters wide and it continued for almost 10 kilometers. Today it’s still a part of the modern A9 between Berlin and Leipzig. The record was planned for January 1940 during the grandly named RekordWoche (or “Record Week”), and Hitler had dubbed the T80 the Schwarzer Vogle (the Black Bird) and even had it suitably decorated with a painted eagle and Swastika. Meticulous preparation, insatiable project funding and a whole nation anticipating true greatness. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, how about the outbreak of the Second World War on September 1st 1939. The Nazis had a sudden shift of focus, and the grand and promising T80 was uneventfully parked in a garage.