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A low flying 'Pechvogel' at Donnington in 1937

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Manfred Von Brauchitsch was the last surviving winner of a pre-war Grand Prix. Better known by his nickname "Der Pechvogel" (The Unlucky Bird) for the races he lost, his hard-driving impetuosity and his imperious Prussian officer-class mien, he was perhaps the least talented of Alfred Neubauer’s regular stars but, given he was racing with the likes of Rudolf Caracciola and Herrmann Lang, 'least tallented' is still probably still more tallented than most other drivers of the time.


'Pechvogel'  means Unlucky Bird and was the nickname of Manfred von Brauchitsch. He made a spectacular debut for the Silver Arrows in 1934  at the Nurburgring but crashed badly in practice later in the year and was out for the rest of the season. He was back in 1935 but a burst tyre on the last lap put him out of the  German Grand Prix whilst leading.


His bad luck followed him into 1936 but in 1937 the red helmeted von Brauchitsch  blatantly disobeyed team orders and held Caracciola off to take a win in the Monaco Grand Prix (regarded as his best race.)

The W25 Streamliner sporting politically incorrect sponsorship and attended to by  Korpsfuhrer Adolf Huhnlein and someone who appears to be wearing a Darth Vader mask. Brauchitsch won heat 2 with this car but retired in the final with gearbox problems.The W25 Streamliner sporting politically incorrect sponsorship and attended to by Korpsfuhrer Adolf Huhnlein and someone who appears to be wearing a Darth Vader mask. Brauchitsch won heat 2 with this car but retired in the final with gearbox problems.

Just when things looked to be on the up, bad luck stepped in again.  In 1938 he had won the French Grand Prix at Rheims and was once again leading the German Grand Prix at Nurburgring and set for a home victory when a mechanic overfilled the car during a refuelling stop. Some spilt onto the exhaust where it promptly ignited. Neubauer pulled von Brauchitsch from the car meanwhile Seaman had driven off into the lead. With the fire extinguished, a somewhat reluctant von Brauchitsch was ordered back into the car and resumed the race. It was not for long though as he crashed on the other side of the circuit. He walked back with the steering wheel which he claimed came off in his hands. Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the technical director, always denied this, suggesting that it was pilot error brought on by shock after the events in the pits.




Brauchitsch then won the Coppa Ciano race at Livorno in Italy but, living up to his nick name, was then disqualified for receiving a push start after stalling his engine.


As his career drew to a close both his and Caracciola's position in the team were threatened by the young ex-mechanic Hermann Lang. At dinner one evening Brauchitsch famously ordered Champagne for himself and Caracciola "oh, and a beer for Lang!" In 1939 Lang had the measure of him but on September 3rd von Brauchitsch led the Belgrade Grand Prix at Kalemagdan Park having qualified on pole. But after leading for 16 laps he spun and had to settle for second behind Nuvolari in the Auto Union.


War was declared and Neubauer ordered everyone to return to Germany immediately. von Brauchitsch, descended from a long line of military men (His uncle was Field-Marshal von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht at the outbreak of the Second World War) attempted to catch a plane to Geneva but was spotted by Neubauer and thus spent the war pushing paper in Berlin.


His family estates had been lost to the Russians after the war and any capital that he still had met a similar fate in failed business ventures. Disillusioned with life in the West, he became increasingly pro East Germany, and in February 1951 he attended the winter games at Oberhof, where he was treated with great respect. He also visited the new Communist-backed Rennkollektiv at Karlshorst, which was building an East German racing car.


Back home he became involved with East German propaganda campaigns and in 1953 Brauchitsch was arrested for "preparation of a highly treasonable undertaking, danger to the state, and mysterious behaviour". Bailed in March 1954 he didn’t hang about and defected to the East. He left behind unpaid bills and his wife who sadly committed suicide. In East Germany he worked at the Ministry of Sports and in 1988 he was awarded the Olympic Order by the International Olympic Committee.


In 1974 he returned to the West as a guest at the French Grand Prix at Dijon and after German reunification in 1989, von Brauchitsch attended a number of Mercedes events.

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