Walther von Selve

25/7/1876 - 5/1/1948

Record updated 25-Jul-07

Walther von Selve was a racing driver as well as a manufacturer of luxury and sports cars. His greatest contribution to automobil racing however may have been his pioneering work on the use of aluminum pistons for internal combustion engines.

Walther von Selve
Walther von Selve came from a family of industrialists of long standing; their metal works in Altena in Westphalia were among the leading in the field. Walther, born in 1876, was a racer of cars, motorcycles, and speedboats well before the turn of the century, and for two years traveled around the world.

In 1908 and 1909 he raced his Opel sports car with moderate success.

In 1911, he became general manager of the family business, which by then included also the Swiss metal works in Thun, not far from Berne. The year before, in 1910, he had married Else Wieland, the daughter of Philip Wieland and Lydia Sulzer.

Part of the Selve industrial empire was the Basse & Selve engine factory, located at Altena, Westphalia. It had became famous during WWI with its six-cylinder aero engine closely resembling the 260 HP Mercedes and 230 HP Benz aero engines in most of its details.

After World War I, the Northern German Automobile Works (Norddeutsche AutomobilWerke), which made the Colibri and the Sperber, was absorbed by Selve.

Selve touring cars were manufactured at Hameln after the First World War. The type SL, designed by ex-Daimler and Imperia engineer Ernst Lehmann, was built between 1920 and 1925, and was powered by a de-tuned version of the L-head four.

In 1921, Selve cars came first and second in class in the Opel Race in May, first, second and third in class in the Ruselberg Race in September, and first and second again in the Reichsfahrt in October.

In 1922 Selve didn't enter a works team in the Reichsfahrt, relying on private entrants. Mr. Pauls-Falkenhagen driving a 2.1 liter 4 cylinder Selve 8/32 came first and Mr. Montagner driving a 1.6 liter 4 cylinder Selve 6/24 came third in their respective classes.

In 1928 the all-wheel-drive "Selve M" 3-axle car was another example of the innovative spirit of the Selve design team and was intended for military use. However the miltary at that time was not interested in motorised infantry.

A front wheel drive 6-cylinder model designed by Henze was shown at the 1928 Berlin Automobile Exposition but was never put into production as car manufacturing was suspended due to the economic crisis of 1929.

To digress slightly, in July 1942, Benjamin Sagalowitz, the press officer of the Swiss Jewish communities headquartered in Zurich, received an urgent phone call from an acquaintance. His caller told him on that day that a German industrialist, whom Sagalowitz had vaguely known in the past, was in town, with information of great importance. They met and Sagalowitz was told that it had come from an unimpeachable source that Hitler had decided to have all European Jews exterminated by means of poison gas by the end of the year.

There has been speculation that the message regarding Hitler's Final Solution could have come from Walther von Selve or from one of the members of his family. They commuted between Altena and Thun, and since their factory produced ammunition during the war, they had connections with military and political circles. Old Philip Wieland was a member of the board of the central German bank, and Walther was on the board of several concerns specialising in the production of arms and explosives. However his friend Walther Grot seems to think that it is unlikely.

Historicracing.com with thanks to Walther Grot