Vintage Photo: The Ultimate Mystery Car? Or Have We Wandered Into The Answer?

We’ve had a number of folks send us photos of unidentified mystery cars over the years, and we’ve managed to solve them all. But then my younger brother Franz sent me this photo, which he and his wife found while going through her old family photos on a visit to Berlin. Wow! What a cool car. So low and aerodynamic. And look how the top of the steering wheel almost touches the roof!

But what is it? I sent this to our two resident super-sleuths, Eric703 and George Ferencz, to see if they could find an image match. Nada. But maybe the answer is mostly self-evident?

It was quite obvious to me from the first time I looked at it that this is a one-off car on a modified chassis, and not a production car. This was of course not uncommon back then, as that’s what coach builders did, and there were quite a number of them. They could translate anyone’s dream, sketch or nightmare into the real thing. And in the second half of the 1930s, aerodynamic cars were of course the hot thing.

One can readily imagine a relatively well-heeled man like this one being enthralled by the many new aerodynamic racing and production cars and envisioning his own. This is the result, and a fairly impressive one. Did he sketch it himself? That we’ll likely never know. But it is a one-off, and its license plate is from the Berlin area, in the prewar era.

The only thing we can try to pin down is the chassis it’s sitting on. And I’m going to take a guess:


A Wanderer W25K roadster. It was the hubcaps on the wire wheels that first led me there. But its apparent size and general dimensions seem to make it a likely fit.

Roughly measuring the height of the top of the steering wheel in the Wanderer and comparing it to the height over the tops of the wheels in a very low-slung mystery car, the two seem to correlate.  And the wheelbase looks to be about the same too.

Ferdinand Porsche was hired to improve the output of Wanderer’s 2 liter inline six, which he did with supercharging and other modifications, resulting in 70hp. This turned the W25K into a very respectable sporting car. In 1938 Auto Union entered the Liege-Rome-Liege rally with three special aluminum-bodied roadsters, and in 1939 Auto Union succeeded in winning the team prize for factory entries. Sadly the original cars were lost, so Audi Tradition commissioned these replicas built on the original chassis.

There’s one slight hitch to my guess as to the chassis: the mystery car’s front wheel track is decidedly narrower than its rear track, in order to allow for some semblance of turning action within its envelope bodywork. But then it wouldn’t be all that difficult to narrow the track of the independent front suspension as it sat ahead of the engine.

But note how the steering wheel in both of them seems to be in about the same relative position.

Obviously my guess could be wrong, and I’d be very happy to be proven so.