MRS. ROSEMEYER by Thomas C. O'Keefe (*)
The heroes, heroines and villains of the Silver Arrows era of the 1930's are all gone now, except her. On May 30, 2007, Elly Beinhorn Rosemeyer, famed sportswoman and aviator in her own right, and wife of Auto Union's masterful driver, Bernd Rosemeyer, will celebrate her 100th birthday, an extraordinary woman doing yet one more extraordinary thing in a rich but bittersweet life full of drama, adventure and tears. Although she never became a Grand Prix driver, Elly Beinhorn managed to experience something few real Grand Prix drivers would ever have the chance to do. Not once, but twice, she actually got in her husband Bernd's fire-breathing, rear-engined, V16 Auto Union and circulated at two of the great road racing circuits of all time, the Nurburgring and Monza. What a romantic mental image that conjures up: Elly in one of Bernd's cloth helmets and goggles or in one of her own knit hats or trademark polka dot kerchiefs, cruising around the Eifel mountains amidst the low-lying fog in the most powerful Grand Prix car on earth.
Elly the Aviator
But before we get to Bernd and Elly and Grands Prix, how did these two daredevil lovers meet? Elly Beinhorn, Germany's Amelia Earhart, was slightly older than her husband-to-be and a celebrity long before Bernd Rosemeyer came to the attention of the German public. At the age of 21, Elly got her pilot's license, and initially became a stunt pilot flying in barnstorming air shows on weekends, while salting away enough funds as a photographer and journalist to plan and execute her main goal: to fly her 80 horsepower Klemm KL-26 monoplane around the world, Alone. Along the way, Elly had her share of harrowing experiences, including being downed in the Western Sahara desert on one of her early attempts at solo flight when she suffered an engine failure. She was rescued from this forced landing by members of the nomadic Tuareg tribe, who came upon this woman who had fallen out of the sky and into the desert and put her on a camel caravan headed for Timbuktu. Undaunted, Elly stripped the Klemm of its engine and instruments and got herself back to Germany. Renewing her resources, she was off again, in a flight that lasted from January 4, 1931 until July 26, 1932, as Elly hopscotched East around the world, turning 25 years old just before her return home. She began her flight in Berlin and landed in every exotic place you have ever heard of - including Sofia, Baghdad, Nepal, Delhi, Allahabad, Calcutta, Rangoon, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and several spots within Australia. During her flight - for portions of which her Klemm aircraft was shipped for distances over water beyond its range - headlines like this one from the June 5, 1932 New York Times were typical: “Colombia Waits Word of German Girl Flier - Nothing Heard of Elly Beinhorn Since She Left Panama at 7:45 A.M. Yesterday.” The whole world was caught up in whether this young girl would make it.
The Aussies especially admired Elly and when she came into their airspace, they went out of their way to welcome her, summoning up a contingent of three RAF Supermarine Southhampton Flying Boats to accompany Elly across the shark-infested Timor Sea, a distance of 490 Nautical Miles, before landing the Klemm in Darwin, in Northwest Australia, after a seven-hour flight. Incredibly, so beloved was Elly Beinhorn to the Australians that on the occasion of her 60th Birthday on May 30, 1967, she was invited to Sydney to celebrate her birthday and there are pictures of her cutting a birthday cake with the head of Quantas airlines. Suffice it to say, that by 1935, Elly was a household name, especially well known in Europe, and a heroine to the German people. Meanwhile, Bernd Rosemeyer, two years younger than Elly, had only recently graduated from racing motorcycles for DKW to the Auto Union team where he was still a journeyman driver making his way up the pecking order, trying to compete with Auto Union's top driver, Hans Stuck. Because of Elly's prominence, Bernd must have known who she was but the reverse was not true, until the Fall of 1935.
Romance at Brno
The day Bernd and Elly met it all came good for Bernd Rosemeyer, in more ways than one. It was towards the end of the 1935 Grand Prix season on September 29, 1935 at Brno, Czechoslovakia for the Masaryk Grand Prix. Elly Beinhorn, who happened to be in Brno to give a lecture to a local flying club, had been invited by Auto Union to the Grand Prix as a celebrity in the paddock and Elly assumed she would be greeting Auto Union's principal driver, Hans Stuck, as the winner when all was said and done. But life had a surprise waiting for Elly when young upstart Bernd Rosemeyer beat his betters, outlasting teammates Hans Stuck and Achille Varzi of Auto Union and Alfa Romeo's Tazio Nuvolari, to win the race. Auto Union's press officer saw Elly was reticent and said to her: “Please be kind - go and congratulate the young man. It is his first victory - he'll be so happy." Elly complied, and so, at the victory ceremony - Bernd's first victory in a car race, let alone a Grand Prix - 26-year-old Bernd and 28 year-old Elly first met and, after a vigorous pursuit on his part, he finally won over the elder Elly, who initially dismissed Bernd's attentions as puppy love. In her autobiography, Elly describes Bernd's persistent courting tactics: Bernd asked for a photo of her at Brno on race day Sunday, danced with her at a celebratory party that night she got dragged to and then pursued her from town to town on Elly's lecture tour, making a nuisance of himself (sometimes bringing along his Auto Union mechanics) but finally convincing Elly to have lunch with him, Bernd still supposedly fixated on Elly's unfulfilled promise of a photograph. Said Bernd, as he said goodbye after lunch: “I shall not leave Berlin without the promised photograph. German airwomen must keep their word.” An angry Elly treated Bernd as if he were a stalker and told him she was no movie star carrying around glossy pictures of herself, nor was she managing a kindergarten, a reference to Bernd being younger than she. But of course Bernd was right, and he pursued her like pole position at Nurburgring. Inch by inch, by means of theater dates, visits to the Berlin Zoo and the occasional spirited ride in Bernd's Company Car, a Horch sedan, Bernd continued to insinuate himself into Elly's busy life in the off-season, almost against her will, but even Elly was taken aback one day when Bernd blurted this out: “It must always be like this. And when the racing season begins, you must come with me.” Even then, Elly stubbornly resisted, though weakening to his boyish charm: “That made me smile! ‘Bernd, you innocent child, I thought to myself, ‘you don't seriously imagine that I'm going to associate with your traveling circus of motor racing hooligans, do you?’ Oh no, not me, not Elly Beinhorn.” But, by the time of the 1936 season, Elly had succumbed completely to Bernd's blandishments and Bernd and Elly were a serious item. Bernd and Auto Union were also an item and were about to have their best season, winning five Grands Prix and two Mountain Climbs, with Bernd taking the 1936 European Championship. By contrast, Mercedes-Benz was about to have its worst season after winning the Championship handily for 1935. To top off the extraordinary 1936 season, after their whirlwind courtship, Germany's Uber couple got married, choosing July 13, 1936 as a date because they both regarded “13” as their lucky number; the Honor Guard they chose was a distinguished one, composed of Bernd's Auto Union mechanics and the Shell Oil Company flying mechanics that helped Elly with the logistics of her record flights. The 1936 Belgian Grand Prix, scheduled for July, had been cancelled due to strikes so the couple had 13 days off before the German Grand Prix on July 26, 1936, which Rosemeyer won as a further Wedding Present, naturally, setting fastest lap in the process.
Three Continents in One Day
In this incredibly busy Summer of 1936 for both Bernd and Elly, on August 2, 1936, two weeks after her marriage, Elly was off to do a long-planned record flight in her Messerschmitt Taifun, by flying over three continents in one day, taking off from the staging homebase at Templehof airport, Berlin, on August 2, 1936, stopping in Budapest for fuel, then officially starting the record run in Damascus (Asia), landing in Cairo (Africa) and returning to the skies over Europe to Berlin (Europe), after having flown over 3,750 km and 3 continents in one day.
As Elly was flitting around in the skies over three continents on August 2, 1936, her husband Bernd was very much on the ground at Livorno in Italy, racing in the Coppa Ciano but a bit unhinged personally. Uncharacteristically, Bernd's heart was not in the race and he was out after six laps of the scheduled 30 laps, admitting that he was preoccupied with his wife's latest solo escapade. After the race, Rosemeyer the newlywed sent this telegram to his bride: “Retired after six laps. Come home soon. You must never leave me again!” And she never did leave him after that and accompanied Bernd everywhere. As the available Auto Union archival film footage shows, the photogenic Elly is shown on the grid sitting on the edge of the Auto Union' s cockpit peeling an orange for Bernd in one scene; in another scene she is working the stop watches; in still another scene she spars with fellow flying ace, Marshal Balbo in the pits at Tripoli. Once, when Bernd had emerged from the cockpit after a difficult high-speed race at the Avus with his white uniform an oily mess, the famed flyer rubbed out the worst stains with benzine so Bernd would be presentable for the closing ceremonies. After the drubbing Mercedes-Benz took first at the 1936 German Grand Prix and later on at the Swiss Grand Prix on August 23, 1936, the team from Stuttgart was stunned by the sudden superiority of the Auto Union Typ C over the Mercedes-Benz W25K to the point that the Mercedes-Benz team went into a reorganization mode.
Elly drives the Auto Union
Solo By the time of the 1936 Italian Grand Prix at Monza on September 13, 1936, Mercedes-Benz had seen the handwriting on the wall and did not even bother to put in an appearance. With Rosemeyer guaranteed the 1936 Championship and Mercedes-Benz not among the competitors, there was perhaps a kind of end-of-term atmosphere in the air at Monza, and in that context, Elly got the chance to do yet another extraordinary thing: to drive the Auto Union. Bernd and Elly had been scheming for months to give sportsperson Elly a chance to drive the Magnificent Beast. At Monza, Auto Union had brought along an older, long-tailed version of the Grand Prix car as a training/spare car and, once practice was completed, that car could be considered surplus, or so Bernd had convinced Auto Union's team manager Dr. Feuereissen. This is what happened next, told in a very personal way by Elly herself: “Bernd presented me with the challenge and at first I was not at all keen to accept it. I had always had a burning desire to drive what was by now the fastest car in the world, but not at Monza, where I was surrounded by friends and dozens of reporters and photographers. Before I knew it I found myself seated in the silver car with the long, long tail, equipped with Bernd's helmet and goggles and listening to his instructions. One of the reporters bent down towards Bernd, who was squatting by the car. ‘Why are you so anxious to get rid of your wife, Rosemeyer?’ The mechanics pushed me off. ‘Let her go!’ It was just like a race. I carefully dabbed at the accelerator and five hundred horsepower roared behind me. At first I was somewhat stunned and it took me a lap to begin to find my bearings. Miraculously enough, the monster could be driven slowly. Not very slowly, its true - but slowly - and the gearbox was very easy to deal with. After another, even more exciting lap I was given the signal to stop from the pits, just like one of the aces, and naturally, like a well-disciplined driver, I drew up at once. ‘Bernd, I'm so pleased and grateful. That was wonderful!’ ‘I'm glad that you are still safe and sound,’ he said. ‘But you could have gone a bit faster on the straight - 200 kph (125 mph) at least!’ Needless to say, I have never forgotten the excitement of those two all-too-brief laps.”
Perhaps the germ for the idea of Elly driving the Auto Union was that Bernd was trying to make up for Elly essentially giving up her flying career for him. Or maybe Elly trying out the Auto Union was simply a publicity stunt to keep the Italian crowd amused with this demonstration in the absence of the Other German Team, as Sarah Fisher once did, when she had an historic, three-lap run during the 2002 U.S. Grand Prix weekend at Indianapolis in a McLaren-Mercedes for sponsor TAG Heuer. One difference between Sarah Fisher's run and Elly Beinhorn's drive, though, is that it is thought today that, with all the electronic driver aids, Formula One cars are relatively “easy” to drive once a driver acclimates to the powerful brakes and G-forces on the neck. The same could not be said of the 1936 Auto Union, which was notoriously the most difficult of the Silver Arrows to drive given its rear-engine configuration, something only ex-motorcycle racers with fine balance like Rosemeyer, HP Mueller and Nuvolari were able to master. And make no mistake about it, the Auto Union Typ C Bernd turned over to Elly was the mightiest of the Auto Unions, with its brutish-looking 6-litre, 16-cylinder engine developing 520 bhp at 5000 rpm, making it quite a handful for any driver, let alone a novice like Elly Beinhorn. Nevertheless, Elly managed two laps in this magnificent beast around the tricky Monza track being used for the 1936 race, which had four chicanes installed to slow the Silver Arrows down. And she did it her way, Solo.
Elly's driving of the Auto Union was such a unique event that today it would have been captured on film; but ironically, Elly was often the one taking the film that has come down to us as the Auto Union archives so this unusual run by the only woman to have ever driven an Auto Union in race trim is lost on history. Having not had not much of a honeymoon after their marriage on July 13, 1936, with Bernd's racing schedule and Elly's three-continents-in-one-day record flight in August 1936, a kind of deferred honeymoon was arranged on the cusp of the 1936 and 1937 racing seasons, and, as usual, it involved exotic machines and places. By now, Elly had moved up from the Klemms she flew on her earlier solo flights to the two-seater sport airplane she used for the 1936 record flight, a 200 mph, long-range Messerschmitt Bf-108A, which Elly dubbed the “Taifun” (Typhoon), a name Messerschmitt then picked up in selling the sportplane commercially to private owners. In a very few years, the Bf-108A sportplane would evolve into the wartime Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter plane, pride of the Luftwaffe.
Honeymoon in the Taifun
Auto Union had committed to send its cars to some Christmas season handicap races in South Africa, in early January 1937, where the Auto Unions would compete with Alfa Romeos, Bugattis, Rileys and ERAs and would start from the rear and catch up with the field; Rosemeyer and his friend, Ernst von Delius, were selected by Auto Union to go to South Africa.
Being the kind of people they were, Bernd and Elly decided to fly the Taifun to South Africa, swastika design on the tail as they took off from Berlin, Bernd acting as chief mechanic and Elly as the driver/pilot this time. Interviewed about the trip on film just after it happened, Elly reported that “Bernd is a very skilled mechanic . . . he made sure our Argus engine was always in tip-top condition. Our journey gave us many unforgettable memories.” Elly's memory of this trip was still vivid when she was interviewed 70 years later, telling Italian journalist Aldo Zana: “We laughed a lot during our flight.” When they landed in South Africa, the couple switched roles, with Rosemeyer becoming the driver again and Elly becoming back-up, this time as filmmaker with Ulli Bigalke, a future Auto Union driver whose hobby was photography, the two of them shooting some of the footage we have of these two unusual Auto Union outings in South Africa, at the Prince George track in East London for the South African Grand Prix (where an ex-Brit local won in an ERA-B) and the Grosvenor Cup race in Capetown on January 16, 1937 (where Auto Union won). When the real 1937 European Grand Prix season began in earnest, fortunes had changed for all concerned. Mercedes-Benz had licked its wounds and had come back to full strength with Rudi Caracciola and his Mercedes-Benz W125, which went on to dominate the 1937 season.
Bernd and Elly: Sidesaddle at the Nurburgring
Bernd had lost a hard fight at the AVUS against Mercedes-Benz on May 30, 1937, Elly's 30th Birthday, when his Streamliner let him down. The next race was to be the Eifelrennan at the Nurburgring on June 13, 1937. For show, Bernd, now having gotten his own pilot's license and borrowed a biplane, flew to the Ring for practice sessions, taking off on the pit straight, much to the delight of press corps, when day was done. On race day, he won the race, his third successive victory at Nurburgring. The day after the race, Bernd was asked by the Auto Union team to return to the Ring to do some filming for Auto Union, which gave Bernd an idea, according to Elly's biography: “[H]e had long wanted to take me around the Ring in his racing car and here was his chance. ‘This is a golden opportunity, Elly. You simply sit on the edge of my seat and I will drive very carefully, but fast enough that you may get an idea of what its like when I'm racing.’ I was all for it, but my enthusiasm evaporated after the very first corner! At every bend I was ready to swear an oath that we would never get round and I was almost thrown out of the Auto Union by the centrifugal force. As I clung on for dear life my husband laughed himself silly. ‘What are you complaining about? I can't drive fast at all on these running-in plugs. Dawdling along like this wouldn't get us tenth place!’ I was by no means ashamed of my timidity. On the contrary, I was grateful for the chance to get some idea of what Bernd got up to on a circuit and it was abundantly clear to me that driving a racing car was infinitely more difficult than flying.” According to the records, Rosemeyer put in a 12-minute lap with Elly on board; his qualifying time was nine minutes and 46 seconds.
America and the Vanderbilt Cup Race
Bernd Rosemeyer was able to win four Grands Prix for Auto Union that year, but the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup race at Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island in New York was the most prominent of his wins. It was an interesting, perhaps pivotal, visit to New York for Bernd and Elly in the Summer of 1937 for the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup race.
The organizers of the race, in order to accommodate the European schedules of the Grand Prix teams and induce them to come, had moved the race up from the American July 4th Independence Day Holiday to July 3, 1937. It was hoped that the race would be a kind of historic confrontation between the Indianapolis 500 race cars that had just competed in the 1937 Indy 500 and the European Grand Prix cars, 30 starting entries in all from all sorts of machines. The German teams, including Rudi Caracciola and his wife Alice “Baby” Hoffman, and Bernd and Elly, traveled to New York by the SS Bremen, and there is footage of the rival drivers and their wives sunning themselves and playing shuffleboard during the Atlantic Crossing on the deck of the Bremen and frollicking in the swimming pool below deck. The Auto Union Typ C's for Rosemeyer and Ernst von Delius and their transporters were stored in the hold of the Bremen along with the Mercedes-Benz W125's of Caracciola and Dick Seaman. Only the cream of the Grand Prix crop was in attendance at the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup Race, including Nuvolari for Alfa Romeo; the second string was left back in Europe, where Mercedes-Benz, Auto Union and Alfa Romeo competed in Belgian Grand Prix at Spa on July 11, 1937, which Auto Union's Rudolf Hasse won. While Bernd and Elly were at the Vanderbilt Cup weekend, Elly's fellow aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, was in the air, having begun on June 1, 1937, her latest attempt to circumnavigate the globe in her Lockheed L-10E Electra, with navigator Fred Noonan on board with her. By July 2, 1937, the weekend of the Vanderbilt Cup race, 22,000 miles of Amelia Earhart's historic journey had been completed, with only 7,000 miles to go, as Earhart and Noonan departed from Lae, New Guinea for a 2500 mile leg to Howland Island (which was en route over the Pacific Ocean to Honolulu), a destination they never reached. News of the missing flyers that gradually began to come out cast a pall over the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup race weekend; especially for Elly, who must have been chilled at the newspaper accounts, having been out there solo herself on those long legs on record flights over water. The headlines appearing during race weekend in the New York Times for Sunday, July 4, 1937 summed up what was known at the time: “Miss Earhart Forced Down at Sea.” But the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup race went on anyway (but not until Monday, July 5, 1937, after being delayed two days because of rain), the Auto Unions of Rosemeyer and von Delius sporting swastikas for the occasion. Rex Mays from the Indycar set held his own in an ex-works, supercharged Alfa Romeo 8C-35 (Mays would run the same car in the 1938 Indy 500), finishing third behind Dick Seaman in a Mercedes-Benz W125 in second and Rosemeyer in the Auto Union Typ C in first place. “My man's greatest success,” is the way Elly characterized this victory at the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup.
It was a sad but profitable weekend for Bernd and Elly as Bernd's first prize was $20,000, a considerable sum of money. Also, at home, Rosemeyer's victory would mean another promotion in the SS, which Bernd had been involuntarily drafted into, this time from First Lieutenant to Captain. I try to imagine the sunny Bernd Rosemeyer in World War II as an SS Officer grilling a hapless English POW under the glare of a light bulb shone in his face saying “Tell me the truth: what did you really think of my race at Donington in 1937?”
New York State of Mind
What Bernd and Elly did with at least some of their winnings was revealing as to their true state of mind in the middle of 1937, after four years of Hitler's rule. Although trotted out by the Nazis as the ultimate Aryan couple, the affable, handsome blonde Rosemeyer and his attractive and accomplished aviator wife, none of the German drivers and their wives were committed Nazis, the Rosemeyers being the least among them. Interestingly, this is what they did with the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup winnings: as a hedge against future events, Bernd and Elly opened up a bank account at a New York bank and into the account went a portion of the $20,000 prize money. Many years later, when Elly Beinhorn became aware of a group of American woman pilots who wanted to honor Amelia Earhart with a U.S. Postage Stamp, Elly remembered that long ago weekend on Long Island when her husband won the race but Elly lost a fellow flyer. She tracked down the New York bank account she and Bernd had established and the proceeds were used to support the campaign to honor Amelia Earhart. On July 24, 1961, the U.S. Post Office issued an Amelia Earhart 8¢ stamp featuring an artist's rendering of the winsome pilot and her Electra, to commemorate her last flight 24 years earlier. Naturally, Amelia Earhart's was an “Air Mail” stamp.
Elly had been pregnant during this trip to America for the Vanderbilt Cup race and at Nurburgring, for her joyride in the Auto Union after the Eifelrennen; on November 12, 1937, Bernd, Jr. was born (Tazio Nuvolari was his Godfather, and, as an adult, Bernd, Jr., came to be a friend of the German Ferrari driver, Wolfgang von Trips, so Bernd's son was being looked after!). A charming picture dated January 25, 1938, has come down to us of Bernd Sr. holding 10-week-old Bernd Jr. at home in Berlin-Charlotteburg, Bernd Sr. looking up at a model of the Auto Union Typ C on top of a cabinet that contained Bernd's trophies, the same kind of Auto Union driven by both Bernd and Elly.
Rekord: The Auto Union Streamliner
Six months after the Vanderbilt Cup race in the Summer of 1937 and three days after that picture with Bernd Jr. was taken, the Bernd and Elly fairytale ended abruptly on a winter's day, January 28, 1938, on a windswept autobahn that ran between Frankfurt and Darmstadt, Germany, a highway where the German teams were gathered to compete for one kilometer and one mile speed records. One day before the tests, Bernd flew his new plane, a Klemm, to Frankfurt to be ready for the record runs. Elly wanted desperately to be at the record run but was giving a sold-out lecture in Czechoslovakia that day. The last words in her autobiography are: “I never got to Frankfurt on time.”
The engine size of the Auto Union Streamliner had been increased from 6.1 litres to 6.5 litres and the horsepower was up to 560 bhp from 525 bhp for the standard 1937 engine. Continental tires had also come up with a new batch of larger tires for the larger 24-inch wheels. The aerodynamic panels and bodywork on the Auto Union Streamliner were modified from prior record runs in the Fall of 1937, which the team hoped would give Auto Union enough of an edge to exceed the times being put up by Caracciola in the Mercedes-Benz Streamliner earlier on January 28th. Caracciola's top time had been 270 mph. On an earlier Rekordwoche (Speedweek) on this same Frankfurt-Darmstadt autobahn, Elly had accompanied Bernd and had gone to one of the overpasses over the autobahn to get a different view of what it was like to see these silver streaks accelerate to 250 miles per hour. She wrote in her autobiography: “I just had time to drive with some friends down the side of the autobahn that was open for traffic to the Moerfeld Bridge, where I saw Bernd pass through once at full speed. The sight of the streamlined Auto Union traveling at such an unheard of velocity so took my breath away that by the time I had turned around and made for the other side of the bridge Bernd had disappeared round a bend several kilometers away! Never before had I experienced such speed.” nd it was as Bernd Rosemeyer approached the 1 kilometer finish line and one of those overpasses under wintry and windy conditions a few months later that the Auto Union Streamliner, with a canopy enclosing the cockpit, veered left toward the grass median, rolled violently and hit a stone marker and then some trees as it disintegrated, throwing Bernd out of the car and into a clump of trees. When Auto Union's team physician, Dr. Glaser, reached Bernd, his heart was still beating but it stopped soon thereafter.
Buried with a Friend
Rosemeyer had only been a Grand Prix driver for three years but his good looks and charm, his 10 Grand Prix victories and his brave, committed driving style, whether he won or lost, made him a national hero. The German nation mourned his death. Naturally, the Nazis claimed Rosemeyer as well, with widow Elly receiving condolences from the likes of Adolph Hitler and Rudolf Hesse. But Elly was having none of it, and wanted Bernd to be buried with a simple prayer and priest and threatened to walk out of the self-serving funeral orations being proposed by the Nazis before Bernd was laid to rest in Berlin's Walfried Dahlem cemetery, near his friend Ernst von Delius, who had also been killed in an Auto Union. Bernd's resting place is an Honorary Grave in Berlin and the City takes care of it; Elly “makes sure that there are 13 roses placed upon it, on the anniversary of Bernd's death.”
What Might Have Been
In time, Elly would heal; in time, she would re-marry and even fly again, but I have often wondered if but for those ill-starred record attempts on January 28, 1938, would the non-political Bernd and Elly have ultimately ended up leaving Germany when the war clouds gathered over Europe in 1939, as did Bernd's rival, Rudolf Caracciola of Mercedes-Benz, perhaps even returning to the United States and the nest egg bank account established on Long Island in the Summer of 1937, with Rosemeyer racing Italian Maseratis in the 1940 Indianapolis 500 alongside Wilber Shaw, and the other race drivers he met in the Vanderbilt Cup races and Elly taking up where her friend Amelia Earhart left off. We will never know what dreams died that day on Frankfurt-Darmstadt autobahn. Elly and Bernd, Jr. (as an adult, a Professor of Orthopedics in Munich) are both still alive today and Aldo Zana's pioneering interview on Elly Beinhorn's 96th Birthday called “Meeting Elly” is the last public word we have had from this remarkable woman, who is reportedly living in a Senior Residence near Munich, Germany.
100 Wonderful Years
She is far from forgotten. A Messerschmitt Taifun like Elly's that survived the war has been restored by Lufthansa and in May 1993, it was named the “Elly Beinhorn” and her name in script is stenciled on the fuselage. Elly baptized the plane herself at 86 years old and the plane, appropriately, is a fixture at weekend airshows, the kind of venue where flying began for Elly Beinhorn. Indeed, even at 100 years old, the fame of Elly's name brings endorsement deals, a recent example being a clockmaker, Askania, having introduced the Elly Beinhorn collection of women's watches, “for strong women with slim wrists.” How appropriate, a timepiece to remember this timeless woman.
Happy Birthday, Mrs. Rosemeyer.
Elly Beinhorn was a fabulous writer as well as an ace flyer. She wrote Mein Mann, der Rennfahrer (My Husband, the Racing Driver) in what she called “The darkest hours of my life.” In 1986, Silver Arrows expert Chris Nixon worked with Elly on an English translation called “Rosemeyer!” which has been relied upon here. Aldo Zana's unique interview with Elly on her 96th Birthday and his analysis of the details of Rosemeyer's fatal accident can be found on Leif Snellman's indispensable Golden Age of Grand Prix Racing website.
(*) Thomas C. O'Keefe is a lawyer who practices law in the U.S. Virgin Islands and in New York. He became captivated with Formula One and visiting race-tracks after watching Jimmy Clark cross the finish line to win the Indianapolis 500 in 1965 and following his F1 career thereafter.
© 2007 Thomas C. O'Keefe has full copyright to the text. - Last updated: 30.05.2007