Fascinating autobahn: the record breaking A9

A fascinating stretch of autobahn: the record breaking – and surviving – A9 Dessau-Bitterfeld.

Marking seventy five years since Caracciola set land speed records.


High speed:

February 1939: Rudolf Caracciola and Mercedes W 154.


By 1939 land speed record attempts had outgrown their early venues, like the stretch of concrete road near Gyor in Hungary, the Avus racetrack in Berlin (now A115) and even the famous Darmstadt-Frankfurt Reichsautobahn (now A5).

The last records before the war were set on a stretch of what is now the 529km A9, Berlin-Leipzig-Munich.



Because the dead straight ten kilometre section between Dessau and Bitterfeld was also intended as an auxiliary aircraft runway it was 25m wide and the bridges were all pillarless steel arches. That also made it ideal for high speed driving.

On 9 February 1939, Grand Prix legend Rudolf Caracciola set four new Class D records – for cars of between two and three litres – using two versions of the Mercedes W 154 Grand Prix car.


The standing start version of the Mercedes W 154

The standing start version of the Mercedes W 154


The standing start car had individual fairings for the wheels and an open cockpit while the flying start car was completely encased, even the underside, in a streamlined body.

Powered by a three litre supercharged V12 – producing 468hp at 7,800rpm – the 980kg W 154 achieved 175.1kmh over a kilometre, and 204.6kmh over a mile, from a standing start. From a flying start, W 154 hit 398.2kmh over a kilometre and 399.6kmh for the mile.

Mercedes was planning to use this road to set an overall land speed record with its upcoming, 8.24m long three-axle T 80 driven by Hans Stuck (and a 3,500hp, 44.5 litre aircraft engine) but the war intervened.



The Dessau-Bitterfeld stretch was never used as a runway but after the war – when the A9 was one of only four access roads between West and East Germany – it was used as part of a race track.

Up until 1956 the Rennstrecke Dessau hosted regular motorbike and car races. After that increasing traffic made it impractical to shut off for a sporting event.

Stuck never got to drive the T 80 but he did race here in the early 1950s.

The A9 was extensively overhauled after reunification – as German Unity Transport Project No. 12 – but the profile of the section Dessau-Bitterfeld is exactly as it was built, save for a semi-permanent concrete central reservation. Even the bridges remain.


The pillarless steel arch bridge on A9 between Zschepkau and Thalheim.

The pillarless steel arch bridge on A9 between Zschepkau and Thalheim. Photo via Wikipedia.


Also see: The Last Hitlerbahn – the only surviving, unmodernised stretch of original autobahn in Germany.


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