The empire of the Third Reich lay in ruin. Amidst the rubble and the destruction a new Germany was beginning to emerge. This new Germany would arise from the efforts and the talents of the individual. These 'self-built' Germans would help to give the nation a sense of itself—an identity.
The racing scene of post-war Germany was one of few options, fragile parts and big dreams. The venerable BMW 328 engine was practically the sole choice for power. Small manufacturers were the mainstay before the return of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche. Manufacturers like AFM, Veritas and Reif built the chassis of choice. But there were others. There were others that built their own cars, their own 'self-built' machines. And amidst the AFMs, Veritas and Reifs, amidst the 'self-built' Eigenbaus, perhaps none stood out like Ernst Klodwig's Heck.
Germany's auto manufacturers, like Auto Union, had been a pioneer in creating and building rear-engine race cars. After World War II, Germany became a center for creative design as car owners would try to make improvements to designs in order to make their cars more competitive. These 'self-builds', or, Eigenbaus arose from the simple necessity to take aged designs and components and try and make them continue to be competitive year after year.
Small manufacturers like AFM, Veritas and Reif were highly successful soon after the end of the war because their designs were quite new. Almost all of the chassis still used the BMW 328 engine, which was a pre-war design. The engine had been very good when it was introduced, but it was being tuned and stretched beyond its limits during the post-war years. Despite its age, the engines, when combined with the new chassis, still performed quite well during the late 1940s. But as time turned to the 1950 decade, both the engines and the chassis had already well passed their life-expectancy and competitiveness. But this was all that there was available at the time. Racers had to improvise.
Many of the racers would take chassis from AFM, Veritas and Reif and would highly modify and 'tweak' to create wholly new and hopefully competitive machines. Many others, like Paul Pietsch's streamlined cars, would simply be shapely bodywork resting on the frame of one of the chassis. All throughout a starting grid there would be a number of interesting designs, and yet, there would be a number of similar ones as well. Very few broke from convention. The unconventional was more-expensive and untested. But then there was the Heck.
German for 'Rear', the Heck easily stood out amidst the starting field of either a West or East German starting field. Straight-away the main difference in Klodwig's car was obvious. Instead of a front mounted engine, Klodwig's design would draw inspiration from Auto Union's D-Type chassis and would have its engine placed behind the driver's back. When this car would be entered and raced by Ernst at the 1952 German Grand Prix, it would be the first rear-engine car to ever take part in a World Championship grand prix. This would be more than half of a decade before Cooper's rear-engine car would make its debut in Argentina. In the case of Ernst himself, he would be one of the first East German racers to take part in a World Championship race.
Klodwig's eigenbau was 'self-built' in almost every respect but the Auto Union inspiration was clear to see, especially in the later evolution of the chassis.
The later evolution of the chassis, that which would be entered in the 1952 German Grand Prix, would feature a triangular-shaped, flat chassis design. The engine placement behind the driver's back allowed from a low-slung front nose that featured a wide base. The height difference was obvious and can be easily seen when comparing photos of starting grids of the time.
The single piece nose of the car was dominated by a very large tear-drop-shaped grille that was contoured to fit the nose bodywork which created a protruding nose instead of a blunt nose. The vertical member of the wide grille contoured back and blended into the top ridgeline of the nose bulkhead and provided little protection for the large radiator positioned behind it.
The front suspension, like the rear, consisted of a double solid axle with a torsion bar and trailing links. The brakes utilized on the car were the drum brakes with the channeled fins in the housing to provide cooling.
A one-piece windscreen sat protruding into the airstream just prior to the deeply cut-out and very wide driver's cockpit. The driver's position in the car was quite unlike practically every other car on any grid at the time. The low-slung nose caused Klodwig to sit down inside his car with his legs extended flat out in front of him. This meant the driver did not sit up exposed out of the top of the car like many other designs of the time, especially the German Reif design. The driver's position did; however, help to create a more aerodynamic profile for the rear end of the car.
The driver's cockpit back to the rear of the car is what perhaps most resembles the Auto Union D-Type chassis from before World War II. The wide base provided nimble handling due to its wide and low center of gravity. Sitting down in the low, wide base of the car's middle and rear was the aged and venerable inline 2.0-liter six-cylinder BMW engine. When Klodwig's design was initially built he had a headrest and to either side of the headrest were inlets for the carburetors and induction pipes. This went through an evolution and what resulted was an almost perfect representation of the design utilized on the Auto Union D-Type.
The bodywork featured a tiered design. The low and wide bodywork would curve up along the side and would then ascend a short distance again before it seemingly followed the contour of the driver's shoulder and head. Protruding out of the top of the contoured head rest was another vent used to allow air to the engine. The position of the engine behind the driver not only allowed for a more aerodynamic shape to the car it also added to the car's stability. The stability enabled Klodwig to take corners at a higher speed and have confidence the car would take the corner without losing control. This handling, and the car's remarkable reliability, would end up helping Klodwig achieve some very good results despite its lack in straight-line speed.
The aft section of the chassis was also quite unique in its design. The top of the chassis, right behind the driver's head, featured a vent that provided air to the engine and traveled back along the car a good distance. This top ridge of contoured bodywork would continue to run along the top of the bodywork all the way to the most rearward position on the car. The side bodywork flattened out and actually created a rounded wedge shape. When combined with the top ridge bodywork, the rear of the car resembled something of a platypus' beak, very smooth, wide and flat.
While bearing many similarities to the Auto Union D-Type, Klodwig's concept was obviously quite different. The nose design was much more wide on Klodwig's car than that of the D-Type. The D-Type was wide but it was made so by the wings that formed the leading edges over the front suspension and then blended into the side bodywork traveling aft. Klodwig's front suspension was originally covered slight, but it would be more than open for inspection with his later evolution.
Of course the other major difference was to be found at the back of the car. The D-Type Auto Union chassis boasted a 3.0-liter 420 hp V12 engine. Klodwig's rear-engine chassis would feature a BMW 328 engine that was only 2.0-liters and produced a little more than 100 hp. And whereas the Auto Unions would use their speed and mechanical superiority to win races, Klodwig's Heck would always suffer for a lack of straight-line speed and would have to rely on its quite surprising reliability to score points.
Almost from the very first, Klodwig's 'special' would prove to be one of the best. Many of the components available after the war had been pre-war designs, like the BMW 328 engine. While they still worked, and were of good design, they were being stretched well beyond what they were ever expected to be able to perform. This was especially true of the BMW engine that originally only produced around 80 hp. Components, such as the engines, were tweaked until they became too fragile and had more than a tendency to fail. Klodwig's Heck had become a noted exception.
Proving speed wasn't as important as reliability, Klodwig would come to depend upon his car's reliability and would finish 2nd in his first and second race with the car. In 1951, Klodwig would end up 2nd in the East German Championship next to Paul Greifzu and his special. By 1952, the car was well and truly out-paced, but its reliability would again make up the difference as he would end up 2nd once again in the East German Championship standings behind Edgar Barth.
And while the East German Championship was of utmost importance to Klodwig, 1952 would see another opportunity come his way, one in which he would become most remembered, and yet, forgotten.
Both West and East Germany had their own Formula 2 championships. Neither of the nations were in all that good of shape economically, even in 1952. Their currency was practically worthless outside of their own countries. On top of the economical woes in the country, travel restrictions had been imposed upon Germany's residents. This meant German racers were prohibited from traveling to other nations to take part in races. Therefore, the economical woes prevented the formation of a Formula One team. The travel restrictions would then prevent the Formula One team, if there was one, to be able to travel and take part in any of the other Formula One races. Germany was isolated from the World Championship, even when it first came calling in 1951. That would all change in 1952.
The Formula One World Championship needed to make some changes. But to determine what those changes should be, the governing-body and the race organizers needed time. Their stop-gap measure would be to run the World Championship according to Formula 2 regulations for the 1952 and 1953 seasons. This opened up West and East Germans to the World Championship as their cars conformed to the Formula 2 regulations used by the other nations. This opened up the door to Klodwig and his unique place in World Championship history.
Everything about Klodwig's entry in the German Grand Prix was something special. Not only was his car the first rear-engine car to ever take part in a World Championship race, but Klodwig and Rudolf Krause would be the first East Germans to ever take part in a World Championship event.
In the race, the slow, and yet steady, Klodwig Eigenbau Heck would soldier on and would actually finish its first World Championship race, though unofficially. Officially, the Heck was too far behind to be classified. The distance of five laps, or what amounted to about an hour, behind Alberto Ascari by the finish of the race would almost cause Klodwig, and his special place in Formula One history, to be forgotten. But, Klodwig's Eigenbau Heck will forever have its place of prominence in Formula One history even though many perhaps will never know.