Fascinating F1 Fact:32

Paul Greifzu never took part in a Formula 1 Grand Prix, but one of his cars did. It was, in fact, the very same car in which Greifzu had been killed 15 months earlier. The Greifzu was one of the small group of post-war BMW Eigenbau Formula 2 cars, the work “eigenbau” translating literally as “home-made”. They were all based on the pre-war BMW 328 sports car, using Rudolf Schleicher’s potent 2-litre straight six engine, which also served as the base for the Bristol engines in the early 1950s, notably in the Cooper-Bristols.

Greifzu was not an engineer, but rather a practical amateur, who did what he could with the equipment available to him. His father owned a garage in the town of Suhl, not far from Erfurt, in Thuringia. When he was 18, after an apprenticeship as a toolmaker, Paul started working in the family garage. He soon started racing, initially with a Dixi, a German-built version of the Austin Seven. He won his first victory at Saalfeld in 1925 and then moved on to a Mercedes and a BMW motorcycle. For three years he raced with much success until a serious accident convinced him to stop. He married, worked in the family garage and started a family.

Seven years later, when the BMW 328 appeared, he decided to return to racing at the age of 33. He was one of BMW’s first customers and quickly showed his abilities, notably by winning the sports car race supporting the 1938 German GP, in which he beat the factory 328s. The war then interrupted his revived career, he hid his BMW and continued to run the garage with his brother Fritz. In the course of the war the garage used forced labourers from Ukraine and when the Americans liberated Suhl in April 1945, the two brothers faced trouble, until all 12 of the workers involved protested and explained that the Greifzus had taken them from the work camp in order to save their lives and had treated them with great care and respect.

The Soviets took over the region in July that year and there was no racing for four years. Most of the car factories in the east had been destroyed or the production lines had been moved to Russia, but the BMW plant at Eisenach was revived and it began producing pre-war models under the Eisenacher Motorenwerk (EMW) banner. In July 1949, a few weeks before the Russians withdrew and the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) came into being, the first motorcycle races were held at Stralsund and Wittenberg and in September the first car race in the east place at Dessau, on a circuit which included a section of autobahn. Greifzu dusted down his 328, but it was clear that this was not competitive and so the brothers set about building their own version. This was based on a BMW 315 chassis, which was lighter than the 328. This was lowered and fitted with a 326 engine block, which EMW engineer Erich Kock mated with the light alloy cylinder heads from the 328. The bodywork was designed with the help of former Auto Union aerodynamicist Georg Hufnagel. The new car was fast and beat the other BMW Eigenbaus and the state-funded DAMWs. After a number of victories he was allowed to race in the West. The car showed promise but was destroyed when he crashed at the Nürburgring. After spending five weeks in hospital in Adenau, he returned home and built a revised version of the car. After initial wins the East Germany in 1951, he returned to the West and finished fourth at the Nürburgring. There were then further wins in the East before an international Formula 2 race at the revived Avus. The opposition was strong, with Veritas, AFM, Ferrari, Cooper and HWM (with Stirling Moss and Lance Macklin). Greifzu had prepared well. He had a special high-revving engine and gearing designed for Avus. The Greifzu was fastest in practice and after a battle with the Veritas of Toni Ulmen, Paul emerged the winner. An East German amateur had beaten the Western teams. Greifzu ended the year with another victory at the Sachsenring against a number of the Western visitors.

Greifzu turned 50 in April 1952 but was keen to go on racing. A few weeks later the racers gathered at Dessau and Greifzu was setting the pace in practice when his engine seized as he accelerated on the autobahn. It was such a violent failure that it split the engine block and the car spun out of control into a wooden fence and rolled. Greifzu was thrown out and killed. Amazingly, the damage to the car was relatively light and his widow Dora had the car rebuilt and it was entered for the German GP in 1953 with Rudolf Krause driving.

Greifzu remains the only driver to have won a major international single-seater race in a home-built special.