Manfred von Brauchitsch, a Grand Prix winner who nevertheless was nicknamed "der Pechvogel" (roughly, "Mr. Unlucky") because of his misfortunes, has died. Von Brauchitsch, who was 97, died in Graefenwarth, Germany, it was reported Thursday. The cause of death was not given.
Von Brauchitsch, a nephew to Gen. Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, commander in chief of the German army during World War II, began racing his cousin's Mercedes in 1929. In 1932, he won the Avus race in Berlin, driving a special streamlined body fitted to a Mercedes SSKL. That was followed by a win in the Eifel race of 1934.
But in July that year, Von Brauchitsch broke an arm and several ribs in an accident at the Nuerburgring circuit, putting him out of contention for the rest of the season.
More broken bones followed as he continued to drive "cars that were like jet-propelled juggernauts," as a Guardian of London sportswriter put it, along public roads that were poorly surfaced. Safety equipment was minimal: soft leather helmets and no safety belts.
"We had to hold the wheel very tight to avoid being thrown out," Von Brauchitsch once said.
Some believed Von Brauchitsch, who was a great crowd-pleaser because of his all-out racing style, created his own bad luck because he drove with abandon, violently braking and turning, destroying engines and tires along the way.
He did, however, win again at Monaco in 1937 and in the 1938 French Grand Prix. In all, he won 45 grand prix races over six seasons.
His racing career was cut short by the war, during which he served in a German army motorized division. Toward the end of the war, he worked as a tank consultant in Albert Speer's armaments ministry.
Von Brauchitsch's account of his racing career, "Fighting for Meters and Seconds," was published in East Berlin in 1950. The following year, he signed an East German petition against the "remilitarization of Germany."
In May 1953, West German police arrested Von Brauchitsch at his home in Bavaria on suspicion that he was planning an act of treason. During his release on bail two years later, he defected to East Germany, leaving behind his first wife, Gisela, who committed suicide in 1957.
In the east, Von Brauchitsch became head of the national motor sport association and was involved in other sports organizations. He retired after Germany was reunified in 1990.