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The Roundabout Blog

Soapbox hopefuls chase the cup in Germany

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

25th Berlin Soapbox Car Derby

(Soeren Stache/AFP/Getty Images)

Resourcefulness. Speed. Cunning. A bit of salesmanship. All were deployed by the German national football team in its 4-0 dismantling of Portugal on 16 June. The same skills were recently on display in the 1990 World Cup winners’ capital city.

On 15 June, seasoned racers and budding builders convened for qualifying rounds of the Soapbox Car Derby world championships in Berlin. It was the 25th running of the race, from which top qualifiers would move on to the national round in Brandenburg. The world championships are scheduled to take place on US soil later this year, at their traditional setting of Akron, Ohio.

25th Berlin Soapbox Car Derby

(Athanasios Gioumpasis/Getty Images)

Soapbox derbies (called seifenkistenrennen in German) have been fixtures of automotive culture virtually since the dawn of the passenger-car era. Lacking propulsion, drivers race down a slight incline in aerodynamic single-seat fuselages, with the goal of recording the fastest time on the course. Though the first derby cars were built from wood, today’s contraptions are aero-optimised bullets fashioned from fibreglass.

Portugal supporters may argue the point, but no oversold penalty or headbutt can compete for controversy with the scandal that rocked soapbox racing in 1973. American Jimmy Gronen, 14 at the time, had his world title revoked when it was discovered that he had affixed electromagnets inside the nose of his racer. A connection activated by pressure on Gronen’s headrest gave the car an (illegal) boost off the line.

Not exactly a “Hand of God” moment, but not far off the pace.

25th Berlin Soapbox Car Derby

(Maurizio Gambarini/AFP/GettyImages)

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