He was born on 29 March 1891 in Novy Jicin, near Ostrava, in what is now the Czech Republic. His father was a carpenter and cabinetmaker.Neubauer fell in love with automobiles when at the age of seven he saw his first car, a Benz drive through his village, in North Moravia. Even as a small boy he would claim that “petrol already ran in his blood.” After a stint as a motor pool officer during the First World War he joined Austro-Daimler as a race car driver. When Ferdinand Porsche left Austro-Daimler in a fit of pique he brought Neubauer with him to Mercedes. At Mercedes he found his home and would work there for the rest of his life. He was a company man who would stay loyal through thick and thin. It soon became apparent to Neubauer as it had been to his wife earlier that he was not destined to become a great race car driver. In fact his wife remarked that he drove like a night watchman! While working for Mercedes he heard of Rudolf Caracciola’s exploits at the first Grand Prix of Germany at Avus in 1926. Caracciola driving under the most appalling conditions was not aware that he had actually won the race. Neubauer believed that a driver on the racetrack was the “world’s loneliest human being.” He thought that if a driver could be informed, during the race, of his position, speed, race distance and other particulars he would have a better chance of achieving his ultimate potential.
At one dinner he gave a rendition and all present were thankful he became a racing team manager.” – Erik Johnson, Mercedes PR, recalls Neubauer singing opera at a team function.
Alfred Neubauer brought his ideas to the board of directors at Mercedes and luckily for him and Mercedes he found a willing supporter in Wilhelm Kissel. Head of the entire firm, Kissel was also a racing enthusiast and understood the benefits of a racing program in publicity and in the development of road cars. Neubauer was a very large man with a voice to match. He could be a strict disciplinarian or a amiable dinner host with his impersonations of der Führer, stories of Marilyn Monroe and others. His love of food, drink and parties rivaled a modern day Bacchus. His loyalty to his drivers and to Mercedes though could not be questioned. He was called the big man or the fat man or simply Don Alfredo.
At his first race as team manager, Neubauer organized a Mercedes team of three cars. Neubauer assigned a crew for each car. Signal boards and flags were prepared and a sign language was created for the drivers and pit crews. They were similar to the signs used in American Baseball without the theatrical spitting and grabbing of one’s crotch! In fact they started out rather simply: circling the right index finger in the air asked the remaining number of laps, a finger pointed forward asked how far the car in front was, pointing a thumb towards the back asked the converse. He had his mechanics practice pitstops for hours on end till they got it right. At the beginning of each race Alfred Neubauer took his place at trackside, a black and red flag in his hand. An official seeing this strange sight tried to have him removed but to no avail. There is even a photograph of Neubauer at the front of the grid holding up 4 fingers to signal four seconds to start. Amazingly all eyes are on him rather than on the starter! From that moment on a race without Don Alfredo could not have been very important.
“The only thing I disliked about him was he made me get up too damned early”. Stirling Moss referring to Alfred Neubauer
Amazingly Neubauer had almost left Mercedes in 1932 to join Ferdinand Porsche at Auto Union when Mercedes quit racing during the depression. But he was promised that Mercedes would soon return to racing. Wilhelm Kissel could not afford to lose his once and future team manager. Alfred Neubauer would lead Mercedes’ racing team through its golden period and then would come back for an encore in 1954 as if to show the world that he was still the master.
His many innovations continue on to this day. He is famous for creating the “silver arrows” by removing the paint from his white cars but this was actually a suggestion by his driver von Brauchitsch to meet the weight requirements. He created a secret racing elixir of black coffee, egg yolk, sugar, a little wine, and a few spices. He guaranteed that it would work wonders … at least for a few laps. Neubauer had his pit crews practice pit stops with the changing of all for tires until they were able to accomplish this with unheard of speed and precision. Not all of his ides worked though. For one race he flew in a plane to get a better view but has communication with his driver and pit crews had failed or were nonexistent, and such was the legend of Alfred Neubauer this most singular man.
Stirling Moss would say of him that:
“He was an amazing character, who could have anybody snapping to attention if necessary, but would also show great thought and understanding, in relaxed moments he could have us all rolling about with laughter.”