Legendary Porsche Engineer Hans Mezger, 90

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Hans Mezger
Hans Mezger

STUTTGART, Germany – Hans Mezger, a legendary Porsche engineer who developed a number of innovations for the German sports car brand, died Wednesday at the age of 90.

Mezger was key in helping Porsche develop the Porsche 911’s air-cooled, six-cylinder boxer engine, as well helping with the overall construction of the 917 and its twelve-cylinder engine. He was also behind the creation of the TAG Turbo Formula One engine.

“The news of his death represents a very sad loss for us. Our thoughts are with his family,” said Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board, Research and Development. “We thank Hans Mezger for his extraordinary engineering achievements, which he has done for motorsport in general and for Porsche in particular. His innovations for our series sports cars will remain unforgotten forever.”

Mezger was born on Nov. 18, 1929 in Ottmarsheim, a small village near Ludwigsburg on the outskirts of Stuttgart. The youngest of five children, his parents ran a country inn. Art and culture were very important to the Mezger household. From an early age, aeroplanes and flying also fascinated the young Hans, and he occasionally undertook a trip to Kirchheim/Teck with a group of gliding enthusiasts from his neighbourhood.

As if from nowhere, right in the middle of his carefree childhood and adolescence, and while at grammar school, the Third Reich and Second World War emerged. On April 18, 1945, just three weeks before the end of the war, the 15-year-old Mezger only escaped being enlisted by a stroke of luck and a faked medical certificate from a German commander. Eventually, Mezger continued his grammar school studies in Besigheim through the 6th grade, then followed by German A-levels in Ludwigsburg.

“In 1946, I experienced my very first car race. It was at Hockenheim where old pre-war race cars lined up, along with Hans Stuck, whom I photographed with my old camera,” Mezger described his first motorsport experience immediately after the Second World War.

Mezger decided to study mechanical engineering at the Technical University, now the University of Stuttgart. However, at this time the universities were very crowded because the young men who had returned from the war were given preferential treatment for admission. Hans Mezger used the university requirement for a twelve-month internship to practise numerous stages such as machining, welding, model making and a few weeks in the grey cast iron and aluminium foundry.

“At that time I was riding a motor scooter, an NSU Lambretta,” said Mezger. “Apart from my brother’s 250 cc DKW it was my first and last motorized two-wheeler. I rode the Lambretta until 1960, when I bought my first car, an old and quite worn-out 356. It was not until years later that I came into contact with motorised two-wheelers again, when in the late 1970s it became necessary to develop new motorcycle engines for Harley-Davidson.”

After graduating in 1956 at the time of the German economic miracle, there was a veritable flood of job offers.

“There were 28. But Porsche was not among them. I wanted to join Porsche because the Type 356 sports car inspired me,” Mezger. “So I applied, got an interview, and the company offered me a job in diesel engine development. Until then, I didn’t even know that Porsche had such a thing. But I envisioned working on sports cars. They showed understanding and that’s how I started in the calculations department at Porsche.”

A little later in 1958, Mezger and his wife Helga got married. This was followed by the move to their first flat together in Ludwigsburg and, shortly afterwards, their two children, Daniela and Oliver.

Mezger gained his first experience with the four camshaft engine Type 547, developed a formula for calculating cam profiles and became part of Porsche’s first Formula 1 project in 1960. He was involved in the development of the 1.5-litre eight-cylinder Type 753 as well as the corresponding chassis of the 804.

His career included designing the world-famous “Mezger engine” for the 901 and 911 in the early 1960s. In 1965 Mezger was promoted to head of the department for race car design initiated by Ferdinand Piëch. This department was the key to a new quality and dynamism in motorsport for Porsche. It was an exciting, fascinating time in the mid-1960s. With its construction of a tubular frame, fibreglass body and design for new Formula One tire technology, it became the blueprint for all the race cars that were built in the years to follow.

Porsche also relied on this design principle for the development of the 917 in 1968. With the 917, the first overall victory for Porsche at Le Mans was now finally possible, and once again Ferdinand Piëch relied on the skilfulness of Hans Mezger, who was responsible for the overall construction of the vehicle and its 12-cylinder engine. The 917 dominated at Le Mans and in the World Sportscar Championship in 1970 and 1971.

In 1972 and 1973, and right from the start, the 917/10 and 917/30 showed good responsiveness even on the curvy stretches of the CanAm series, thanks to a novel exhaust turbocharging technology developed by Porsche itself. For the first time, turbocharging was successfully given a responsiveness that allowed racing cars and series-production vehicles to be used on all race tracks and public roads.

A technology that makes Porsche a pioneer in this field and Mezger and his team brought to series production in 1974 in the form of the 911 Turbo. Many other victorious developments followed: for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the World Sportscar Championship and the US Indy series.

But perhaps the most outstanding project took off in 1981 when Ron Dennis and his McLaren racing team set out in search of a powerful turbo engine for Formula One. In the end, Porsche was chosen and the decision was made to design and build a completely new engine, as well as to provide on-site support during the races.

Again, Mezger was the creative mastermind behind the 1.5-litre, V6 engine with an 80-degree bank angle, which would later produce more than 1000 PS. In 1984, Niki Lauda became world champion with it, and again in 1985, followed in 1986 by Alain Prost. The TAG Turbo won a total of 25 races, plus the two Constructors’ World Championships in 1984 and 1985.