It was with great sadness that the motoring and motorsport world learned last week of the passing of Hans Mezger, Porsche engineer extraordinaire. He died at the age of 90 years, having grown up and lived near Stuttgart all of his life. His contribution to Porsche’s engineering prowess was nothing short of exceptional.
Hans Mezger was born on 18 November 1929 in Ottmarsheim, a small village near Ludwigsburg on the outskirts of Stuttgart. Art and culture were very important to the Mezger family who ran a country inn. From an early age, the young Mezger was fascinated by aeroplanes and flying, and he would occasionally undertake a trip to Kirchheim/Teck with a group of gliding enthusiasts from his neighbourhood.
“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,” is how Hans Mezger described his first motorsport experience immediately after the Second World War.
With an interest in things mechanical, it was perhaps not surprising when Hans Mezger decided to study mechanical engineering at Stuttgart’s Technical University, now known as the University of Stuttgart. As a student, Mezger used the university requirement for a twelve-month internship to practise numerous activities such as machining, welding, model making with a few weeks in the grey cast iron and aluminium foundry, skills that would stand him in good stead later on. Job offers were numerous upon completion of his studies, but he chose to join Porsche right after graduation, and never left!
Although he rode motorcycles and scooters as a young man, his first car was an old and quite worn-out 356. “I wanted to join Porsche because the Type 356 sports car inspired me. So, I applied and got an interview, and the company offered me a job in diesel engine development,” Mezger recalled. He started with Porsche on 1 October 1956 and he obviously showed a flair for the type of work, as things moved quite quickly for the young aspiring Hans Mezger. Mezger then worked in the calculation department where he gained experience with the 4-cam Type 547 engine. He 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 chassis of the 804.
Extract from interview with Hans Mezger in 2017, discussing his task to improve the durability of the Carrera 4-cam engine in the 904:
“On this Formula 1 project, I also learned a lot about the design of combustion chambers. This also directly benefited the design of the 6-cylinder boxer engine for the later 901/911. Ferry Porsche, with his visionary leadership of the company, his human qualities, dignity and great dedication, became my role model. I wholeheartedly shared his philosophy of racing in order to build the best sports car for the road, this was impressive and had a lasting impact on myself and my work during the entire period I spent at the company,” he added.
“I was in that team at the time when the Formula One project from 1962 was stopped. But when it was stopped by Ferry Porsche, I was also asked to work on the 911 engine, so we did both the production and the racing version for the 906 in parallel. After the Formula One project, as from the beginning of 1963, I was responsible for all racing engines,” Mezger explained.
Hans Mezger has his fingerprints on most of Porsche’s engines from as early as the 901/911 in 1963, right through to the 911 GT3 RS 4.0 (997) in 2011/2012. The ‘Mezger engine’ has developed a character all of its own, but Mezger stuck to these three basic principles from the outset: split crankcase; dry sump lubrication; and a high-pressure oil pump outside the crankcase. There are some exceptions, for instance, the 911 Carrera 3.4 (996) does not have dry sump lubrication, but the 911 GT3 from this generation does qualify. This designation also applies to other vehicles whose engines do have the same system, for example, the 935/78 Moby Dick, 956 and 959 which are water/air-cooled and have four valves per cylinder.
In an attempt to have a better shot at earning more points in the world endurance championship, Ferdinand Piëch asked Hans Mezger to head up a new department for race car design. Mezger explains, “I had the first special racing department which was founded in 1965, called Racing Car Design. It was not just for the engines as before, it was for the whole car.”
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. “Sometimes we also worked around the clock – like in 1965 when we created the Ollon-Villars Bergspyder in just 24 days and shortly thereafter the 910.” With its construction of a tubular frame, fibreglass body and design for new Formula 1 tyre technology, it became the blueprint for all the race cars that were built in the years to follow.
“We did long-distance races many times with the 8-cylinder engine, with both the 2-litre and the 2.2-litre, but Daytona was one of the last races with that engine in 1968. We won Daytona, finishing one – two – three, with the 907, I was there, it was a great, great victory, we never believed it was possible. And one of the engines was used for testing nearly 24 hours before that, and then we used it in the race, it was not the winner, but one of the other two cars,” a very proud Mezger added with a broad smile.
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 the ‘60s we used the Type 771 engine, that was a 2.0-litre 8-cylinder engine derived from the Formula One 1.5-litre engine from 1962. It was very complicated, but the Type 912 engine (in the 917) was the easiest to assemble. It took approximately thirty or forty per cent less time to assemble the 12-cylinder 917 engine compared to the 2.0-litre 8-cylinder engine, it was so easy to handle. I was very proud to hear that from the mechanics,” Mezger said proudly.
In 1972 and 1973, and right from the start, the 917/10 and 917/30 showed good responsiveness in the Can-Am series, thanks to a novel exhaust turbocharging technology developed by Porsche itself. For the first time, turbocharging was successfully developed to ensure a responsiveness that allowed racing cars and series-production vehicles to be used on race tracks and public roads. This technology confirmed Porsche as a pioneer in this field, and it was thanks to Mezger and his team that this technology was introduced into the production line-up in 1974, in the form of the legendary 911 Turbo (Type 930).
Perhaps the most outstanding project materialised in 1981 when Ron Dennis and his McLaren racing team set out in search of a powerful turbo engine for Formula 1. Porsche was selected to do the job, 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, Hans 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 two Constructors’ World Championships in 1984 and 1985.
Hans Mezger retired from Porsche on 1 October 1993, having served the company for exactly 37 years, to the day. His commitment to Porsche was steadfast, rejecting the many offers from other manufacturers throughout his career. He still owned a 911 Carrera 3.0 in Grand Prix white, a coveted Porsche classic which was powered by ‘his’ engine. His loyalty and connection to Porsche was unbroken and he accompanied Porsche at events, trade fairs and festivities until the very end. Recently, the Porsche Museum hosted a celebration for his 90th birthday with family, friends and former companions.
On a personal level, I got to know Mr Mezger only recently, that is, back in 2008, when I was writing a book on the Porsche 917. He was always available to talk about his favourite subject, Porsche, with journalists who shared his passion. Between 2008 and 2017, I had the privilege of interviewing him four times, the last occasion in 2017, I spent an extended time talking with him about the cars of the ‘60s – I shan’t forget that. Hans Mezger was always the gentleman, a softly spoken but passionate and highly talented engineer, and he will be sorely missed by all those who knew him.
We at Porsche Road & Race, would like to extend our heartfelt sympathies to his family and relatives.
Written by: Porsche Presse & Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto