Hans Mezger is among the most influential engineers the Porsche brand has ever employed. After a long and successful life, Mr. Mezger died on Wednesday at the age of 90.
This gifted man had his hands in every major Porsche engine design from the 1950s to the 2000s, working with Fuhrmann on the legendary 4-cam, designing the original flat-six engine for the 901, developing the 917’s flat twelve, the TAG-branded V6 Turbo engine that won 25 Formula One Grands Prix, and more. While he retired in 1993, his engine designs carried on through 2012 in Porsche’s famed GT3. Like I said, the guy was a genius.
Hans Mezger was born on November 18, 1929 in Ottmarsheim, near Stuttgart. He was the youngest of five children. An early fascination with aviation had Mezger on the path toward engineering, however the second World War forced Hans out of the idea of flight because Germany was banned from designing, constructing, and operating aircraft through 1955. Instead of waiting for the country to regain its foothold in flight, Mezger chose to study mechanical engineering instead, getting a degree from what is now the University of Stuttgart.
Upon graduation Mezger was flooded with job offers, but he was inspired by Porsche’s relatively new 356 sports car and decided to apply to work for them. Porsche offered him a job in the tractor development division, but he turned that down and started in the calculation department instead. He developed a calculation formula for optimizing camshaft profiles and Porsche immediately moved him into its Formula One team for 1960. Because the company was so small at the time, the same engineers were responsible for the flat eight engine as the Type 804 chassis.
Following meager success in F1, Mezger developed Porsche’s most legendary engine, the aircooled flat six engine that would go on to be used in various displacements and developments for all 911s from 1964 through 1997. The watercooled version of this engine continued on in 911 Turbos through 2009 and 911 GT3s through 2012. Porsche’s racing team used a development of that same engine through the 991 generation for racing in GT3 Cup on up to Le Mans until very recently.
As head of Porsche’s racing department, Mezger had full control of the legendary Porsche 917 program starting in 1968. Obviously we know the history of that car, two overall wins at Le Mans in 1970 and 1971, then domination of the Can Am series in 1972 and 1973 with incredible developments in turbocharging. Then in 1974 that turbo technology was brought to Porsche’s production cars in the form of the original type 930, also one of Mezger’s babies (shown above).
Mezger engineered Porsche victories in basically every series around the world during his tenure, even going so far as to develop the 1.5-liter V6 turbo TAG-Porsche engine for McLaren in 1981. That engine would go on to provide 25 Grands Prix victories and two world championships for Niki Lauda and Alain Prost in 1984 and 1985. “This was a tremendous success and, at the same time, the most important development contract for Porsche from an external company,” says Mezger of the achievement.
This man not only shaped Porsche’s involvement in motorsport, but its development as a company. Where would we be in this world without the glorious shout of an uncorked 1960s 2-liter 911, or the all-conquering 917/30, or (perhaps Porsche’s greatest car) the 997 GT3 RS 4.0. Without Hans Mezger in their corner, would Porsche have won 18 Le Mans titles? Would the Porsche we know and love even exist?
Rest well, Mr. Mezger. You’ve created so many glorious things that will live beyond your years. Hell, he even worked on Porsche’s 2-liter version of the Volkswagen Type-4 engine that powered 914s and 912Es. I guess I’ll go for a drive in my 912E as a little way of remembering Mr. Mezger.
Michael Steiner, head of R&D in charge of motorsport at Porsche, said of Mezger’s passing: “The news of his death represents a very sad loss for us. We thank Hans Mezger for his extraordinary engineering achievements, which he undertook for motorsport in general and for Porsche in particular. His innovations for our series sportscars will remain unforgotten forever.”
Career and highlights at Porsche
1956–1960 Technical calculation department in the design department. Responsible for valve control of all engines, among other things.
1960–1962 Move to the Porsche Formula 1 project team. Collaboration in engine and chassis design.
1963 Design of the 901/911 engine. Responsible for design and further development of all racing engines.
1965 Design and project management of the Ollon-Villars Spyder. Management of the newly established department for race car design.
1966–1970 Design of the 910, 907, 908, 917, 2-litre four-cylinder engine for the 914 production sports car.
1971–1973 CanAm race cars 917/10 and 917/30 with turbocharging.
1974–1976 Design, development and further development of six-cylinder turbo engines and the Type 935 and 936 race cars.
1977–1978 Development of the water cooling and four-valve concept for the Type 935 and 936 six-cylinder turbo engines.
1977–1980 Design of the four-cylinder engine for Harley-Davidson. Development of the Indy engine based on the Type 935/936. Further development of the 935/936 race cars and engines.
1981–1982 Development of a 2.65-litre engine based on the 935/936 for Group C (956/962).
1981–1987 Design, overall project management and further development of the “TAG-Turbo – made by Porsche” Formula 1 engine.
1987–1988 Design of the Type 2708 Indy 2.65-litre engine.
1990 Design of the Type 3512 12-cylinder Formula 1 engine
Honors and awards
1974 The Starley Premium Award (GB) for the best automotive presentation of the year on the Porsche Type 917.
1984 Behind the Scenes Award (USA) for the development of the TAG Turbo Formula 1 engine.
1984 Trofeo Colin Chapman (I) for the development of the TAG Turbo Formula 1 engine.
1984 Prince Metternich Prize (D) for outstanding technical achievements in motorsport.
1984 Trophée de L’Exploit (F) for the development of the TAG Turbo Formula 1 engine.
1984 Caschi d’Oro (I) for winning the Formula 1 Constructors’ World Championship (presented to McLaren).
1985 Prof. Ferdinand-Porsche Award (A) of the technical university Vienna in recognition for the accomplishment of developing the combustion engine. Hans Mezger is still the only person from the Porsche company to have won this award.
1987 Médaille Spéciale (F) for the development of the TAG Turbo Formula 1 engine.