Understated engineering genius Hans Mezger was a true Porsche pioneer, who’s air-cooled legend still burns bright
Style for Miles is forever an admirer of the game-changers, the mavericks and the original thinkers. The ones who irrevocably shift the landscape, creating a definitive ‘before’ and ‘after’ in their wake.
Porsche’s engine maestro Hans Mezger was one of those. A man whose body of work over more than three decades included, in no particular order, the 911's air-cooled, six-cylinder boxer engine, the overall construction of the 917 and its twelve-cylinder engine and the creation of the TAG Turbo Formula One engine.Passing away on June 10, 2020 at the age of 90, Porsche’s legendary engineer was more than an employee, he was a family member who was instrumental in evolving the Porsche legend on both road and track.
Born on November 18, 1929 in Ottmarsheim, Mezger was fascinated by aeroplanes and flying from an early age, occasionally undertaking 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," recalled Mezger.
After graduating university in 1956 there was only one company Mezger wanted to join. “The Type 356 sports car inspired me, so I applied, got an interview, and the company offered me a job in diesel engine development. I didn’t even know that Porsche had such a thing!
“However, I envisioned working on sports cars. They showed understanding and that's how I started in the calculations department," said Mezger.
“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," he reported from that early era at Porsche.
Design of the 911 engine and head of "Race car design"
For air-cooled aficinados he’ll always be know for the 901 and 911 ‘Mezger’ engine in the early 1960s. In 1965 Mezger was promoted to head of the department for race car design initiated by Ferdinand Piëch. “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
From the 917 to the TAG turbo for Formula 1
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 provided a responsiveness for race tracks and public roads.Porsche was 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 1. 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 the two Constructors' World Championships in 1984 and 1985. "This was a resounding success and also the most significant development contract for Porsche from an external company.
Porsche for Life
His commitment to Porsche has made him reject all offers from other manufacturers throughout his career and he still owned his 911 Carrera 3.0 in Grand Prix white – a coveted Porsche classic which has "his" engine.
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.”
Style for Miles doffs its cap and salutes a true pioneer.
Porsche Career Highlights
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