Porsche marks the passing of Hans Mezger (1929-2020)

He designed engines for the 911 and headed the 917 race car program

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Hans Mezger and the 917 | Porsche photos

Hans Mezger, the engineer who designed the air-cooled, 6-cylinder boxer engine for the Porsche 911 and later the all-conquering 917 race car and its 12-cylinder engine, died Wednesday, Porsche AG announced. He was 90.

“The news of his death represents a very sad loss for us,” said Michael Steiner, the Porsche board member for 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.”

For 3 decades, Mezger was responsible for Porsche’s racing cars, and his engineering designs included the TAG Turbo Formula One engine.

Mezger listens to feedback from Niki Lauda

Mezger was born in the fall of 1929. His parents ran a country inn and the young Mezger was fascinated by flight. A faked medical certificate allowed him to avoid military service when he turned 15 years old in 1945 and to continue his studies, though with so many men returning from the war and taking places in universities, Mezger spent a year as an intern learning machining, welding, iron and aluminum production, and model making.

He graduated in 1956 and was hired to do calculations for Porsche’s diesel-engine development program. In 1960, he started calculating cam profiles for Porsche’s first F1 effort.

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“On this Formula 1 project, I also learned a lot about the design of combustion chambers” he later recalled. “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 designed the “Mezger engine” for the 901 and 911, and in 1965 was promoted to head of race car design.

“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,” he recalled. 

Porsche noted that, “With its construction of a tubular frame, fiberglass body and design for new Formula 1 tire technology, it became the blueprint for all the race cars that were built in the years to follow.”

Mezger also was responsible for the design of the Porsche 917 and its 12-cylinder engine. The car dominated at Le Mans and then in the Can-Am series. 

In addition to the engines for a long list of Porsche racing and production cars, Mezger did a 4-cylinder engine for Harley-Davidson motorcycles in the late 1970s.

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Mezger and his turbocharged F1 engine

“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,” Porsche said in its announcement of Mezger’s passing.

“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, Hans Mezger was the creative mastermind behind the 1.5-liter, V6 engine with an 80-degree bank angle, which would later produce more than 1,000 horsepower.

“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.”

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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