Hans Mezger, the man who gave us the air-cooled, six-cylinder boxer engine found in the back of the Porsche 911, has passed away. He was 90.
In a career spanning 37 years, Mezger developed and worked on numerous Porsche engines, leaving a legacy that history will not forget.
Born in 1929 in Ottmarsheim, a small village on the outskirts of Stuttgart, Mezger found it difficult to get a placement at university after the war (he’d dodged enlistment as a 15-year-old by faking a medical certificate) because of the preferences given to returned soldiers.
He persisted, however, and graduated in 1956. The German economy was booming and job offers flooded in. The newly-graduated Mezger received 28 job offers. None were from Porsche.
But, undeterred, he applied for a job with the Stuttgart carmaker anyway and was hired to develop diesel engines for Porsche tractors.
“I wanted to join Porsche because the Type 356 sports car inspired me. 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,” said Mezger of his start at Zuffenhausen.
It wasn’t long before Mezger was transferred internally to work on sports cars, specifically doing calculations for valvetrains.
Just four years later, Mezger joined Porsche’s Formula 1 project, helping to develop the 1.5-litre, eight-cylinder engine that would give Porsche its first – and only – grand prix victory as a constructor when Dan Gurney raced the Type 804 to victory in the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix.
“On this Formula 1 project I also learned a lot about the design of combustion chambers. This also directly benefited the design of the six-cylinder boxer engine for the later 901/911,” he recalled.
Porsche withdrew from Formula 1 at the end of 1962 and Mezger got to work on what would become his greatest legacy, the air-cooled, 2.0-litre flat-six boxer, now known affectionately as the ‘Mezger Engine’.
It found a home in the original Porsche 901, which became the 911 after a copyright dispute with Peugeot went in favour of the French carmaker. It became an instant classic.
By 1965, Mezger was the head of Porsche’s race car design and in quick succession worked on the 907, 908 and 910 before leading the chassis construction and engine design and development of the monstrous flat-12-cylinder that found a home in the iconic Porsche 917.
That car would go on to win Le Mans and the World Sportscar Championship in 1970 and ’71, before Mezger and his team experimented with turbocharging, adding two turbos to the engine to create the 917/10 and 917/30 Can-Am race cars. The knowledge gained from this project would inspire the creation of another legend – the Porsche 911 Turbo – as well as a succession of world-beating race cars including the 934, 935 aka ‘Moby Dick’ and 936.
Further development of that engine saw it serve time in the Porsche 956 and 962 Group C race cars that dominated Le Mans and the World Sportscar Championship in the 1980s.
Not satisfied with road car and sports car racing success, Mezger also headed up Porsche’s return to Formula 1, this time with McLaren. He designed and developed the 1.5-litre V6 TAG-branded Porsche engine that would power Niki Lauda and Alain Prost to 25 grand prix victories and three straight F1 world championships from 1984-86.
Mezger’s original 911 engine continued to evolve and, in water-cooled form, found homes in the back of 996 and 997 series 911s. The last car to carry the legendary powerplant was 2011’s 911 GT3 RS 4.0.
Mezger continued to maintain his links with Porsche, even after retirement, making regular appearances at events and launches.
“The news of his death represents a very sad loss for us. Our thoughts are with his family,” said Michael Steiner, Member of Porsche’s Executive Board.
“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.”
Next time you hear that familiar ‘yowl’ coming from the back of a Porsche, pause for just moment and give thanks to the man who created one of the world’s iconic sports car engines.
Hanz Mezger, 1929-2020.