Karl Lud­vigsen on the his­tory of a re­mark­able Porsche rac­ing driver

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words & pho­tos: Karl Lud­vigsen

Otto Mathé de­serves a proud place in Porsche his­tory as one of the most ge­nial and in­ter­est­ing per­son­al­i­ties of the early days. Although born in Ziller­tal, Aus­tria in 1907, Mathé grew up in Inns­bruck. At the age of 16 he grad­u­ated from cy­cle rac­ing to the mo­tor­cy­cle com­pe­ti­tions that were pop­u­lar in Aus­tria and at 19 was hill­climb cham­pion of the Ty­rol. Be­com­ing a dirt-track rac­ing spe­cial­ist, he de­signed and built his own ma­chines.

An able me­chanic, Mathé was a trained ma­chin­ist who also en­joyed suc­cess as an en­tre­pre­neur. He in­vented and patented a ski bind­ing, be­gan sell­ing branded oils and ad­di­tives and af­ter the war opened the Ty­rol re­gionʼs first work­shop for cylin­der and crankshaft grind­ing.

When he was 27 Mathé suf­fered a rac­ing crash in Graz that cost him the use of his right arm. Nei­ther his hand­i­cap nor his mul­ti­ple busi­ness in­ter­ests kept Otto Mathé from en­joy­ing rac­ing. He be­came the first se­ri­ous racer of Porsche sports cars and a friend of the Porsche and Piëch fam­i­lies.

With his 1934 Fiat Balilla 508S, the car with which he had be­gun auto rac­ing, on July 11, 1948 Mathé en­tered the Inns­bruck race meet­ing dur­ing which the Porsche 356 road­ster was pub­licly demon­strated. Also shown off dur­ing the demon­stra­tion was the sur­viv­ing com­plete 60K10 Ber­linRome Kdf-wa­gen. Al­most ex­actly one year later on July 8, 1949, Franz Bin­der – an English­man who was an em­ployee of Porsche Salzburg – of­fered the now unique Ber­lin-rome coupé to Mathé.

Mathé ini­tially re­ceived a pro­vi­sional reg­is­tra­tion for the car. To suit his driv­ing style, which saw him brac­ing the steer­ing wheel with his chest while he shifted with his left hand, the 60K10 had to be con­verted from left-hand drive to

right-hand drive, work that was ap­par­ently com­pleted by Au­gust 10, 1950.

Ac­cord­ing to au­thor Chris Bar­ber, Otto Mathé ran his Ber­lin-rome coupé in some ten events with de­cent re­sults. Most no­table of his suc­cesses was an Alpine Cup and vic­tory in the 1100 cc class in the 1950 Aus­trian In­ter­na­tional Alpine Trial. The win fell to Mathé af­ter his great ri­val Wolf­gang Den­zel re­tired with en­gine trou­ble. The achieve­ment mer­ited a spe­cial tele­gram from Ferry Porsche con­grat­u­lat­ing Mathé and wish­ing him many more suc­cesses.

The car – later la­belled the Type 64 – was taken off the road in 1958 and given a full restora­tion in 1980. In 1982 Mathé brought the unique Volk­swa­gen sur­vivor to Cal­i­for­nia for the Porsche Club of Amer­ica Pa­rade and turned demon­stra­tion laps at River­side. Still in pri­vate hands, the 60K10 can be seen at var­i­ous clas­sic gath­er­ings around the world. Though there are now var­i­ous copies, this is the only to­tally orig­i­nal coupé of its kind.

On Feb­ru­ary 9, 1951 Mathé pur­chased his first Porsche. This was alu­minium coupé 356/2-052, whose fi­nal as­sem­bly was com­pleted at Porsche Salzburg. Orig­i­nally equipped with a Type 369 en­gine, the Porsche was in­tended by Mathé to be pri­mar­ily used for rac­ing.

Although the track records of 356/2-052 have not been com­pletely re­con­structed one re­sult is that of Septem­ber 1953 at the Gran Premio Su­per­cortemag­giore in Mer­ano, in which Mathé placed sec­ond in class. Other records show that dur­ing 1953 the coupé was used in as many as 19 races in both 1.1- and 1.5-litre classes. Many of these and later races were on street cour­ses, dirt tracks and frozen lakes.

Porsche 356/2-052 con­tin­ued to be raced by Mathé through­out Aus­tria, Switzer­land and Italy un­til 1956. The car still ex­ists, ap­pear­ing at var­i­ous Porsche-re­lated func­tions, still dis­play­ing Mathéʼs good-luck horse­shoe across its nose.

Otto Mathé first crossed paths with 356/2-040 late in 1952. He was a fre­quent cus­tomer at Porsche Salzburg where they car­ried out reg­u­lar main­te­nance on his cars as well as mod­i­fi­ca­tions, such as the con­ver­sion to right-hand drive. He may have seen 040 tucked away in the shop or one of the Salzburg em­ploy­ees may have told him about a ne­glected alu­minium 356 sit­ting in stor­age.

Mathé agreed to pur­chase the car, but only af­ter it had been ʻre­storedʼ. Restora­tion meant mak­ing the car road­wor­thy and re­li­able, con­vert­ing it to right-hand drive, fab­ri­cat­ing a spe­cial roof rack and prob­a­bly in­stalling a trailer hitch. It was around mid-sum­mer be­fore Mathé took de­liv­ery of 040, which he soon started us­ing to carry parts, tyres and later skis. The main as­sign­ment of 356/2-040 was to tow Mathéʼs sin­gle-seat Fet­zen­flieger ice racer to var­i­ous events up to 1960.

No ev­i­dence sug­gests that Mathé ever raced 356/2-040. He said he raced two Type 356 Porsches but this is open to sev­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tions. In ad­di­tion to 356/2-052, Mathé may have been re­fer­ring to his Ber­lin-rome coupé or his Fet­zen­flieger be­cause they were pow­ered at one time or an­other by Type 356 en­gines. Or he could have been re­fer­ring to 356/2-022 which he briefly owned in the mid-1950s.

Its name loosely mean­ing ʻplum crazyʼ, the Fet­zen­flieger


was an open-wheel racer fab­ri­cated by Mathé from his per­sonal stock of Volk­swa­gen and Porsche parts. These in­cluded pieces from a wrecked Ber­lin-rome coupé he had also ac­quired. From these he built the re­mark­able sin­gle­seater that he com­pleted in 1952 and first ex­ploited in Aus­trian rac­ing in 1953.

The Fet­zen­flieger con­sisted of the bare es­sen­tials: a sim­ple lad­der frame con­nected to the fa­mil­iar VW front tor­sion-bar tubes. Mathé sat right in the nose, close to a big steer­ing wheel and ahead of a cen­tral fuel tank. Be­hind that, just ahead of the rear wheels, was its 1½-litre Porsche en­gine.

Although Mathé re­versed the en­gine/trans­mis­sion sys­tem in his racer he did not swing the whole rear-sus­pen­sion as­sem­bly around—as Glöck­ler had done in his cars and as the Porsche peo­ple did in the 356 road­ster and in their first 550s of early 1953. In­stead he kept the rear tor­sion-bar hous­ing for­ward of the en­gine and length­ened the trail­ing arms at each side. Ev­ery­thing was rigidly bolted in place so that the en­gine and trans­mis­sion added strength to the frame.

A spe­cial­ist in side­ways mo­tor­ing, Mathé went to a dirt­track race at Krieau, near Vi­enna, on Oc­to­ber 18, 1953. To the credit of his new car he came away with first place in the rac­ing-car class. Run­ning with spiked tyres, the Mathé Spe­cial be­came the ter­ror of the win­ter races held on Aus­tri­aʼs many frozen lakes. It was equipped with fend­ers and lamps to com­pete where these were re­quired by the rules.

To stave off the com­pe­ti­tion Mathé later took out his


Su­per en­gine and in­stalled a four-cam Car­rera ʻfour ʼ un­der a more so­phis­ti­cated-look­ing rear deck. He also up­dated his Fet­zen­flieger with later Porsche wheels and brakes. Even with the heav­ier four-cam en­gine its weight was a scant 870lbs.

One of the best-known win­ter com­pe­ti­tions was held on the lake at Zell-am-see, known as the ʻPro­fes­sor Porsche Me­mo­rial Racesʼ. Mathé and his tough lit­tle Porsche hy­brid gained a ham­mer­lock on these events in the late 1950s against com­pe­ti­tion that was any­thing but to­ken. Early in 1959, for ex­am­ple, he had to beat Spy­ders driven by Richard von Franken­berg and Huschke von Hanstein to hang on to his un­of­fi­cial ʻIce Kingʼ ti­tle.

Ul­ti­mately Otto Mathé was cred­ited with some 100 na­tional class vic­to­ries. He was of­ten Aus­trian na­tional cham­pion. Af­ter his death in 1997 his Porsche 356/2-040 was sold to Franz Rathkolb of Vi­enna in that year and resold to Jerry Se­in­feld in 2003. Ot­toʼs sur­name lives on in the brand name of his ad­di­tives, which had the rep­u­ta­tion of ex­tend­ing oil-change in­ter­vals for thrifty Aus­tri­ans.

In 1959 a ten-year-old Vi­en­nese lad was just old enough to be in­spired by the ex­ploits of Otto Mathé, who be­came a hero to the young­ster. Here was a man who achieved much with lit­tle. In his school­days the boyʼs first wheels were a 1949 Bee­tle cabri­o­let, set­ting him back $180, in which he could em­u­late Mathéʼs ex­ploits. He con­tin­ued to take an in­ter­est in cars, grow­ing up to be­come triple For­mula 1 world cham­pion. His name? Niki Lauda. CP


Left: Otto Mathé and his wife posed for the cam­era at Zell am See dur­ing one of the ice-rac­ing week­ends there. He was an authen­tic luminary of these events Above: An en­thu­si­as­tic and tal­ented com­peti­tor in spite of his hand­i­cap, Mathé fielded his Type 60K10 Volk­swa­gen in sev­eral events, win­ning his class in 1950’s Aus­trian Alpine Trial

Above and below right: Porsche’s peo­ple at Gmünd were pleased to wel­come Mathé and a col­league dur­ing their visit to the Aus­trian works with one of the three VW 60K10s that they had built in 1939

Below left: Cel­e­brat­ing af­ter the Zell am See races were Mathé, right, Louise Piëch and, just vis­i­ble, Ferry Porsche. In the fore­ground was Louise’s el­dest son Ernst

Above right, below right: Mak­ing a virtue of sim­plic­ity, Otto Mathé’s sin­gle-seater was ex­cel­lent ad­ver­tis­ing for his spe­cial lu­bri­cants. Spiked tyres were the key to suc­cess in ice rac­ing

Below left: The Otto Mathé Fet­zen­flieger is to­day a prized ex­hibit in Ham­burg’s Pro­to­typ Mu­seum

Above left: Mathé can­ni­balised com­po­nents from a wrecked VW 60K10 to build his Fet­zen­flieger, seen here af­ter his Oc­to­ber 1953 vic­tory in a dirt-track event at Krieau, Aus­tria

Above: With Porsche Salzburg’s VW Kombi in the fore­ground, Porsche 356/2040 parked next to Otto Mathé’s rac­ing sin­gle-seater at Zell-am-see. Mathé was not greatly wor­ried about the Porsche’s ap­pear­ance

Below left and right: Two more views of the pad­dock for the ice races at Zell-amSee with Mathé’s trailer in the fore­ground, car­ry­ing the fend­ers that his sin­gle-seater needed when com­pet­ing as a ‘sports car’

Above: Loaded up for de­par­ture from Zell’s Grand Ho­tel, 356/2-40’s roof rack car­ried the stud­ded tyres. With their help the lit­tle Porsche-pow­ered racer was vir­tu­ally un­beat­able

Below left: Dur­ing a sportscar race at the Nür­bur­gring, Mathé’s alu­minium-bod­ied Porsche bounced high over the bump that led on to the start/fin­ish straight. All his coupés had right-hand driveBelow left: At­tached to the 356’s roof-rack were the fend­ers of the Fet­zen­flieger, re­moved for events in which they weren’t needed

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