THE OTTO MATHÉ STORY
Karl Ludvigsen on the history of a remarkable Porsche racing driver
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
‘PORSCHE 356/2052 CONTINUED TO BE RACED BY MATHÉ…’
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
‘MATHÉ’S SPECIAL BECAME THE TERROR OF THE WINTER RACES…’
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
‘OTTO’S SURNAME LIVES ON IN THE BRAND NAME OF HIS ADDITIVES…’
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