Otto Mathe

31/7/1907 - 29/11/1995

Record updated 30-Nov-21

A worth addition to our catalogue of FRIDAY CHAPS for not only was Otto a successful and intrepid racing driver on a variety of surfaces, on two and four wheels and in a wide variety of classes, but he did it in cars he designed and engineered himself and...wait for it.......with only one arm!

Otto Mathe
Born in Zillertal in Austria, Mathé grew up in Innsbruck. A trained mechanical engineer, he started racing bicycles before turning to motorcycles when he reached 16. 10 years later in September 1934 he had a very bad fall while racing in Graz that left him with his right arm paralyzed below the elbow.

His ingenuity extended outside motor racing and mechanics as in 1934 he developed the single handed ski buckles still in use today and also the double safety ski binding.

In 1936 he opened a petrol station in Innsbruck and during the Second World War he developed various fuel additives, the most successful being the Mathé Universal Additive, which improved the performance of racing engine oils.

After World War II he also opened the first cylinder and crankshaft grinding shop in Tyrol. A great innovator he had the idea of a Wankel engine ever since his engineering apprenticeship. And, in the early post-war period, a few years before the Wankel engine officially made its debut, he had already built one himself!

In 1948 Mathé started motor racing and acquired a variety of cars over the years including the ex-Berlin Rome Wagen Porsche Type 64 (No. 2) car from Ferdinand Porsche in 1949 as well as a Porsche 356 and a self-made monoposto (The Fetzenflieger) with a Porsche engine.

The Fetzenflieger was constructed in 1952 from a combination of Volkswagen, Porsche and home fabricated components with a left hand gear change, he raced it primarily with hand-crafted aluminium single seater bodywork though with the addition of bolt-on mudguards, lighting, a second seat and a spare wheel, he was able to quickly convert the Monoposto Formula 2 car to complete in a wide variety of other classes.

Initially running a 1500 cc Porsche racing engine, he later fitted a Fuhrmann engine from a 356 A Carrera GT. Weighing just 395 kilograms the car had rapid acceleration and a reported top speed in excess of 200 kph. In 1952, The Fetzenflieger won twenty out of twenty races to take the Austrian championship.

The nickname 'Fetzenflieger' is hard to translate but it came about as Mathé left the side of the body open to make it easier and quicker to change the spark plugs. In order to stop dust and debris entering the carburettors he added heavy fabric covers. These flapped and occasionally caught fire making for a spectacular sight. The Fetzenflieger was primarily raced on dirt/sand and ice races.

In 1955 he fitted a 550 engine with Spyder wheels and brakes and ran the the car as an intertype in both Formula and Sport Car events with various parts added or deleted as appropriate. He famously won the Ferdinand Porsche Memorial Ice Race in 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1959 beting the likes of Hans Stuck Snr, Huschke von Hanstein and Richard von Frankenberg

In 1982 he was awarded the Sporting Badge of Honor by the City of Innsbruck.

Mathé, who Niki Lauda often described as his childhood hero, passed away in 1995.