The Fetzenflieger

Otto Mathé’s handbuilt race car

In 1952, the Austrian one armed Otto Mathé constructed his own small monoposto car, commonly called the “Fetzenflieger”. The chassis was a self-built aluminum tubular-framed one, wrapped together with rubber strips, covered by a handbuilt aluminum body.  Otto Mathé used parts from his personal Porsche and Volkswagen stock to built the car he nicknamed ‘my tin box’.  Even though Otto Mathé reversed the engine and transmission system,   he did not turn the complete rear suspension assembly around.  This was possible by keeping the rear torsion bar ahead of the engine and lengthening the trailing arms at each side of the car.  That same solution was used by Porsche in the Porsche 550 Spyders from 1953 on. It is not clear whether Otto Mathé used parts of a Porsche Gmünd on his monoposto. However, the full-disc wheels on both a Porsche Gmünd and his monoposto point in that direction.

Formula 2 Car

Though combining Volkswagen components with Porsche engine-performance technically makes the Monoposto a Formula 2 car,  Otto Mathé always keeps available a set of bolt-on mudguards, lighting, a second seat and a spare wheel, so in next to no time his contraption is ready to compete in other racing series where needed. In order to have the engine easily reachable during races, the side-paneling in the body are left open. Two overlapping fabric tarpaulins cover the openings, protecting the carburetors from incoming dirt. They also function as air filters, and occasionally misfires ignite the fabric, and the speeding vehicle leaves flaming fragments on the track behind it. The name “Fetzenflieger” ( shreds flyer) is born. 

Otto Mathé at the wheel of the Fetzenflieger (C) Porsche AG

At this point, it is uncertain whether Otto Mathé used a Porsche or a Volkswagen engine in the car he nicknamed ‘my tin box’.  Different sources tell us different stories.  However, we have reasons to believe the information shared in the books “Otto Mathé – Teufelskerl with Herz” and “Otto Mathé  – Sein Herz Schlug für Porsche” by Gabriele Geutebrück.  The author was a close friend of Otto Mathé and had access to his complete archive before it went to the Prototyp Museum in Hamburg long after Otto Mathé passed away in 1995.

Because Otto Mathé lost his right arm in a motorcycle crash in 1935, he was obliged to install a left gear shift in all his cars. To change gears in this car, Otto Mathé had to develop his own technique. He changed gears by moving his body and holding the wheel with his torso.

Succesful race career

Otto Mathé’s used the monoposto mainly for sand- and ice-racing. And despite his handicap, Otto Mathé was notorious and simply unbeatable at ice races. These successes gave Otto Mathé the nickname “Ice King”. In Zell am See the one-armed “Ice King” won the “Prof. h. c. Ferdinand Porsche Memorial Race” in 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1959! To emphasize his success, you need to know Otto Mathé’s opponents in the ice races were professionals like Huschke von Hanstein and Richard von Frankenberg, who drove factory Porsche 550 Spyders.

2019 GP Ice Race - The Fetzenflieger
2019 GP Ice Race – The Fetzenflieger  ( Copyright Rüdiger Mayer)

Recenty, Oliver Schmidt from the Prototyp Museum brought the Fetzenflieger back to the roots and competed in the GP Ice Race in Zell am See.

Technical data of the Fetzenflieger

Engine Before 1956: 4-cylinder VW Boxer engine 1500cc 70HO

From 1957 : 4-cylinder Porsche Carrera Engine 1500 cc 130 HP

Chassis hand build aluminum monoposto tubular frame, kept together with rubber strips
Weight 395 kg
Maximum Speed Approx. 200 km/h

Pictures courtesy Porsche AG and Rüdiger Mayer (www.only-porsche-books.com)