Meet the ingenious tinkerer behind Porsche’s air-cooled racing engines
For more than three decades, Valentin Schäffer was putting Porsche on the podium around the world
At the heart of every Porsche is its engine, and behind every engine is the ingenuity and expertise of its engineers. One such maestro is Valentin Schäffer, who worked for Porsche for more than 30 years and celebrates his 90th birthday today (8 October).
In 1955, at the age of 24, Hungarian born Schäffer began working as an engine mechanic at Porsche. “I actually wanted to go to the school of engineering in Stockach,” he admits with a laugh today, “but I fell in love and it brought me to Tamm near Ludwigsburg. The team at Porsche also gave me a very warm welcome. I was able to start work in the racing department the very day after my job interview.” Shortly after joining the company he began working on the highly complex 547/2 engine for the 550 A Spyder and six years later, in 1961, he received his technician’s and master’s certificate.
Schäffer proved to be particularly hard-working and capable, and by 1966 Porsche had appointed him head of racing engine development, working alongside both Ferdinand Piëch and Hans Mezger. Ten separate race engines were created with his help, including the famous 547 four-cam and the eight-cylinder Type 753 and 771 which brought Porsche victories in Formula One, the FIA European Hill Climb Championship and in the World Sportscar Championship. “The eight-cylinder 771 was my absolute favourite engine,” says Schäffer. “And it was the best engine for hill climbing. I worked on this engine every day for a long time and tinkered around with the exhaust system to get a bit more horsepower.”
So committed was he to his work that Schäffer could regularly be found tinkering on an engine on Sunday mornings: “I would drive to the test bench and fiddle about with it until I got the engine running,” he recalls. “Even when I was on holiday, I was always thinking about work and was looking forward to getting back to Porsche every time.”
Schäffer’s diligence and commitment would bear fruit in the highly successful six-cylinder engines for the 906 Carrera 6 and 910 alongside the 3.0-litre eight-cylinder 908. The 12-cylinder 912 that powered the 917 remains one of the high points of his career too, and when Schäffer completely reassessed the engine for turbocharging in 1971, his inspirational efforts earned him the nickname ‘Turbo Valentin’. “Even though many exalt it today, it is a simple engine,” says the engineer modestly. The 912/52 turbo engine used in the 917/30 Spyder set a new world speed record at Talladega Superspeedway on August 9 1975 when Mark Donohue achieved an average speed of 355.78 km/h.
Schäffer supervised numerous works campaigns between 1956 and 1980 including the Can-Am series, Targa Florio and, of course, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He was present on June 14, 1970, when Porsche claimed its first Le Mans victory with the 917 KH.
He retired in 1989 but remained so closely associated with the company that he continued to serve it for another five years.