The mid-week long read: Gerhard Mitter — 50 years on
Gerhard Mitter was considered one of the fastest and most versatile German drivers of the 1960s. And his greatest successes were those he celebrated with Porsche. The 50th anniversary of his death gives us cause to look back on a remarkable career that straddled single-seaters, touring cars, sports cars and prototypes, on road, race track and mountain alike.
Although born in Sudetenland in 1935, Mitter grew up near Stuttgart and it was here, in his late teens, that he began to reveal some considerable talent for racing motorcycles. The qualified mechanic eventually swapped two wheels for four, initially entering Formula Junior in 1959. He soon became the most successful German driver in this discipline, attracting added attention along the way by constructing his own cars and taming the powerful DKW engines.
In 1964, Mitter became a Porsche works driver and soon afterwards entered the European Hill Climb Championship, following in the footsteps of Edgar Barth. Mitter emulated the late Barth in taking three European Hill Climb Championship titles and doing it in three consecutive years. In 1966, he achieved this with the 906 Carrera 6, while in 1967 and 1968 he successfully defended the title with the light and agile 910/8 Bergspyder.
With a rare ability to channel all his energy and concentration into those few short minutes, Mitter seemed virtually unbeatable in the mountains. But his greatest victory was yet to come, and it would do so through endurance. On May 4, 1969, sharing the 908/02 with occasional driving partner Udo Schütz, Mitter won the Targa Florio, considered by many to be the most demanding and dangerous race of the time. The pair finished over three minutes ahead of Vic Elford and Umberto Maglioli in their 908, averaging 117 km/h in the process.
A mark of how respected Mitter had become at Porsche, just one week later, he was competing at Spa-Francorchamps, this time tasked with handling the new and all-important 917 on its competitive debut. Although a broken valve spring forced him to retire after just one lap, Mitter’s contribution to the ’69 season was already cemented. His combination of driving skill and technical nous saw him become the primary contact for the frontline motorsport engineers Peter Falk and Hans Mezger, guiding Porsche to its historic maiden victory in the World Championship for Makes.
Despite his success in sports cars, Mitter never relinquished his ambition to race single seaters. And now a proven winner on the world stage, he was set to make his breakthrough in Formula One in 1970 having signed a contract with Ford. But on August 1, 1969, the Formula 2 BMW he was racing at the Nürburgring suffered a suspected steering failure. Mitter crashed heavily between Flugplatz and Schwedenkreuz, dying at the scene. He was just 33 years old.