Auf wiedersehen, Karl Foitek

Auf wiedersehen, Karl Foitek 7th January 2019

Austrian-born racing driver, car dealer and businessman Karl Foitek died on 1 January 2019 in Zurich aged 87. He will forever be known as an expert behind the wheel of Alfa Romeo SZs, setting up Garage Foitek in 1962, which later held franchises for Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, Ferrari and Maserati.

Garage Foitek was also the official Lamborghini importer to Switzerland in the heyday of Ferruccio, and he once raced (unsuccessfully) a Miura in a minor event.

Karl Foitek trained as a mechanic at his uncle’s garage in Austria before moving to Switzerland in 1951. He subsequently worked at Jaguar importer Emil Frey, starting his racing career at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce in the late 1950s.

From that time on – with occasional runs in Lotus 26Rs, Fiat-Abarths, and Abarth, Lola and Lotus sports prototypes – he was usually THE man to beat in small-engined classes, particularly when driving a Giulietta Sprint Zagato for either Squadra Foitek or Scuderia Sant'Ambroeus. His outings were generally limited to central Europe, although he had two Le Mans 24 Hours races to his credit (both DNFs) and at the end of his racing career in 1968 co-drove a Porsche 910 with Austrian Rudi Lins at Sebring, Brands Hatch, Monza and the Nürburgring.

In May 1963, Kark Foitek was invited to share Ferrari 250 GTO ‘3809’ with its young owner, Kalman von Csazy. Speaking to Kidston SA in 2016 (above), he recalled:

“Von Csazy’s father asked me in about February-March 1963 if I would drive the Nürburgring 1,000km with his son, Kalman. I said, ‘Yes, for me, a Ferrari!’ I had met him racing and knew he came from a wealthy background.

“In free practice on the Thursday I was 13 seconds faster than him. My time was 9min 57sec, he drove 10min 10sec.” Pole position was taken by Heini Walter in the Filipinetti 250 GTO (9m 50sec) and factory driver Jean Guichet was next up with a 9min 52sec in Pierre Noblet’s similar car.

During official practice on Saturday, ‘von Crazy’ took the car off the road at Hatzenbach, requiring overnight repairs by factory mechanics that included new steering. It started in a famously distressed condition but, dents, scrapes and wayward handling aside, Foitek loved the power of the 300bhp Ferrari:

“The engine was fantastic. The Nürburgring has a very long straight from Döttinger Höhe, nearly three kilometres, and you could feel the power. We were travelling at 280km/h; the prototypes might only do 300km/h.”

Having worked the car up to 6th or 7th, Foitek handed the GTO back to its owner for the last stint. As rain started to fall, the young Hungarian went off at Hatzenbach again, this time putting it onto its roof. There was no roll-cage or seat belts, so he was a fortunate young man.

“Yes! He was lucky. He climbed out of the rear window. Half an hour later he came into the box [pits] and his father said: ‘Kalmy, du bist ein A*********!’ And only then did he say, ‘Are you OK?’”

Karl Foitek’s own son, Gregor, was an accomplished racer. When we spoke with him three years ago, Foitek Snr recalled the days of his son's team Onyx F1, owned by flamboyant investors Peter Monteverdi and Jean-Pierre Van Rossem.

They weren’t happy times, unlike the occasion he took a new Miura back from Sant’Agata to Zurich with two of his young sons on the passenger seat…

They don’t make them like that any more.

Karl Foitek, born 28 April 1931 in Oberndorf an der Melk, Austria; died 1 January 2019 in Zürich, Switzerland.

Photos by K500