The Early Days of Peter Sauber

Peter Sauber did not grow up particularly interested in cars.  Motorsports was not an integral part of his family heritage, nor was it even a burning interest of his as a boy growing up in Zurich.  Sauber’s father owned an electrical systems company in Switzerland, employing around 200 staff, including Peter, who seemed to have his future already mapped out.  Trained in electrical fitting, and eyes set on gaining further qualifications, he looked poised to one day take over the family business.  Judging by the fact that I am writing about this, such did not turn out to be the case. 

In 1967, Sauber drove to work at a local car dealership every day in his Volkswagen Beetle.  After a friend had persuaded him to do some tuning work on the car, Sauber found himself entered in some local club races, just for fun.  Despite the outright national ban on motorsports in Switzerland following the Le Mans tragedy of 1955, Peter still found a way to participate in small-time hillclimb events.  Before he knew it, his wretched, slow, ugly, plodding, sputtering Beetle (you’d think my name was Jeremy Clarkson) was no longer fit for road legality.  Peter found himself with a Beetle racecar, and a new found passion for tinkering on motor vehicles.  By 1970, Sauber established himself as an independent builder of open two-seater racing sports car, and only 26 years old, from the basement of his parents Zurich home emerged the Sauber C1.  Clearly, Peter Sauber was an outlier of the typical mid 20’s basement dweller.  The designation of the letter C came from the first initial of his wife’s name, Christiane.  This designation would be retained as a trademark for all future vehicles to be spawned from the Sauber operation.  The C1 itself was a car of relatively simple design.  A trellis style steel tube frame with double wishbone suspension assemblies, and shock absorber systems supplied by Brabham.  The engine was a 115hp, 1.0L four banger Cosworth with dry sump lubrication.   

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With PP Sauber AG established as a legitimate company operating out of a spare warehouse on his father’s company premises, he entered and won the 1970 Swiss Sports Car Championship.  The following year, Sauber enlisted the help of Guy Boissin to design and develop the C2 and C3.  Sauber handed the keys over to driver Hans Kunis who would drive the C2 in the same series through the 1971 season.  As the car performed well on track, Sauber gained a considerable portfolio of customers, and in 1973, released the C3.  Both cars were very similar to the C1, and would partake in various hillclimb and sports car championships throughout Switzerland.  Sauber’s career as a race car driver was short intermittent beyond 1970 and by 1974, hung his helmet up for good to completely concentration on his efforts as a constructor. 

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Ahead of the 1975 season, Sauber increased his efforts again and brought on fellow Swiss Edi Wyss to design a brand new aluminum monocoque chassis to replace the aging steel tube frame C3’s.  The car would be constructed to the same spec level as its competition of the day, donning independent front and rear suspension, and an off the shelf 2.0L Ford Cosworth BDG V8.  The body was redesigned with angular lines, sharper corners and a massive rear wing, a departure from the softly curved and streamlined predecessors.  The car was livered in a striking green and black colour combination for Artos liquor brand.  Driven by Manfred Schurti and Harry Blumer, the lone C4 placed third in the Swiss Sports Car Championship.  The C5 was developed and ready by the start of 1976, but the C4 ran in congruence by the factory team for additional races in the 76’ season.