Farewell My Friend

MY FRIEND RUDY BARTLING passed away in the late evening of Sept. 8, 2021, after an all-too-short bout with leukemia, he was 85 years old. I had been visiting Rudy just about every Sunday morning for the past nearly four years, as he had been settled in a care home for his progressing Alzheimer’s disease, a sad turn of events for a man who was so full of life and stories and shared these so brilliantly with so many people over the years. That is the man we all remember, and that is what I write about today.

For those of you who are not familiar with Rudy Bartling’s name, he was a Porsche mechanic and a Porsche racer for over 50 years and, except for a few short stints in other places, always made his home in Toronto, ever since he arrived here in 1957. That meant he also worked here, eventually had his own Porsche shop here, and made his long-time friendships here. And that is where the story begins.

Rudy Bartling was born in 1936 in Germany, at the outset of World War II, and his family, like so many others, ended up being relocated. From Bremen, a strategic port city, to Cologne and, somewhat fittingly, close to the Nürburgring, it was for Rudy. His father was a teacher, very strict yet fair but, apparently, nearly impossible to ever truly please. This would have shaped young Rudy’s attention to detail and, if you saw his old school books, you would agree with me. Rudy was always interested in cars and mechanically inclined, so, at the tender age of 15, he began a five-year apprenticeship at Fleischhauer Volkswagen in Cologne, one of 50 young men that year. In those early days, Rudy, like any other young man, liked to go bowling, dancing, and have long nights of fun. He had to drop most of his meagre pay off at home, so every week, after just having paid off his debts at the local bierstube, he had to, once again, make the rounds to the houses of his aunties to ask for yet another loan, a vicious cycle.

Rudy was a talented young man, and, despite sleep deprivation, he managed to fill the quota of work that was expected of him, often ahead of time. And, with 49 other apprentices in the huge premises, it would be a while until the meister would come around again to inspect the work Rudy was doing. So, to catch up on the much-needed sleep after a night of beers and dancing, he would lean against his work bench and fall asleep standing up. Although not until he had carefully clamped down the front of his overalls in his vice to keep from falling over.

In 1957, one year after having received his papers as a fully licensed mechanic from Fleischhauer, the world was beckoning. As to any other young man in post-war Germany, the future there did not look too bright. The cafeteria had a board that posted openings in other countries and, while he really wanted to go to Sweden, which had no openings at the time, it was Canada he went to on a two-year contract. There were a bunch of them coming over on a ship and Volkswagen looked after them to make sure they settled in okay. Rudy made $1.20 an hour, the equivalent of four times the amount of 1.15 Deutsche marks he had made in Germany, and paid $18 a week for room and board. A full meal at lunch time could be had in the Volkswagen cafeteria for 25 cents!

A repair facility was established at the back of the premises, and this was run by Volkswagen employee Ludwig Heimrath. Rudy was transferred into this shop to work on Porsches for the street as well as the cars that, not surprisingly, people immediately began to race.

Rudy liked Canada and his work at Volkswagen on Eglinton Avenue East and, when the two-year contract was up, he decided to stay. Things were a little different here from back in Germany, but he could adapt. Especially the bars were strange. No one was to be seen drinking in public, so there were no windows, and men, women, and women with escorts, all had separate closed-off areas to sit in. If you were a single man, you had to look through the dividing window into the room for women only, and by means of hand signals and such arrange meeting in the room for women with escorts. Talk about making it hard to get a date.

In 1961 Volkswagen Canada took over the sale and service of Porsche cars in this country. Headed by Dr. Von Albrecht, the Porsche division was headquartered at the Volkswagen premises on Eglinton Avenue from where it distributed to the other local and national dealers. A repair facility was established at the back of the premises, and this was run by Volkswagen employee Ludwig Heimrath. Rudy was transferred into this shop to work on Porsches for the street as well as the cars that, not surprisingly, people immediately began to race. A Volkswagen van was made available to the Porsche guys, which they would take to the races to make trackside support available, as is still customary today, always with the Porsche flag hoisted high.

Meanwhile, Rudy, along with a bunch of the other guys, had rented an entire rooming house around the Guildwood Inn area in Scarborough, where they continued to learn some of the Canadian customs, things like having to cut the grass but not being allowed to drink beer on the front lawn after you were finished definitely seemed odd. Different people came to stay, among them Peter Ryan, and moved on after a while — it was a bit of a racing frat house. The cars were prepared out back and, needless to say, the starting of engines and test drives down the street at all times of the night did not exactly make them very popular with the neighbours.

No matter how much fun they had, they had even more fun going racing themselves. There were Horst Kroll, Fritz Hochreuter, Ludwig Heimrath, Harry and Klaus Bytzek, Ray Brezinka, and many more guys in those days. Rudy even told me of a young Roger Penske coming around to race his own Porsche Spyder in Canada and sharing Rudy’s motel room by sleeping on the floor one time. Another one of this racing group, though not affiliated with Volkswagen, but competing at the highest levels with a Porsche 906 and 910, sharing drives with Rudy and others, was our own, past board member and avid DE participant, Horst Petermann, who sadly passed away also not so long ago.

The year 1965 took Rudy to California where he worked for Vasek Polak as a racing mechanic, looking after Speedsters, Spyders and Carreras but, better still, he got to race them too. In fact, Vasek insisted that Rudy should race one of his cars rather than his own.

Back in Toronto in 1968, Rudy and his friends began to race in earnest. Behind a school bus and on an open trailer, they would take cars that today are considered priceless, to places from local Harewood Acres and Mosport to as far away as Daytona. In 1968 it was a Porsche 906, and there were 356 Carreras and Spyders and later came the 911s. Both the Trans-Am and the IMSA series started and took them all over the continent and even into South America. In 1972 Rudy co-drove to seventh overall at the 12 Hours of Sebring in a Porsche 910, and in 1973 to second place in a Porsche 908 in the famous 24 Hours of Daytona.

That year too, coming home from Sanair in the school bus, with the 908 behind them, late at night, they suddenly realized that the trailer was no longer there, and it might have been gone for a long time. It must have jumped off the trailer hitch on the rough roads. They retraced their route and eventually found it, in the front-yard flower garden of a farm, down a slope from the road, yet unharmed. And the farmer? He wasn’t too happy and a lot more worried about his wife’s flowers than some fancy sporty car.

Be sure to keep an eye out for more tall tales and fun adventures with my friend Rudy Bartling in a future issue of Provinz magazine. </>

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