Despite having no technical education Gunther Schmid began tinkering with cars in his youth. In 1966 he began racing in Formula Vee; Niki Lauda was an early team-mate. He later moved to SuperVee, then ran a successful team and held a Lola agency. In 1976 he moved up to F2, before deciding to spend a little more and go into Formula One. His reasons were purely commercial; he wanted to publicise his ATS wheel concern. Whatever his former drivers might say about Schmid’s methods of running a racing team, no one can criticise the man’s business ability.
Gunther ran a successful chain of flower shops with his wife before going into the wheel business in 1969. He made a huge success of ATS (‘Auto Technich Spezialzubehor’), pioneering new manufacturing techniques. By the early ’80s he employed 400 people, made 1.5m wheels a year, and supplied factory-fit equipment to Porsche, Opel, Volvo and Mercedes.
He didn’t restrict himself to wheels, however. He had leather and jewellery businesses, and property all over the world. He had a reputation for taking on projects on the spur of the moment, and one of the most notorious was the Hotel Arawak in Freeport, Bahamas. For a while it was perhaps the best publicised hotel in the world as its name was on the side of the F1 cars. Marc Surer took the opportunity to visit.
“Because I was a friend of the boss, they gave me the hotel car. But they hated the boss so much they hid a dead fish in the boot. The first day we thought, ‘Hmm, it smells a little bit’, and we opened the window. The next day the car was stinking so much we couldn’t use it. That was the revenge of the staff. I think he eventually sold the hotel for a big loss…”
“It was on absolute joke,” said Keke Rosberg. “Somebody had sold him a ruin, and he was trying to run it as a hotel. A blind man could see that there was no hope that it was ever going to work!.” The Hotel Arawak was an exception to the rule; usually Schmid came out smiling.