The Man Who Saved the 911 Passes On

Automologist ATHERTON is always fascinated and inspired by stories of people beating the odds, overcoming challenges and making a success ou...

Automologist ATHERTON is always fascinated and inspired by stories of people beating the odds, overcoming challenges and making a success out of life. He recounts the story of an automotive genius.

Peter W. Schutz wrote in Road & Track: “I grabbed a marker off Professor Bott’s desk and extended the 911 line across the page, onto the wall, and out the door. When I came back, Bott stood there, grinning.”  

 Schutz in an undated photo with a Porsche 356 Cabriole.

Image credit: www.nytimes.com.

The man who saved the Porsche 911 from complete oblivion is none other than Peter W. Schutz. We have him to thank for having the intestinal fortitude to keep this icon alive and having the vision that it will continue to endure forever.

The former President and CEO of Porsche AG passed away on October 29, 2017 at the age of 87. Born on April 20, 1930 in Berlin, Germany, his family fled to Cuba and then later on to Chicago, Illinois due to the rise of the Nazi party. Graduating with a Mechanical Engineering degree, he went on to work for Caterpillar, Cummins Engines and others before landing the top job in Porsche in 1981.

The previous year had been a disastrous one for Porsche as it suffered its first loss in history. Ferry Porsche personally invited Schutz to lead the charge. It was said that there were plans to continue the sales of the 911 and there were progress with the 924 and 928.

The story goes that Schutz, while sitting in the office of Helmuth Bott, Chief of Engineering, noticed the progress chart of the 924, 928 and 911. Lines were drawn, but it had the 911 ending in 1981. Schutz got up, took a marker and proceeded to continue drawing on till the end of the chart and onto the wall to signify that it will live on.

That one iconic moment set the tone for a complete revamp of everything Porsche. And that was how the 911 was saved, a dream car that I would love to have.

The 1982 Porsche 911—the legend lives on thanks to the brilliance of Schutz. 

Image credit: www.nytimes.com

In the midst of all this, the racing team was in the process of entering the Le Mans 24 hours, but they were using modified 924s with no chance of winning. Schutz said they were either going to win the race or not go at all. The team pulled out three 936s from the museum, equipped them with experimental engines and won the race. Now, that’s what champions do!

In 1982, Porsche set new records in motorsport, winning almost all categories and special rankings at Le Mans and achieving positions one to five in the race. During this period, one of the greatest ever sports cars was revealed—the Porsche 959—in Frankfurt in 1985. 

For five financial years in a row, the company set one record after another. However, the economic crisis in the second half of the decade brought the 'golden 80s' to a close. The declining export revenues and corresponding drop in sales in the USA signaled the end of Schutz’s tenure as President and CEO of Porsche. He left the company in 1987 and retired to Naples, Florida in 1988, and became a renowned motivational speaker, remaining popular in Porsche circles. Schutz is survived by his wife, daughter and two sons.

In an article in Forbes, when asked what was his biggest challenge, he replied:

“The biggest challenge was to restore a dying organization, which was losing money, to growth and profitability. The first steps were not:

Cutting costs, developing new products and/or services, inventing clever new marketing concepts, or clever advertising! 

Instead, the first steps were:

Rebuilding a culture where all employees were a family, striving for a 'shared' success!  The basis for this success turned out to be winning major races again.”

Porsche 959.


And that’s how you turn around a company and keep it on the right path. The aura and drive that Peter W. Schutz displayed during his tenure is what made him an automotive icon. Our salute to you, Mr Schutz.


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