By on November 1, 2017

Porsche 911

It’s kind of difficult to imagine if you aren’t old enough to remember, but there was a period in the 1980s when the Porsche 911 was almost removed from the automotive landscape. In 1979, Porsche had made plans to replace the 911 with the new 928. The working logic was that the 911 was too quirky, impractical, and a bit of a handful. Porsche executives figured it just made good sense to swap it with something that had a broader appeal, especially as the company’s finances weren’t looking particularly robust at the time.

However, in 1981, Porsche AG found itself with a new chief executive — a German-born American named Peter Schutz. And he was having absolutely none of that nonsense. 

“The decision to keep the 911 in the product line occurred one afternoon in the office of Dr. Helmuth Bott, the Porsche operating board member responsible for all engineering and development,” Schutz said in Tony Corlett’s Porsche 911 3.2 Carrera: The Last of the Evolution.

“I noticed a chart on the wall of Professor Bott’s office. It depicted the ongoing development schedules for the three primary Porsche product lines: 944, 928 and 911. Two of them stretched far into the future, but the 911 program stopped at the end of 1981. I remember rising from my chair, walking over to the chart, taking a black marker pen, and extending the 911 program bar clean off the chart. I am sure I heard a silent cheer from Professor Bott, and I knew I had done the right thing. The Porsche 911, the company icon, had been saved, and I believe the company was saved with it.”

Other accounts of that meeting are far more confrontational, but the point is that the decision to keep the 911 essentially came down to one man’s gut reaction. Schutz said he was keenly aware that employee morale was exceptionally low in the early 80s and attributed it to the impending death of the 911.

Porsche brass also intended to field the 928 in 1981’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race they knew they couldn’t win with the car they had. Schutz stipulated that they needn’t bother if they didn’t plan on winning. As a result, the modified 928s were scrapped and the company retrofitted three 936s that were sitting in the corporate museum. Porsche won that year.

The rest of Peter’s tenure as CEO revolved around improving the 911, solving Porsche quality control issues, and developing the legendary 959. The company’s worldwide sales grew from around 28,000 units in 1980 to 53,000 units in 1986. A drop in sales the following year resulted in Schutz being replaced by Heinz Branitzki in 1987. But that doesn’t matter; CEO’s aren’t made to last. The second a company hits a slump, it’s suddenly in the market for new blood — someone to save the company. And saving Porsche is exactly what Schutz did.

German automotive website GTSpirit reported that Peter Schutz passed away over the weekend at the ripe old age of 87. We can’t imagine what Porsche would look like today without him.

Porsche 911 Turbo S

[Image: Porsche]

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18 Comments on “The Man Who Saved the Porsche 911 from Oblivion has Died...”

  • avatar

    Sorry, I’ll always be a fan of the 928.

    And 924 and 944 while you’re at it.

  • avatar

    That is a great example of pure leadership. Not taking any lip from any one and doing what you know is right, even if it isn’t the popular choice.

    • 0 avatar

      >>shrugs<< keep that in mind when Serg introduces the Ferrari SUV and Italian exotic K-car platform.

      In Schutz case it worked but there are plenty of examples where damn the torpedoes full speed ahead has been a disaster.

      What if Porsche hadn't won Le Mans? Or what if the 911 hadn't become a status symbol in the US in the 80's and so on. Maybe Schutz was aware of these factors or maybe not but I suspect like a great many people he was probably in the right place at the right time and somewhat removed from that period we could be remembering Schutz as the guy who's obsessive vision for Porsche lead to them being like say Lotus where they just seem to carry on by the skin of their teeth as they are picked up by some automotive patron looking to put a shine on their brand.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed, raph. Huge grain of salt, as I haven’t read the Corlett book, but in this context the Schutz quotation skews self-aggrandizing. A few points:
        – 911 development *did* eventually end in 1989. What we have now is the 911 *model* name. Porsche’s decision to brand the 964 and successor vehicles as the 911 is a little illogical but definitely canny. And it’s not even that illogical in the context of industry practice.
        – My subjective recollection of the ’70s and ’80s is that the 911 was perceived as the quintessential Porsche, even if the 928 was the most high-end Porsche. Credit Schutz with being the primary champion of keeping the 911 platform in production until a successor could be developed, but even at the time it was seen as a fairly obvious decision, at least by outsiders.
        – Would the 928 and 936 even have been in the same class at Le Mans? From the look of the cars, I sure doubt it. Presenting the 928 and the 936 as an either/or choice rings a little hollow. (I suppose it could’ve been an either/or choice within the confines of a strict factory racing budget.) It’s not like they benched the 928 in favor of a 911, which then won its class.

        The great man theory can be grating, especially when applied to CEOs.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Agree 100% with the 2 comments immediately above.

          If Schutz’s uncorroborated account is true, that is not leadership, that is dictatorship and more often than not leads to organizational disaster. Decisions made on the ‘whim’ of one person.

          Leadership is building the best possible team. Allowing them the freedom to present their objective educated/researched input. Reaching a conclusion based on this, after careful consideration, that is supported through consensus, and implementing it.

          And a true leader then spreads the credit for a successful decision through the team and accepts the blame for an unsuccessful one personally. Rather than throwing members of the team ‘under the bus’.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    I had an ’84 944 only because I couldn’t afford a 911. Or even the 944 Turbo my buddy had. Fantastic chassis on those things – which were only relegated to a distant second by my first plug in a 911 SC Targa.

  • avatar

    What’s ironic is that the same impulse that saved the 911 almost destroyed the company a decade later.

    Porsche poured money into the unprofitable 959 and never-released 911 twin-turbo project and let the rest of the line languish, shelving ideas for an entry-level car (I think it was Schutz who said that entry-level buyers would just get a used Porsche) and a 4-door sedan.

    When the economy of the 80s imploded, the exchange rate went through the roof, and Porsche was all of a sudden trying to sell a bunch of ancient vehicle designs for ridiculous money in a market that had lost its appetite for sports cars.

    Enter Wiedeking, water-cooled engines, Toyota consultants, trucks, sedans, and the failed takeover bid that made Porsche a VW subsidiary.

    Wild to think of where things would have ended up if they’d ended the 911, though.

    • 0 avatar

      Ironically there was a fair bit of animosity towards the then new Boxster as the purists saw it as what it was… but we now know the Boxster saved the company.

      That’s long before we got to the handwringing and ka-ching of the cash registers when it came to the Cayenne, Panamera and now, the Macan.

    • 0 avatar

      Monkeyodeath writes: “Enter Wiedeking, water-cooled engines, Toyota consultants, trucks, sedans, and the failed takeover bid that made Porsche a VW subsidiary.”

      Yes the Porsche brand became part of VW. However Porsche Automobil Holding SE (owned by the Porsche and Piëch families) owns 52.2 percent of the ordinary shares of Volkswagen AG.

      So who’s their daddy now?

  • avatar

    If I were in a country where it was legal, I’d pour out a good Pilsner in his honor…

  • avatar

    The 911 does have quite an uncertain future these days as well, because it represents an anomaly in Porsche’s lineup. Porsche is an SUV manufacturer now, and the 911 is not an SUV, so it’s logical that it’s only a matter of time before it’s axed.

    • 0 avatar

      Uncertain future? Anomaly? Logical?

      Are you just trolling, or randomly making things up.

      • 0 avatar

        Agree. If the 911 is an anomaly, then so to are the Boxter and Cayman.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m neither trolling nor making things up. But it’s clear that if Porsche were in fact serious about making sports cars, it would never have ventured into making SUVs, because an SUV represents the diametrically opposite concept of sports cars.

        However, Porsche’s SUVs turned out to be successful in the marketplace. The downside to this success was that it deprived Porsche of all credibility as a sports car manufacturer, which means that Porsche cannot expect to get away with successfully selling sports car in the future, and will eventually be forced to choose which niche to pursue. And since the SUVs are profitable and the brand looks out of place on sports cars now, it makes sense to discontinue the latter.

        • 0 avatar

          I think Porsche is serious about making money, not maintaining ideological purity.

          They’ve made a successful transition from being a niche sports car company to a full-line auto manufacturer — the world’s most profitable.

          I see Cayennes and 911s on the road almost every day where I live. If the Porsche logo is now out of place on the 911, someone forgot to tell all the people who keep buying them.

          Do I like the old Porsche better than the modern one? As a guy who owns and wrenches on an 80s 911, sure. But I don’t make in a year what many new Porsches cost, so I’m sure they’re not clamoring to hear my thoughts on the brand.

        • 0 avatar
          Tele Vision

          Your theorem is interesting. Absolute dross, but interesting in that someone actually thinks as such.

  • avatar

    Drove a 993 recently. No radiator, C4S. I grew up with the 911 mystique but had never the chance to experience it. My peeps growing up had big Murican engines, not German sewing machines.

    Wow.. The car drives via mental telepathy. At some point, hammering out of a corner while preparing to brake for the next, I realized where I’d had this experience before….Go karts…the 911 is a Go Kart for Grownups.

    The wuffle of the flat six is intoxicating and you want to hear more of it.

    I’m told the air cooled 993 is “the last” one, and used values tend to agree…60k for a 20 year old car ?

    If/when I drive a modern version, will I be sad ?

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