The Man Who Saved the Porsche 911 From Oblivion Has Died
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.
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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.
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