The American Man Who Saved the Porsche 911

The year 1980 was not a good one for Porsche. It was the first year in their existence that they didn’t turn a profit. The new, front-engined 924 and 928 models were not selling as well as Porsche thought they would and sales of the 911 had been dropping for more than a year. Because of poor sales and complaints from the dealer network that the 911 was priced too high and quality was too low, Porsche’s board determined that the 911 was an outdated concept and scheduled it to be discontinued the following year. That is until Ferry Porsche hired their first American CEO – Peter Schutz.

Porsche felt that an American in charge of Porsche would help their sales in the US which was a crucial for their success. Schutz started to immediately recognize that in order for Porsche to flourish in the US – and globally – was to keep the 911 in production. However, he was going to have to convince the Germans to change their mind, which was no easy feat. What’s most interesting is the way Schutz communicated to Porsche’s lead engineer how he felt about the cancellation of the 911:

You have to understand that, in Germany, once a decision is made, it’s made. As far as the company was concerned, the 911 was history. But I overturned the board’s decision in my third week on the job.

I remember the day quite well: I went down to the office of our lead engineer, Professor Helmuth Bott, to discuss plans for our upcoming model. I noticed a chart hanging on his wall that depicted the ongoing development trends of our top three lines: 911, 928, and 944. With the latter options, the graph showed a steady rise in production for years to come. But for the 911, the line stopped in 1981.

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.

“Do we understand each other?” I asked. And with a nod, we did.

Did drawing a line on the wall save the 911? It may have contributed to it, but what really kept the 911 alive was Schutz’s insistence that it was Porsche’s “only car worth driving because it was the only car that would push back.” His conviction swayed the board’s decision and the 911 has remained in production ever since.

Cheers to Peter Schutz for saving the Porsche 911! We can’t imagine the World without it and if you’re a Porsche enthusiast like us, you probably can’t either.

Written by Ron King

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