Porsche 911 hero: Peter Schutz
Butzi Porsche may have given us the 911, but Peter Schutz saved it from the axe, evolving the car – and company – during his tenure at the helm
It is a fact that without Peter Schutz, the 911 would be dead – its production was scheduled to cease at the end of the 1981 model year SC.
The story of how Schutz broadcast his ambitions to save the 911 on his first day in the job has become the stuff of legend. Walking into a product meeting and, seeing a wall-mounted chart of the 911’s production timeline, where it was due to cease at the end of the year, the story goes that Schutz picked up a pen and continued its production timeline off the chart, and even off the wall.
The genius in his metaphor was not lost on the company. Its workforce, disgruntled at the decision of the previous regime to put its future in the hands of the underperforming 924 and 928, was rejuvenated.
Schutz gave far more to Porsche than merely saving its icon, though. Working with a talented team including the likes of Helmuth Bott, Norbert Singer and Manfred Jantke – and getting the best from them – he ensured the 911 continued to develop, evolving its model lineup and engineering prowess.
Schutz also famously proclaimed to his new staff he “wouldn’t go racing unless it was to win,” which resonated at Weissach. A series of 924s, in prep for Le Mans, were ditched in favour of three 936 chassis which were fitted with engines from the company’s Indy Car programme. The move paid off, a 936 winning Le Mans in 1981 and paving the way for the dominance of the 956 from 1982 onwards. It was under Schutz’s watch that the 911 Cabriolet was introduced (in 1982), at last delivering the brief of an out-and-out, open-topped 911, which Porsche had failed to execute back in 1965. By the end of the decade, the 911 would also have revived Porsche’s iconic Speedster name, a move championed from the outset by the Berlin-born but Americanraised Schutz.
Schutz had even attempted to put the 911’s flat six into the skies, though his adventure in aviation proved problematic and was ultimately canned. It wasn’t the only convoluted project overseen by Schutz in his relatively short tenure. The 959, released in 1986, was a technological high watermark for the automobile, but it wasn’t without its troubles behind the scenes, and ended up costing the company a lot of money.
It is no coincidence that Schutz would leave in 1987, just a year after its release, along with Helmuth Bott, chief engineer of the project.
Schutz returned to America and would later become a motivational speaker, passing away in 2017. His legacy lives on as the definitive saviour of the Porsche 911, a model which ironically remains centrally placed at the heart of the manufacturer today.