Peter Schutz, Executive Who Saved the 911, Dies at 87

November 6th, 2017 by

Peter Schutz

Peter Schutz, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who became the only American to serve as chief executive of the German sports car maker Porsche, where he was credited with saving the company’s signature 911 model from oblivion, died on Oct. 29 in Naples, Fla. He was 87.

His wife, Sheila Harris-Schutz, said the cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

Mr. Schutz was a boy when he and his family fled Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II. He returned years later to lead a company whose founders had collaborated with Adolf Hitler. The man who hired Mr. Schutz for the job, Ferdinand Porsche Jr., better known as Ferry, had joined with his father in designing tanks for the German war machine. The elder man formed Porsche A.G. after the war, in 1948.

Among sports car connoisseurs, Mr. Schutz is best remembered for blocking plans in 1981 to end production of the 911 model, which remains the quintessential Porsche.

When Mr. Schutz took charge that year, the company, based in Stuttgart, had just suffered the first loss-making year in its history and was in crisis, largely because of slumping sales in the United States. The 911 had been plagued by quality problems, and its air-cooled motor, mounted in the rear, was considered anachronistic; most cars had water-cooled motors in the front. It was also tricky to drive because the heavy rear end gave it a tendency to spin out.

Sales were falling, and the Porsche board had already decided to kill the 911 in favor of other models, like the 928, which, with a motor in front, was easier to handle.

An engineer with a flair for marketing, Mr. Schutz said that the 911’s quirks were what set the car apart and that stopping production would rip out Porsche’s soul. “While the car could be temperamental at times, at least it had character,” Mr. Schutz wrote in an article for Road & Track magazine in 2013. “That’s what people loved most about it.”

As Mr. Schutz told the story, about three weeks into his new job he noticed a chart on the office wall of Helmuth Bott, Porsche’s lead engineer, who was also unhappy about the 911’s impending demise. The graph plotted plans for the company’s models. The line for the 911 stopped in 1981.

Mr. Schutz was also credited with reviving the Porsche racing program. He told his engineers to pull a successful but aging 936 model from the company’s museum and fit it with a more modern engine. In 1982, Porsche won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

The company’s revenue more than tripled under Mr. Schutz. But it began to slump in the second half of the 1980s, leading his critics to complain that he was focusing excessively on the United States, which was heading toward recession. He left Porsche at the end of 1987.

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