The Porsche 911 is arguably the world’s most iconic sports car. Since the first examples hit the road in 1963, Porsche has steadfastly defied convention — and to some, reason — by mounting the 911’s engine in the rear. This unusual layout makes the car look and drive like no other, and has earned it global fanfare. While Porsche’s modern success can be attributed to the 911, there was a time when its future seemed dire – in fact, if not for the actions of one man, the 911 would have been killed off entirely.
The year was 1980, and Porsche had posted the first financial loss in its history. Its struggles could be attributed to quality control issues, and the American market’s tepid response to the brand’s latest offerings. In an attempt to shuffle resources, the executive board decided to cancel the 911, a car they saw as old fashioned, costly, and too hard to drive.
Enter Peter Schutz. An engineer by training, Schutz was hired as Porsche’s first American CEO in 1981. In his early weeks with Porsche, he noticed low employee morale, which he attributed to the board’s choice to cancel the 911. After all, the brand had built its reputation on that car, and soon it would be no more.
“The decision didn’t sit well with me,” Schutz said. He recognized that while the car was flawed, perhaps that’s what made it special: “While the car could be temperamental at times, at least it had character. That’s what people loved most about it.”
Schutz knew he had to act. He went to the office of Porsche’s chief engineer, where he found a chart showing the timelines of each model’s development. While the chart showed the brand’s newer front-engine cars, the 928 and 964, continuing production and sales for years, the 911’s timeline ended abruptly.
What Schutz did next solidified his legendary status among Porsche fans. He picked up a marker from the engineer’s desk, then drew the 911 timeline across the chart, onto the wall, and out the door. When he returned, the engineer stood dumbfounded. “Do we understand each other?” Schutz asked. With a nod, the engineer agreed, and with a simple stroke of a pen Schutz had saved the 911.
It would prove to be a fruitful decision. By 1985, Porsche was selling more cars than ever, and had increased its earnings more than tenfold compared to when Schutz started a few years prior.
Since then Porsche’s lineup has grown, and SUVs like the Cayenne make up the majority of its sales. However, the 911 is central to the brand; it embodies the essence of Porsche’s sporty heritage. It continues to improve in performance and technology, and in May 2017 Porsche built the one millionth 911. Today the car serves as a benchmark for speed, style, and quality for the entire automotive industry. Thanks to one man, car lovers everywhere have the 911 to enjoy, whether admiring it from the outside or sitting in the driver’s seat.