The story of how the Porsche 911 almost became extinct
In January 1981 Porsche was “experiencing a difficult period” having made the first ever losses in the company’s history. The German carmaker had decided in the face of such adversity that it had no other choice, the iconic 911 was to be discontinued as a model.
At the turn of the decade in 1980, the Porsche 911 was considered to be dead and buried - a somewhat “outmoded concept”. The front-engined Porsche 928 was set to take the helm as the company’s flagship model with the 911’s demise already signed off.
Enter Porsche President and CEO, Peter Schutz. He took charge of the company in January 1981 and noted that the demise of its iconic model had affected the morale. “The decision didn't sit well with me. While the  could be temperamental at times, at least it had character. That's what people loved most about it,” stated Schutz. “It was the only car worth driving because it was the only car that would push back.”
Within just three short weeks of Schutz starting his tenure, the 911 was saved. From what appeared to be an irreversible decision, with Schutz taking matters into his own hands during a meeting with Porsche Lead Engineer Professor Helmuth Bott:
“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.”
And just like that, the 911 was saved. Schutz then championed more diversity across the 911 range with the introduction of the Cabriolet model. He then gave the world the 944 Turbo, along with the 944 S and S2 models. All of which went on to be strong sellers for the company.
By 1982 Schutz had guided the company back into the black, by 1985 he oversaw the introduction of the 959 at the Frankfurt Motor show. Just four years into his tenure, Porsche gave the world a true rival to the Ferrari F40. It was a true technological masterpiece with its 197mph top speed. Sadly for Schutz, the 959 was also a loss maker for the company.
For every 959 the company moved, rumours suggest Porsche made a loss of £320,000 on each one. This proved to be a costly mistake for Schutz who was removed from his position in 1987. In his time in charge of the company, sales doubled with a ten-fold increase in earnings meaning he had played a pivotal role in reversing the companies fortunes.
What Schutz did by saving the 911 was no small feat, it should be remembered that without the iconic 911 the automotive landscape could have been very different nearly four decades later.
Just think of a world devoid of the 911, all of the halo GT models that could never have come to fruition. Think for a minute: would cars like the insane Carrera GT or the 918 Spyder even have become a reality? Gratefully, it's a question we don't need to ask.
Peter Schutz moved to Florida following his departure from Porsche in 1987, where he later became a motivational speaker. He passed away last weekend at the age of 87.
Next time you sight a 911, just remember how close it came to being erased from existence forever.