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Remembering Ferdinand Piëch (1937 – 2019)

Ferdinand Piëch and Huschke v. Hanstein in 1968 at Le Mans.
Ferdinand Piëch and Huschke v. Hanstein in 1968 at Le Mans.

Ferdinand Piëch died on 25 August 2019 at the age of 82. Born in Vienna on April 17, 1937, Piëch was fascinated by technology since childhood, especially by kinetic technology. At the age of nine he was already able to drive a car. After graduating from school, he studied mechanical engineering in Zurich, having written a master thesis about the development of a Formula One engine. The spiritual father of the Porsche 917 and former Member of the Supervisory Board of Porsche AG was remembered by the company.

“The news of his death represents a very sad loss for us. Our thoughts are with Ferdinand Piëch’s family,” said Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG. “His love of cars and his constant desire to drive forward technical progress will never be forgotten. Piëch was an automotive man through and through. We thank him for his passion and the courage with which he led Porsche to outstanding engineering achievements. Through strategic decisions, he laid the foundations for successful development of our company.”

The fascination for cars already ran in his blood as the grandson of design engineer Ferdinand Porsche. He began his professional career in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen on 1 April 1963 as an employee in the engine testing department at Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche KG. After successful design of an oil cooler for the Type 904 race car and a 180 PS six-cylinder race engine, Piëch became head of the testing department in 1966. The legendary six-cylinder boxer engine of the Porsche 911 was developed to series maturity under his leadership. In 1968, Piëch was appointed Head of Development, before he assumed responsibility for the technology and external development areas in the Executive Board of Porsche KG in 1971.

Piëch placed particular importance on professionalisation of the Porsche motor racing department, which achieved countless motorsport successes under his leadership. He had the 917 race car designed in 1969, a car which is still today considered to be one of the most successful race cars ever. The first overall victory of the 917 in Le Mans in 1970 under his leadership represented the start of a new era for Porsche.

Due to the transformation of Porsche KG into a stock corporation and the decision that operational management positions should no longer be occupied by family members, he left the company in 1972 like all other family representatives. Ferdinand Piëch joined Audi in the same year. Since 1988, he was CEO of Audi AG, before taking over the position of CEO of Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft in 1993.

Without him Bugatti would not exist in its current form. In 1998 Ferdinand Piëch in his role as CEO of Volkswagen AG bought the trademark rights to Bugatti, and not long after the Château and site in Molsheim, Alsace.

His idea for the reorientation of the legendary French brand came to him while on holiday, as he later explained. It was a sign of fate: In a small toy shop, Ferdinand Piëch wanted to buy his son Gregor a Rolls-Royce toy car. But the little one pointed to another model — a Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic. “For me it was a pointer to interest me for Bugatti and not only for Rolls-Royce and Bentley,” he wrote.

In 2002, Piëch was elected Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft. In 2015, he resigned from his mandates in the Volkswagen Group.

He remained associated with Porsche as a Member of the Supervisory Board from 1981 to 2015. In 1984, Vienna Technical University awarded him an honorary doctorate in technical sciences. In 1999, 132 car journalists and industry experts from 33 countries named him “Car Manager of the Century”.

[Source: Porsche AG]