Butzi and the Beast

EPIC TALES FROM OUR ARCHIVES

PETER ROBINSON’SClassic

FIRST PUBLISHED JULY 1997

IT WAS AROUND NINE MONTHS BEFORE THE LAUNCH OF THE 996, THE FIRST WATER-COOLED PORSCHE 911, SO IT SEEMED THE PERFECT TIME TO ARRANGE AN INTERVIEW WITH BUTZI PORSCHE, DESIGNER OF THE ORIGINAL AIR-COOLED 911.

So it was that in early 1997, I attempted to make contact with Porsche Design, an independent design consultancy based in Zell am See, Austria, run by Ferdinand ‘Butzi’ Porsche.

My attempts were greeted with silence. It was only after Porsche public relations boss Anton Hunger interceded and spoke in favour of my interview with Mr F.A. Porsche (as he was always called by Zuffenhausen), that we finally settled on a date in April.

There were, however, two provisions. I was to submit written questions beforehand “so F.A. can prepare himself” and Michael Schimpke, Porsche’s foreign press boss, was to sit in on the interview. No bad thing, as I discovered.

Butzi, an inherently shy man, preferred to have his native German translated in to English, with Schimpke acting as simultaneous translator. The idea was for photographer Stan Papior and me to borrow a manual 993 C4S from Stuttgart for the journey to Austria and to go on to Gmund, where the first Porsche sports cars were built.

So it was that just before noon on Thursday April 17, 1997, Stan and I arrived at Porsche Design’s minimalist glass twostorey HQ to meet Ferdinand Alexander Porsche III (Butzi to the world at large), to interview the man who created the apparently timeless 911 shape. Ironically, though no one knew it in the early ’60s, the 911 was the last car designed solely by the obviously talented Butzi who died on April 5, 2012.

We met in the conference room of Porsche Design’s chalet studio in the Austrian Alps. After a few questions (all from my list) he obviously approved and we moved to his far more personal office, with its views of Lake Zell and the snow-capped mountains that was to remain Butzi’s favourite workplace until he retired in 2005.

Formal to the point of being retiring, yet still friendly, Butzi didn’t come across as a designer in his suit, handkerchief in the jacket pocket, and tie. In the shelving behind his desk were dozens of model cars, books on design and the history of Porsche, and a row of motoring badges, while the walls were lined with photographs, including two of the 911. There was even a drafting board. “It’s a source of mirth to those who work with computers,” he said smiling “but I need it for ideas and inspiration.”

Most prominent among the models were Butzi’s favourite – the 904, the 1963 mid-engine racer he designed – as well as an early 911 and the 1993 Boxster concept. Others included a Citroen 2CV, Morgan +4, Duesenberg Model J, Cord 812, an early Ford Mustang and a 1920s Rolls-Royce. Why these?

“They all caught my attention,” he said. “Not necessarily for positive reasons. Most have natural, classical shapes that appeal to many people. I wanted to create something with the same harmonious elements.

“Good design should be honest and functional.”

“MOST PROMINENT AMONG THE MODELS WERE BUTZI’S FAVOURITE – THE 904, THE 1963 MID-ENGINE RACER HE DESIGNED – AS WELL AS THE 1993 BOXSTER CONCEPT”

– PETER ROBINSON

issue

Mark Webber lands a Le Mans drive with AMG Mercedes; promptly flips out

Design of the times

In 1971, Ferry Porsche and Louisa Piech, Ferdinand Porsche’s children, wanting to avoid the growing internal family feuds, banned all family members from holding managerial positions within the company, including Butzi, and his brothers and cousins among whom was Ferdinand Piech, later the VW Group’s CEO. Butzi decided he wanted to continue as a designer and started Porsche Design as an independent design studio in 1972. His first object was the famous Porsche watch, but he also worked on furniture, lights, sunglasses, cameras, trains and even pipes.

ALSO IN WHEELS, July 1997

Robbo drives the Porsche GT1, effectively a mid-engine Le Mans racer with rego plates; we scoop the VT Commodore; Robbo (busy month) declares the Mercedes-Benz E280 the better all-rounder in a three-car comparo against the Audi A6 and BMW 528i; Mike McCarthy gets the ground-breaking Audi A3 up on three wheels

THE WAY IT WAS 9 ’ 7

Diver survivor

A landslide in the NSW ski resort of Thredbo kills 18 people. The sole survivor is ski instructor Stuart Diver, who is rescued after being trapped for 65 hours.

King of the box-office

Titanic, directed by James Cameron, opens and goes on to become the highest grossing film in the history of cinema.

Awful ‘King of the World’ impressions on the front of ferries the world over ensue.

Death of Diana

Diana, Princess of Wales, is killed at age 36 when the Mercedes S-Class in which she is a passenger crashes at high speed in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris.