Porsche’s longest serving senior engineer when he retired abruptly 25 years ago, the former R&D chief is usually remembered for the space-age 959, but there is much more to the career of Helmuth Bott, long the backbone of the Weissach he was instrumental in creating.
Born and schooled in Kircheim unter Teck, 15 miles southeast of Stuttgart, in 1925, Helmuth Bott was pressed into the Wehrmacht as tank crew in the latter stages of the war. When hostilities ended, he continued his studies and became an assistant teacher at different locations in the Swabian region. As Germany recovered, Bott found himself looking beyond teaching at some of the engineering enterprises that were reopening or starting up in Stuttgart.
From 1947-49, he worked as a mechanic at Daimler-Benz, and then from 1949-52 studied mechanical engineering at the University of Stuttgart. During those studies he also was a design trainee at Daimler and a test trainee at Bosch.
In March, 1952, he was hired by a small Austrian company in Zuffenhausen that was renting premises from coachbuilder Reutter. Porsche had moved its sports car production to Zuffenhausen two years earlier, and 26-year-old Helmuth Bott became a factory assistant.
In those exciting early days, there was as much work as you could handle, and capable individuals were promoted quickly. Bott soon had his first major task: the Porsche (not yet called the 356) already had too much torque for its original VW transmission, and the company urgently needed a new gearbox. Getrag offered an alternative unit, and Bott had to build the test rigs to prove the new transmission. He was soon writing service manuals, and his evident pedagogical skills were soon put to use training new apprentices as the company grew.
The following year Porsche outshopped the 10,000th 356, and the company took advantage of expanding from Werk 1 to Werk 2 to increase output of what was now the 356A to 17 cars per day. The Zuffenhausen firm was already thinking in terms of the 356’s successor and Bott was reporting to Leopold Schmid, head of the design office. Bott, now an acknowledged chassis specialist, was instrumental in designing the MacPherson strut front suspension of the new 901. Never afraid to experiment, he rebuilt a crashed 356 with a Mercedes-Benz front suspension and applied lessons learned to the new Porsche.
By 1961, he was leading the team of road testers charged with resolving the new car’s handling. It was a daunting task. The two extra cylinders of the flat six upset the balance that, thanks in large measure to Bott’s incessant trial and error testing, had been such a feature of the 356. The challenge now was to achieve the same balance for the unpredictable 901.