Helmuth Bott

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The decision by new CEO Ernst Fuhrmann to turbocharge the 911 would open a new chapter in the history of Porsche Motorsport, which had faded after the ban of the 917. Bott recognized that the essentially obsolete platform of the 911 was all the company had to work with, and throughout the decade, starting with the 934 and followed by the 935, Porsche continued to produce race winners from it.

Peter Schutz, who took over the CEO’s chair from Fuhrmann in 1981, describes how Bott got the best from his engineers: “He reorganized them every day to keep them focused on the task and the customer. He developed people to handle specific tasks, he reconfigured teams regularly, and it kept his engineers creative as he was always feeding them challenges.”

It was this atmosphere that inspired the kind of lateral thinking from Norbert Singer which produced the “silhouette” 935 that took the 1976/7 World Championship of Makes. Wolfhelm Gorissen, project leader on the “Weissach axle” (invented by Dr. H.H. Braess and converted for road use in the design department of Wolfgang Eyb), remembers a boss who was always “highly dynamic.” Part of Bott’s success was his consensual approach. He would not just issue an edict as Fuhrmann tended to; he would get agreement through discussion. By delegating responsibility deftly, he kept control, and by continually adding to his engineers’ experience it meant his group had the confidence to take on any task.

“Nobody ever succeeded in overloading Bott,” reflected Tony Lapine, design chief and one of the R&D director’s rare detractors. “He would send out his troops. You could work easily with them. Bott was a development man, not a designer. He communicated more with the mechanics.”

Lapine was right. Bott was rarely happier than being in the workshop or out on the road, and he drove hundreds of thousands of test miles for Porsche. Lapine recalled an occasion when he had been co-opted (one senses somewhat reluctantly) into testing the 928 in Algeria with Bott. As they drove through deserts for days at a stretch, he found Bott’s long, self-contained silences hard going. Their relationship did not recover, but the ebullient Lapine and the self-effacing Bott were totally different characters. The former’s waspish comments reflect the rivalry between Porsche’s design and engineering departments, which did not improve from Lapine’s point of view when Schutz arrived and he found himself reporting to Bott rather than directly to the CEO as he had with Fuhrmann.

Bott’s instinct was to keep away from the politics and involve himself in his projects. And because he was so close to events, he could react quickly. A good example occurred when Peter Schutz joined Porsche. Fuhrmann had wound down development of the 911 and, with it, racing activity, in favor of the 928 model, a minority view which led to his acrimonious departure from Porsche. Schutz, hired partly due to his marketing strengths, was appalled to find as a result that Porsche’s entry for the 1981 Le Mans consisted merely of a brace of 924s, which clearly would not win. Schutz quickly vetoed this defeatist entry and told his staff that Porsche would participate with a potential winner or not at all.

One of Bott’s lieutenants, Peter Falk, thought of the 540-hp “Indy” engine developed some years earlier but never used, as U.S. rules changes had made it uncompetitive for its intended American series—but, in a sports car chassis, it might be. There was a rules change that year at Le Mans that allowed displacements of turbo-prototypes higher than 2.1L, a lucky situation. Bott immediately saw the possibilities and approved the project: The Indy unit was installed in a 936 from the Porsche museum and famously won at la Sarthe.

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