Helmuth Bott

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What is probably the fastest successful development project in the history of Le Mans is largely attributable to the way Bott ran engineering at Porsche, and it opened the way for another decade of success in Group C racing for Porsche with the 956 and 962.

Porsche historian Randy Leffingwell describes how Bott would discipline himself to come up with eight or 12 ideas a week to develop for future use. Many of these ideas would resurface after his lifetime. Leffingwell recalls an incident when Bott was track-testing a car with Rolf Wütherich, and neither could understand why the lap times were slower than they should have been. Then Bott thought of mounting a camera on the car, and the subsequent footage showed the car was moving laterally in the corners, imperceptibly to the driver but enough to add a crucial second or two to a lap. Bott wanted to fit a g meter to the 959, says Leffingwell. He also nurtured PDK in the hope that it could be fitted to the 959.

Much as Ferdinand Piëch had, Peter Schutz found himself relying on Bott’s judgment, and he too was struck by the chief engineer’s incessant output of ideas. He cites examples: Bott wanted Porsche to build tracks and driving centers to bring on Porsche customers (the idea crystalized 20 years later with the advent of the “Porsche Experience”); Schutz describes how Bott’s involvement in the (ultimately aborted) flat-six aero engine project taught him to introduce avionic levels of quality and source control of components to make the race cars more reliable.

The 959, of course, remains the apogée of Bott’s Porsche career. It was intended to showcase Porsche technology, which of course it did magnificently, and provide a platform for this technology to be extended to the other models. Indeed, as Randy Leffingwell remarks, the 959 effectively established a new automotive category, the supercar. Alas. the 959’s development overran its budget.

“He and I both took a hell of a beating over the 959,” recalls Schutz, “but just look how much of that technology has found its way into subsequent Porsches. All that stuff that nobody was asking for, yet Helmuth Bott anticipated it.”

Schutz points out that while most technical organizations were resisting the kinds of safety and environmental changes that were afoot in the 1970s, Bott was quietly working towards them.

“He instigated proper crash testing, got Porsche to look at emissions, and got the budget to build a wind tunnel. He made these things a Porsche specialty. When VW pulled the carpet from under Porsche in 1973 by taking all the development work away from Weissach, it was Bott who went out and got new third-party customers—GM, Volvo, eventually even Mercedes-Benz.”

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