Helmuth Bott

Also from Issue 211

  • 1975 911
  • 911 50 year celebration
  • 1955 356 Continental
  • 911 Cabriolet buyer's guide
  • 997 GT3 RSR
  • Zwart's 911s
  • 1967 911
  • 18 year old racer Tyler Palmer
  • SC vs. C2 buying comparison
Buy Excellence-211-cover
Helmuth Bott 1
Helmuth Bott 2
Helmuth Bott 3
Helmuth Bott 4
Helmuth Bott 5
Helmuth Bott 6
Helmuth Bott 7
Helmuth Bott 8
Helmuth Bott 9

This is a very good point. It was Piëch’s energy that got Porsche to build up Weissach from a mere handling circuit to a proper R&D establishment, but it was income from research carried out for VW that paid for it. However, it was Bott who established Weissach’s reputation and so secured its future profitability.

The 1980s began well for Porsche: Peter Schutz rescued the 911 from Fuhrmann’s planned oblivion, revamped U.S. distribution in Porsche’s most important market, and, as the U.S. dollar gained strength, so did Porsche sales and profits. Then, in 1985, it all began to crumble. The dollar fell steadily and with it the reputations of the men at the top of Porsche. Also, Ferry Porsche’s wife, Dorothea, died. “That really hit Ferry. He was never the same man afterwards,” remembers Schutz. The family owners and board members became restive. Previously enthusiastic supporters of the 959 project, they became critical of it, Ferdinand Piëch especially so, and the 959 seemed to symbolize everything that was going wrong at Porsche. The knives came out.

Schutz had to quit the company at the end of 1987, leaving Bott, his second in command, in an exposed position. Wolfhelm Gorissen recounts that Bott was deeply dismayed by the rounds of budget reductions that frustrated his engineering projects. When Wendelin Wiedeking, then a production manager, pointed to the total absence of common parts between the 911 and the 944 and famously charged Bott with “trying to wreck the company,” the accusation may not have been entirely unrelated to Wiedeking’s pique at not being promoted.

But, the episode undoubtedly seared Bott, and he would resign a few months later, two weeks before the launch of the 964 Carrera 4, a radical new 911 in which his involvement had been instrumental. Characteristically, he seems not to have communicated the depth of his disquiet to his colleagues. “It was a complete shock,” says Gorissen. “We never expected him to go.”

It would be all change at Porsche, for on the heels of the departing Schutz was also styling director Lapine. Of Bott, Paul Frère would observe, “Until now, he still operated as one would in a much smaller business. The atmosphere will probably change with the coming of a younger and more management-oriented generation.” Bott’s successor, former Porsche engineer Ulrich Bez and recruited from BMW, was indeed only 45, yet he would survive barely three years at Porsche.

At 63, Bott’s energy was undiminished. He moved from Pforzheim to Münsingen-Buttenhausen in the Swabian hills south of Stuttgart and near his birthplace. He set up his own consultancy, reflecting his need to remain creative. When Randy Leffingwell visited him there in October 1992, he was busy designing a road sweeper and was a member of the board of directors at Kärcher.

“I remember his garage was full of Kärcher stuff,” says Leffingwell, who felt that the wounds left by Bott’s premature departure from Porsche had not healed, and the subject was not broached directly. Gorissen says that Ferry missed him and stayed in touch with his former employee. Perhaps the last time Helmuth Bott was seen in a Porsche context was in September the following year at the 30th birthday celebrations of the 911. Photographs show a smiling Bott together with Ferry and Huschke von Hanstein, chatting and signing autographs among the 9lls gathered in the sunshine in front of Stuttgart Rathaus. Within nine months, though, Helmuth Bott was dead, felled by a cancer which some believe was a legacy of his unhappy end at Porsche.

“He certainly deserved better,” reflects author and journalist Michael Cotton, who knew Bott from his days as press officer at Porsche in the UK. “We did a tour of dealers for the launch of the 944. I admired his English and his enthusiastic advocacy of all things Porsche. He impressed everybody we met; a fine ambassador.”

A cultured man, he spoke French, too, and his linguistic talent, says Leffingwell, was one of the reasons Porsche recruited him. The engineering hothouse that was Porsche allowed Helmuth Bott to develop not just his other talents, but those of his charges—dozens of productive careers, often men who would subsequently become highly successful and, but for the example set by their chief, perhaps taken their skills to higher bidders, as Tilman Brodbeck almost did, instead of staying at Porsche to finish the job.

Bott once told Christophorus, “For sports racing cars, the task is: without regard for cost, comfort or noise and in the shortest possible time a competitive car needs to be built which meets the rules and offers optimal performance and road holding with the smallest possible weight and volume.”

This was the Porsche philosophy, and it also defines Bott’s dedicated and methodical approach to an exceptional job, which clearly was his life’s work. Beneath the skin of the modern Porsche, those who know can point to any number of features attributable to Helmuth Bott’s department. Hindsight and a little research simply confirm that this indefatigable and modest man probably contributed more to the “Excellence which is Porsche” than any other individual.

Connect with Excellence:   Facebook Twitter