One of the amazing things about Porsche as a company is that many of its
major players are still alive and kicking. It seems that good genes as well
as good engineering go hand and hand!
Porsche names such as Herbert Linge, who was a key employee at the new
post war factory in Stuttgart; Hanz Mezger who designed and developed
every major Porsche road and race engine; Peter Faulk who was the first
to compete in a 911 and who developed road cars and managed race teams.
And there were others!
Each month many of these seasoned men meet at a pub near Stuttgart
to discuss the old days at Porsche. Unfortunately, one big figure from
the past cannot be present – Helmuth Bott.
In 1952 Bolt started with Porsche as a 27 year-old engineering graduate.
His initial job was to develop Porsche’s own gearbox for the 356. At first,
Volkswagen was to supply the gearbox for Porsche. However, such was
not considered strong enough for the 356 that started out at 40 hp and
soon developed three times as much power.
The contract for the transmission when to Getrag that who was the builder
of truck and tractor transmissions. Bott’s job was to refine the transmission
and make it suitable for use in Porsche sports cars.
His next job was to improve the 356’s handling. Additionally, Bolt
was heavily involved in the development of the first 911 chassis. In 1955
a young Ferdinand Piech arrived at Porsche as the boss of the experimental
department. Piech was known to have a strong personality. He was continually
coming up with radical ideas, constantly asking questions and pushing the men
under him to success. Bott was a steadier character, less extrovert and more
methodical than Piech.
“Bott was like a father figure,” said Norbert Singer who was supervised
by Bott in 1971 when worked in the racing department which was part of
the experimental department. Furthermore, Singer said of Bott, “He had
an air of authority and was very precise. If he called a meeting at 10 o’clock
it would start at 10, not one minute past so it was always wise to get there
early. On the other hand he was always quite open, and we could discuss
anything with him.”
Bott was known as a hard worker with enormous stamina. Porsche designer
Anotole Lapine stated, “Nobody ever succeeded in overloading Bott. He was
rarely seen in the design office. He was a development man, not a designer,
and preferred to spend his time around mechanics.”
Helmuth Bott was not only a hands on man. In the early 1970’s he
was one of the first senior figures at Porsche who identified the benefit
of selling the company’s engineering expertise to other auto manufacturers.
Bott even had a vision of Porsche utilizing its racing and road car success to
advertise and thus sell its engineering services as the company’s greatest
source of revenue. Bott’s idea of securing engineering revenue helped to
keep Porsche afloat a number of times, especially in the early 90s.
During the 70’s, Bott supervised many different projects including the
Porsche policy of racing the 911 rather than using costly prototypes, to
the success of the 936 at Le Mans in 1980 and Porsche’s poor showing
with Indycar racing. About the same time, Bott oversaw the development
of the iconic 959, which was a technical tour de force that ended up costing
Porsche enormous sums to build each car (Porsche actually lost money on
each car). Much of the excessive cost for the car was leveled at Bott.
In 1988 Bott retired from Porsche at the age of only 63 which by Porsche
standards was quite young! Many of the other retirees of Porsche have
snuck through the company’s gates to take retirement jobs that require
them to work as hard as they did in their former days. Bott left Porsche
as a disappointed man. Several of his peers thought that he left the
company too early.
Wiendelin Wiedeking (who has recently been ousted from Porsche),
who at the time was in charge of production, accused Bott of just about
destroying the company because Bott did not control the development
process. For example, the Porsche 944 Turbo used 85 percent new parts
to produce a faster version of the 944. Wiedeking may well of had a point,
however, the truth is that Bott has an enormous impact on establishing the
Porsche reputation as we know it today.
Bott died in 1994 and although the company’s accountants might not
fully appreciate his contribution, the seasoned men who drink weissbier
each month at the pub near Stuttgart certainly do and so should every
car enthusiast who has enjoyed a Porsche drive over the years!
Kyle Busch is the author of “Drive the Best for the Price…” He
welcomes your comments or car questions at his auto web site: