A Brief History of the Man Who Saved the (“Temperamental”) 911 From Obsolescence

It’s hard to conceive that Porsche considered retiring the 911 model from its lineup. While the automaker nearly tried the New Coke method (retiring a classic formula and introducing a new one that wasn’t quite as popular), an American executive convinced the Germans to hold steady with 911 production. This happened back in the early 80s, and thank the car Gods for his intervention.

But let’s back up a bit. In 1978, the automaker released the first 911SC, which stands for Super Carrera. This iteration was considered a more cultivated and driveable option than the 911S, according to Leland-West. The SC had more horsepower but it also included an exhaust emission air pump, so it could be sold internationally. This addition effected its performance, but Porsche had a fix: it changed the timing of the camshafts so the SC was able to pull firmly at low RPMs. This signature feature “still graces the grunt of every Porsche on the market today.”

The SC was targeted towards both sports car enthusiasts as well as drivers seeking a sport touring package. However, Porsche fully intended to retire the 911 line as it was introducing the new front-engine, V-8 928, which was supposed to become the manufacturer’s new flagship model.

Air conditioning and power windows were made standard features on the SC by 1980, hit-or-miss extras depending on whether you liked the added luxury or lamented the added weight, which led to a slight loss in power. Regardless, the SC remained super popular and outsold the 928 by almost 50 percent.

Enter Peter Schutz. Ferry Porsche personally asked him to apply for the position of CEO of Porsche AG, and he was the first American to land the gig. The company was “experiencing a difficult period” when he took the position, the automaker acknowledges, and the year before, Porsche recorded its first-ever losses. Schutz had some expectations to meet, and he delivered. Just three weeks on the job, he reversed the automaker’s decision to stop 911 production. Schutz wrote about the move in a 2013 issue of Road & Track, revealing that he hadn’t even sat in a 911 before he became CEO.

One week in, Schutz observed “a sort of pervasive sadness among the staff.” That’s when he learned that employees were downtrodden when they learned the company was canceling the 911. Apparently, the board saw the model as an “outmoded concept.” Sales had dropped, quality had dropped, and the price was high, according to dealers.

“The 911 was too difficult to control, blah, blah, blah,” Schutz wrote. But he wasn’t convinced it was the right decision to retire the model. Calling it “temperamental at times,” he also said it “had character,” which is why people loved it.

He added: “Those with training, with skill, who could catch it in a slide and bring it back into line—the 911 was king. It was the only car worth driving because it was the only car that would push back.”

In Germany, decisions are rarely reversed. Yet, Schutz clearly remembered the day he changed the Germans’ minds. He went to lead engineer Helmuth Bott’s office and saw a wall chart illustrating the development of the 911, 928, and 944. The line stopped at the 911, while it continued for the latter two models. Schutz took a marker and extended the 911 line not only across the page but also onto the wall and out the door. When he returned to the office, Bott was smiling. Their understanding, and love, of the 911, was mutual.

It was a smart move. The 911 is considered one of the world’s most iconic sports cars and has been for more than 50 years. It’s the company’s heart and soul.

As for the 911SC, 59,000 units were sold, which is somewhat impressive considering it was intended to be the last of the 911s. It was later improved with the introduction of the 911 3.2 Carrera.