ERNST FUHRMANN

The in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the 911 Turbo and the man whose name is for­ever linked with the four-cam­car­rera en­gine, Porscheʼs first CEO is fre­quently ma­ligned as the man who tried to kill off the 911. But there is far more to his Porsche ca­reer than this misco

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words: Kieron Fen­nelly Pho­tos: Porsche Archiv

The man whose name is for­ever linked with the leg­endary four-cam en­gine

Vi­en­nese Ernst Fuhrmann was one of Ferry Porscheʼs first post war em­ploy­ees, join­ing the Kon­struc­tions­büro, then based in Gmünd, in 1947. The pair worked to­gether on sev­eral ma­jor projects, in­clud­ing the Cisi­talia 360 rac­ing car, a daunt­ingly com­plex 1500cc su­per­charged flat12 with four-wheel drive. Then the com­pany moved back to Stuttgart and pro­duc­tion of what would be­come known as the Typ 356 got un­der­way.

Soon af­ter Porscheʼs pi­o­neer­ing ap­pear­ance at Le Mans in 1951, Ferry be­gan to won­der how much more power could be ex­tracted from what was still ba­si­cally the VW flat-four, and he turned to Ernst Fuhrmann to in­ves­ti­gate the pos­si­bil­i­ties. The re­sult was the four-cam en­gine for which Ernst Fuhrmann led the de­sign, draw­ing the cylin­der heads him­self.

Us­ing dou­ble over­head camshafts (in­stead of the VW unitʼs over­head valves and pushrods) it had twin ig­ni­tion, and roller bear­ings for the crank­shaft and the con­nect­ing rods. It was also dry sumped, the start of a long pro­duc­tion engi­neer­ing tra­di­tion at Porsche. Of 1498cc ca­pac­ity, the pro­to­type en­gine pro­duced a re­mark­able 112bhp at 6400rpm, revving on to 7500rpm. This ex­cep­tion­ally po­tent unit would be­come the back­bone of Porscheʼs ma­jor com­pe­ti­tion suc­cesses through the 1950s.

As many cus­tomers were buy­ing the 356 for com­pe­ti­tion, it was log­i­cal to build a pro­duc­tion ver­sion us­ing this en­gine. Porsche named this model the Car­rera af­ter the com­pa­nyʼs rac­ing suc­cesses in Cen­tral Amer­ica. Fuhrmann proudly drove a pre-pro­duc­tion ver­sion, but such was the de­mand for the new Porsche when it was pre­sented at the 1955 Frank­furt Show that he was pre­vailed upon to give it up as a de­mon­stra­tor. When a cus­tomer wrecked it, Ferry in­ter­vened to en­sure that as a re­place­ment his en­gi­neer got the orig­i­nal Frank­furt show car, com­plete with chromed wheels, a mea­sure of the es­teem in which he held his fel­low Aus­trian.

Fuhrmann was a man of ex­cep­tional en­ergy and am­bi­tion: it was said that if he could not ob­tain com­po­nents he needed for devel­op­ment projects from the fac­tory at Zuf­fen­hausen, he would go out to one of Stuttgartʼs many engi­neer­ing firms and buy parts out of his own pocket. Fi­nally the frus­tra­tions ev­i­dently be­came too much when in 1956 Klaus von Rücker was ap­pointed tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor, a post that Fuhrmann be­lieved that af­ter a decade at Porsche should be his. He re­signed.

He would not re­main un­em­ployed for long: one of the en­thu­si­as­tic Porsche Car­rera driv­ing pri­va­teers was Rolf Goetze, head of the pis­ton ring and en­gine parts maker. Both Fuhrman­nʼs en­gine and the man him­self had im­pressed Goetze and he in­vited the Aus­trian to join his com­pany where within a rel­a­tively short time he would be­come tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor.

Porsche at that time was still man­aged by its own­ers, es­sen­tially Ferry and his sis­ter Louise Piëch. Fam­ily-run con­cerns are prone to dis­agree­ments, as the pair dis­cov­ered, and the prob­lems of in­te­grat­ing each of Fer­ryʼs and Louiseʼs chil­dren in the fam­ily firm sim­ply wors­ened as the 1960s wore on. In 1970 the rul­ing fam­i­lies elected to bring in pro­fes­sional, third party man­age­ment at Porsche to end the au­to­matic right of fam­ily mem­bers to po­si­tions of au­thor­ity in the firm.

These ap­point­ments had caused of­ten paralysing in­ternecine war­fare, par­tic­u­larly the dif­fer­ences be­tween Ferry Porsche and his tur­bu­lent nephew Fer­di­nand Piëch. To lead this new team of man­agers, Ferry thought of his erst­while col­league Ernst Fuhrmann.

He knew through the grapevine that Fuhrmann had fallen out with Goetze and no longer worked there. To see how in­ter­ested his fel­low Aus­trian might be in re­turn­ing to Porsche, Ferry de­puted Hel­mut Bott and Fer­di­nand Piëch to find out. The pair drove to Fuhrman­nʼs home at Teufen­bach in south­ern Aus­tria and made Fuhrmann an at­trac­tive of­fer: Ferry would stand back to be­come chair­man of the su­per­vi­sory board of the new Porsche AG and Fuhrmann would be tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor, with R&D at Weis­sach and pro­duc­tion at Zuf­fen­hausen un­der his au­thor­ity. The ex­pe­ri­enced and re­li­able Hel­muth Bott would be his sec­ond in com­mand. Fuhrmann ac­cepted: this was a far big­ger pro­mo­tion than he had as­pired to in 1956, as he told writer and his­to­rian Randy Leff­in­g­well 20 years later:

“The tele­phone rang: it was Hel­muth Bott ask­ing whether he and Piëch could pay me a visit. They showed me de­signs for new cars. I had noth­ing else to do: the po­si­tion was

sim­ple, easy to han­dle. It was noth­ing com­pli­cated.ʼ

Dr Fuhrmann, the only Porsche CEO who has ever been a ʻto­tal car nutʼ, ac­cord­ing to his for­mer as­sis­tant, Til­man Brod­beck who knew all the CEOS up to Wiedek­ing well, was as in­ter­ested in the rac­ing scene as in tech­ni­cal devel­op­ment: for him the hot­house engi­neer­ing of com­pe­ti­tion cars im­proved the breed and early Porsche ar­chive pic­tures show him at Schauins­land and Le Mans with Porsche clients.

Af­ter Porscheʼs vic­to­ri­ous 1970/1 sea­son with the 917/10, there was plenty to ex­cite him when he re­joined the com­pany. The FIA banned the 917 in Europe af­ter 1971, but prizes lay in the the Cana­dian-amer­i­can series, Can-am, hith­erto dom­i­nated by Mclaren. Through the Penske team and driv­ers Mark Dono­hue and Ge­orge Follmer, Porsche would win two con­sec­u­tive cham­pi­onships for the now tur­bocharged 917/30.

Both Fuhrmann and Ferry recog­nised that af­ter the grandiose 917 pro­gramme, Porsche would have to cut back its rac­ing bud­get; Fuhrmann saw too that, given the devel­op­ment time and bud­get a new pro­duc­tion model would need, the 911 would have to be Porscheʼs main­stay for the fore­see­able fu­ture: he also un­der­stood the im­por­tance of rac­ing for Porscheʼs rep­u­ta­tion and at his urg­ing the 2.7-litre Car­rera was de­vel­oped from the 2.4 911S for Group 3.

He had to over­come a con­ser­va­tive Porsche es­tab­lish­ment which pre­vi­ously, by ve­to­ing pro­duc­tion of the 911R, had seen off no lesser fig­ure than Fer­di­nand Piëch. Randy Leff­in­g­well de­scribes graph­i­cally how Fuhrmann won his case through logic and strength of char­ac­ter:

ʻThe naysay­ers and their suc­ces­sors who had dis­missed the vi­a­bil­ity of the 911R saw here a new R and threw up ob­sta­cles. This time the naysay­ers were more nu­mer­ous and they had ad­di­tional al­lies now: Porsche and VW had joined sales forces as the VW Porsche mar­ket­ing com­pany based at Lud­wigs­burg. How­ever, Fuhrmann was mo­ti­vated: what if Zuf­fen­hausen as­sem­bled 500 cars each stripped as needed for ho­molo­ga­tion? What if buy­ers could or­der them with the same in­te­rior as the 911S, with sound proof­ing and steel bumpers?ʼ

It was a clas­sic di­vide and con­quer ap­proach: hav­ing weak­ened the op­po­si­tion – the mar­ket­ing depart­ment had al­ready de­cided they could call this spe­cial 911 the Car­rera RS. Fuhrmann struck: in a dra­matic scene wit­nessed by chance by Til­man Brod­beck, Fuhrmann forcibly told his sales chief he would ei­ther sell 250 cars or none at all. Pro­duc­tion went ahead.

“PLENTY TO EX­CITE HIM WHEN HE RE­JOINED PORSCHE…”

It would prove an in­spired de­ci­sion: the time was right, word went around, and the RS fa­mously prac­ti­cally sold out on its launch at Paris in 1972, oblig­ing Porsche to scram­ble build an­other thou­sand sim­ply to meet de­mand. The Group 4 track de­riv­a­tive, the bru­tal 2.8 RSR, won at Day­tona in Fe­bru­ary 1973 be­fore the RSʼS ho­molo­ga­tion pa­pers were even com­plete.

Porsche was not alone in tur­bocharg­ing rac­ers and tur­bocharg­ers were now on sev­eral man­u­fac­tur­ersʼ agen­das: in 1971-2, fac­tory tur­bocharged BMW 2002s had the mea­sure of nat­u­rally-as­pi­rated 911Ts in the Ger­man cham­pi­onships. Fuhrmann had his en­gin­ers dust off the early turbo projects ini­ti­ated by Piëch in 1969: Fuhrman­nʼs de­ter­mi­na­tion dis­missed the ʻcanʼt be doneʼ at­ti­tude that some­times pre­vailed among the Weis­sach men who claimed the 911ʼs en­gine com­part­ment had no space for a tur­bocharger. Fuhrmann sim­ply over­rode them: ʻMake it fit, he com­manded.

He had seen from the blown 917s that tur­bocharg­ing did not fun­da­men­tally af­fect the en­gine: there was no need to un­der­take ex­pen­sive struc­tural work to make crankcases or cylin­der heads stronger. The most im­por­tant aspect for a pro­duc­tion car would be fu­elling and emis­sions, and he pressed 911de­vel­op­ment man­ager Paul Hensler to make the turbo in­stal­la­tion work with the Bosch in­jec­tion sys­tem which was re­plac­ing me­chan­i­cal fuel in­jec­tion on the rest of the 911s.

An en­thu­si­as­tic mo­torist, Fuhrmann was keen to drive a tur­bocharged Porsche him­self and by May 1973 had a blown 2.7 devel­op­ment car. It suf­fered long turbo lag, but typ­i­cally Fuhrmann used this to demon­strate to his en­gi­neers what they had to over­come for pro­duc­tion.

Launched at the 1974 Paris Salon, the series pro­duc­tion 3.0 911Turbo, the 930, be­came a far big­ger suc­cess than Porsche had imag­ined, en­dow­ing the com­pany with a gen­uine su­per­car and bring­ing a new and well-heeled clien­tele into the Porsche fold. As Karl Lud­wigsen puts it, the Turbo was just the car needed to keep Porscheʼs dream of great cars alive. The 400 unit FIA ho­molo­ga­tion re­quire­ment for the Turbo was achieved in just a few months and by 1977, barely three years later, the 911ʼs track supremacy reached its zenith with cus­tomer tur­bocharged 934s, and ʻsil­hou­et­teʼ 935s dom­i­nat­ing both GT and sports car rac­ing. As vic­to­ries ac­crued, Porscheʼs name would be­come a by­word for turbo mas­tery.

Ernst Fuhrmann was an en­gi­neer ʼs en­gi­neer: in his first years as CEO he liked to in­volve him­self in projects in­stead of go­ing through his sub­or­di­nates, deal­ing di­rectly with Valentin Schäf­fer, for ex­am­ple, who built the first turbo pro­to­type: this used to ex­as­per­ate tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Hel­muth Bott; Schäf­fer re­calls that Fuhrmann merely re­garded Bott as a ʻchas­sis man.ʼ

He would also at­tend test­ing ses­sions and Mark Dono­hue amongst oth­ers was im­pressed to see him pick up a span­ner to work on a 917 at a win­ter test out­ing at Paul Ri­card. The Aus­trian al­ways had a taste for the lat­est tech­nol­ogy and had his 930 fit­ted with an early ABS sys­tem, though he quickly

“ERNST FUHRMANN WAS AN EN­GI­NEER’S EN­GI­NEER…”

had it re­moved (and ve­toed fur­ther devel­op­ment) when the sys­tem failed com­pletely and he sailed across a busy cross roads, mirac­u­lously with­out ac­ci­dent.

Of­ten im­pe­ri­ous, which in­side Porsche even­tu­ally made him deeply un­pop­u­lar, with out­siders Fuhrmann could also be ex­tremely per­son­able. Mark Dono­hue re­called how Porscheʼs CEO had sought him out af­ter the Amer­i­can fin­ished a bit­terly dis­ap­pointed fourth at River­side in 1972. A pit mis­un­der­stand­ing had cost him a cer­tain win though Porsche still took the Canam ti­tle.

In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Dono­hue re­calls how, dis­con­so­late, he had gone back to his mo­torhome in the pad­dock only to have Ernst Fuhrmann knock on the door: ʻHe said: “you should have won: letʼs have a drink.” And he pro­duced a bot­tle of whiskey which we drank with­out ice or glasses: it showed me how much he ap­pre­ci­ated what I had done for Porsche and what a fab­u­lous down-to-earth guy he was.ʼ

When Ernst Fuhrmann re­turned to Porsche in 1971 the fu­ture of cars like VWS and the 911 was in doubt be­cause of im­pend­ing Amer­i­can emis­sions and safety reg­u­la­tions. Be­sides widen­ing the 911 range with the 2.7 RS and the Turbo, he also saw his op­por­tu­nity to make a Porsche ac­cord­ing to his own in­ter­pre­ta­tion. This amounted to a kind of bet­ter en­gi­neered Chevro­let Corvette, be­cause, as Tony Lap­ine, who had the widest US ex­pe­ri­ence put it, the Amer­i­cans would be un­likely to out­law the kinds of cars they were mak­ing them­selves.

Hence the fu­tur­is­tic-look­ing 928 which com­bined a front mounted V8 with Fuhrman­nʼs fa­mous transaxle – the gear­box mounted at the rear to achieve near per­fect weight dis­tri­bu­tion, an ob­ses­sion of his. The 928 proved a very fine GT but, know­ing ob­servers re­marked, built by the wrong com­pany. Al­though they had worked hard and imag­i­na­tively to pro­duce it, few in Porsche ul­ti­mately liked their cre­ation: it was too far from the Porsche tra­di­tion, said Horst Mar­chart, the man who would later master­mind the 986-996 plat­form.

Mean­while, his wor­ry­ing an­nounce­ments about a timetable to end 911 pro­duc­tion were caus­ing ten­sion in the com­pany, and his em­pha­sis on the 928 was driv­ing a wedge be­tween him and Ferry Porsche: the lat­ter un­der­stand­ably felt the Porsche her­itage was be­ing usurped, though cru­cially he failed to say so openly. Ferry, es­sen­tially a mild man­nered man, could be very de­ci­sive when it mat­tered – the bold de­ci­sion to buy out Reut­ter just as the com­pany was tool­ing up to build the 911, or boldly evict­ing fam­ily place­men from the man­age­ment. Yet he would not con­front his CEO on the

vexed ques­tion of the 911.The at­mos­phere caused Fuhrmann to turn in on him­self. He lost in­ter­est in rac­ing, be­came an­gry and shrill with sub­or­di­nates and is­sued his fa­mous Ver­bot on fur­ther 911de­vel­op­ment, even threat­en­ing Bott with con­se­quences if the lat­ter pur­sued his Speed­ster project.

The Amer­i­can au­to­mo­bile writer, Jer­rold Sloniger, then a close ob­server of the Porsche scene and later US edi­tor of Christopho­rus, writes that in early 1979 there was a move to have Fer­di­nand Piëch brought back from Audi to serve as Fuhrman­nʼs deputy, tak­ing over from him in 1983 when the lat­ter reached statu­tory re­tire­ment age.

The plan fell through when the union mem­ber of the su­per­vi­sory board, a post to­day held by the heavy­weight Uwe Hack, ob­jected, point­ing to the ill-feel­ing that Piëchʼs in­tense style had caused dur­ing his time at Porsche. Piëch hardly helped his own cause by mak­ing less than favourable re­marks about the 928 and claim­ing his tur­bocharged all wheel drive Audi quat­tros were an ʻalarm sig­nalʼ for Porsche.

The 928 nev­er­the­less won the 1978 Car of the Year Award but, in Fer­ryʼs ab­sence, it was a lonely tri­umph for Fuhrmann. An­tag­o­nism in­creased when Ferry dis­cov­ered that his man­ag­ing di­rec­tor had not fol­lowed up a four-wheel drive study project in con­junc­tion with Piëch. Such tech­nol­ogy would have been in­com­pat­i­ble with the transaxle, but typ­i­cally Ferry and his CEO had never dis­cussed it.

Fuhrmann be­came more de­fen­sive and un­ap­proach­able and his sense of iso­la­tion grew; Ferry had moved his of­fice out of Werk 1 to Lud­wigs­burg to avoid see­ing his CEO on a daily ba­sis. This sur­real stand off could not con­tinue: the board­room dis­sentions were af­fect­ing the whole com­pany to the point where it was al­most paral­ysed. At last mu­tual friends ar­ranged for Fuhrmann to re­tire ele­gantly by tak­ing a pro­fes­sor­ship at Vi­enna Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity which had be­come va­cant.

It is easy with hind­sight to say that Ernst Fuhrmann was wrong to want to phase out the 911, but in 1972 a dis­tinct un­cer­tainty hung over the 911con­cept: in any case, few car de­signs could now ex­pect to last the 15 years of the 356. As for the 928, in its early years al­most as many units were sold as 911s; its transaxle sib­ling, the 924 (and later 944) pro­vided vi­tal turnover for more than a decade and broad­ened Porscheʼs mar­ket.

In 1991, re­flect­ing on his de­par­ture from Porsche, Fuhrmann told Leff­in­g­well: ʻThe 928 failed be­cause it was­nʼt a 911. In 1979 I even said to Dr Porsche I was pre­pared to go any day he had a new man ca­pa­ble of start­ing a new (post911) pro­gramme,ʼ an of­fer which was prob­a­bly re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing Fer­di­nand Piëch briefly into the dis­cus­sion. With some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion Fuhrmann main­tained, though, that his three achieve­ments at Porsche were the four-cam en­gine, tur­bocharg­ing the 911 and giv­ing Porsche en­gi­neers their head. He ar­gued, again not with­out rea­son, that in 1972 he had saved the ail­ing com­pany.

And his Porsche col­leagues did not all for­get him: in Oc­to­ber 1993, tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor and fel­low Aus­trian Horst Mar­chart jour­neyed with a small group of Mi­tar­beiter to Teufen­bach to cel­e­brate their old bossʼs 75th birth­day. Peter Falk, the en­gi­neer most as­so­ci­ated with the first twenty five years of the 911, was also a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor. He has al­ways main­tained that Fuhrmann was not against the 911.

Small in stature, Ernst Fuhrmann had to make up for this dis­ad­van­tage, says Karl Lud­wigsen in Ex­cel­lence was Ex­pected, through sheer com­pe­tence: and that he did: a bril­liant en­gi­neer whose en­thu­si­asm in­spired oth­ers and whose vi­sion for the 911 put it on race tracks and in the pub­lic eye as never be­fore, he ef­fec­tively cre­ated through the 911ʼs storm­ing sec­ond decade the icon it would be­come.

If Ernst Fuhrmann erred it was in not recog­nis­ing this. His con­tin­ued ob­ses­sion with leav­ing his mark at Porsche fi­nally blinded him to the fact that he al­ready had: his vi­sion gave Porsche, flag­ging slightly af­ter two mo­men­tous decades, a vi­tal sec­ond wind and the 911 Turbo, ar­guably with the E-type Jaguar, the most recog­nis­able and as­pi­ra­tional sports car of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. CP

“HIS VI­SION GAVE PORSCHE A VI­TAL SEC­OND WIND…”

Be­low: Fuhrmann (left) dis­cussing the lat­est 550 with jour­nal­ist-cum-rac­ing driver Richard von Franken­berg

Above left and right: Fuhrman­nʼs name will for­ever be as­so­ci­ated with Porscheʼs leg­endary four­cam en­gine. His prin­ci­pal in­put was in re­gard to the de­sign of the cylin­der heads

Above: Left to right – Ferry Porsche, Kurt Ahrens, race di­rec­tor Wil­helm Hild, Ernst Fuhrmann and Huschke von Hanstein with the first cus­tomer 550 (chas­sis #5550018), which Ahrens had just pur­chased. The date is 15 Jan­uary 1955

Above: At the Schauins­land hill­climb in 1953, Fuhrmann stand­ing be­hind the 550 Spy­der of Hans Stuck. Stuck fin­ished third, with fel­low Porsche driver Hans Her­rmann tak­ing the win

Above: Ernst Fuhrmann in 1978, along­side a new 928, the car some in Porsche be­lieved would out­live the 911. How­ever, de­spite pop­u­lar be­lief, Fuhrmann was not ʻanti-911ʼ…

Above: Cel­e­brat­ing vic­tory at Le Mans in 1977. Left to right are Jacky Ickx, Jür­gen Barth, Ernst Fuhrmann, Hur­ley Hey­wood, Hel­mut Bott and Henri Pescarolo

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