FA ‘Butzi’ Porsche

Af­ter de­sign­ing his iconic 911, Butzi’s sub­se­quent ca­reer at Porsche was sur­pris­ingly modest

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by Kieron Fen­nelly

In the af­ter­math of the new 992’s big re­veal, we look back at the man re­spon­si­ble for de­sign­ing the first 911

Known to his fam­ily as Butzi, which was also how writ­ers would later re­fer to him to dis­tin­guish him from his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther, Fer­di­nand Alexan­der III was the first of Dorothea and Ferry Porsche’s four sons. Schooled in Aus­tria and Ger­many, he went to Bosch in Stuttgart on a three-year ap­pren­tice­ship and stud­ied for two terms at the Ulm In­sti­tute of De­sign be­fore join­ing the fam­ily firm in 1957. Ini­tially work­ing un­der engi­neer­ing direc­tor Karl Rabe, Butzi soon grad­u­ated from tech­ni­cal draw­ings to mod­el­ling and de­sign.

This was a fer­tile time at Porsche. The 356 needed a suc­ces­sor and Ferry, an ad­mirer of Al­brecht von Go­ertz’s BMW 507, had ap­proached the de­signer for his ideas for the new Porsche. How­ever, Von Go­ertz’s pro­posal dis­ap­pointed Ferry in­tensely, be­ing far more an­gu­lar than the spec­i­fi­ca­tion he had re­quested, and he re­alised that the new Porsche would have to be con­ceived in-house. All avail­able tal­ent was di­rected to­wards this end, and it was soon ap­par­ent to Ferry that those two terms at art col­lege had not been wasted on his son.

Hitherto, body engi­neer­ing had been in the hands of Erwin Komenda, a Porsche stal­wart who de­signed the Bee­tle and the Porsche 356 Speed­ster. The old­school Komenda ran his de­part­ment au­to­crat­i­cally: the ques­tion of style did not en­ter the ar­gu­ment and engi­neer­ing re­quire­ments took prece­dence over de­sign. For Butzi, de­sign was para­mount: it be­stowed ev­ery­thing – looks, in­te­rior space, han­dling, the very essence of the car. Engi­neer­ing should be sub­or­di­nate to de­sign. Nei­ther party quite recog­nised it at the time, but Butzi’s gen­er­a­tion was the first to in­cor­po­rate styling as a con­cept.

Ferry Porsche could see this, though, and be­gan to re­alise that his son’s ideas in­ter­preted the fu­ture in a way his old col­league’s did not. Komenda thought that the mar­ket was in dan­ger of be­ing sat­u­rated by two-seater cars and that Porsche should move to­wards a four seater. This was not at all how Butzi saw it, and Ferry had to ar­bi­trate, com­ing down in favour of his son and over­rul­ing his col­league of 30 years. Fa­ther and son also dis­agreed: Ferry wanted a wheel­base of at least 2.4 me­tres to give pre­dictable han­dling; this was much too long for Butzi,

up­set­ting the roofline he planned, but he ac­qui­esced and the pro­to­type was built – project 695 or Type 7 – with the same 2.4-me­tre wheel­base as the Bee­tle.

As pho­to­graphs show, the front of the fu­ture

911 as far as the A pil­lar was al­ready ap­par­ent. The long-wheel­base de­sign al­lowed for the 2+2 cabin, but the tail was more Citroën DS than 356 and the shape was an un­happy half­way house be­tween true coupe and sa­loon. Ferry drove this car for a few months in 1960, but re­port­edly never liked it. Nu­mer­ous fur­ther sketches would emerge from Butzi’s de­part­ment, now called the de­sign stu­dio, un­til at last a shape was agreed in late 1961 and the de­sign frozen. Ferry had given in to Butzi as the wheel­base was a mere 2.221mm. The 911 as we now know it was in ges­ta­tion. Butzi’s draw­ings also pro­duced the slim 804 For­mula One car which Porsche cam­paigned in 1962, as well as the fared nose of the RS 60 and sub­se­quent rac­ers, a de­sign fea­ture which dis­tin­guished his re­mark­able 904, a model with which Fer­di­nand Alexan­der is as much as­so­ci­ated with as the 911.

Erwin Komenda died in 1966 and Butzi was pro­moted to styling direc­tor, mak­ing of­fi­cial what had long been de facto. But Butzi’s in­flu­ence was be­gin­ning to wane: he had al­ready turned down the chance to fash­ion the only other new Porsche of the 1960s, the 914, del­e­gat­ing its de­sign to mod­eller Hein­rich Klie. Now Butzi had se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion from his am­bi­tious cousin Fer­di­nand Piëch, who in three short years at Porsche had be­come tech­ni­cal direc­tor and was by 1967 pro­mot­ing the en­er­getic rac­ing pro­gramme which would re­sult in vic­to­ries at Le Mans and the in­cred­i­ble 917. Piëch also took the 911 in hand and re­solved its un­pre­dictable han­dling, partly by length­en­ing the wheel­base by 57mm. It was in­creas­ingly the in­tense Fer­di­nand Piëch and not the far eas­ier go­ing Butzi who be­gan to look like the heir ap­par­ent to the Porsche em­pire, a ri­valry ended when the fam­ily with­drew from the busi­ness in 1971, which meant Piëchs and Porsches could no longer be em­ploy­ees by right.

Re­main­ing a Porsche share­holder, Butzi took his tal­ents back to Aus­tria where he es­tab­lished Porsche De­sign as an haute cou­ture brand, putting the fam­ily name on any num­ber of clev­erly styled sun­glasses, pens and watches and mak­ing it a watch­word for stylised per­sonal ac­ces­sories. In one of his last full in­ter­views, speak­ing in March 1997 to Au­to­car’s

Peter Robin­son, a sea­soned Porsche writer, Butzi ex­pressed re­gret that he was no longer de­sign­ing Porsche, but ac­cepted that the fam­ily had to stand back from the busi­ness for it to de­velop. As a board mem­ber he still had re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at Zuf­fen­hausen, and from 1990 to 1993 he headed the su­per­vi­sory board, tak­ing over from the 81-year-old Ferry. He was never at ease in this role: soon-to-be-ousted CEO Arno Bohn later re­marked, “Butzi was a nice guy, pos­si­bly too nice. I thought he couldn’t keep up in his role as chair­man.”

In more re­cent years Butzi Porsche ap­peared less and less of­ten in pub­lic, in 2005 ced­ing his board po­si­tion to his son Oliver. That year too in a rare pub­lic out­ing and on his

70th birth­day, he drove in his 993 Speed­ster up Gross­glock­ner, Aus­tria’s high­est moun­tain pass, for a small gath­er­ing of open-topped 911 own­ers. Smil­ing sport­ingly for the cam­era, he looked frail, and sub­se­quent ru­mours emerged that he was suf­fer­ing from a de­bil­i­tat­ing ner­vous dis­ease. In his last years he be­came house­bound, and sadly passed away in April 2012.

When Robin­son had asked him why the 911 had sur­vived so long, he said, “It was my fa­ther’s idea that a car should not be so os­ten­ta­tious, or so ag­gres­sive; the shape should be har­mo­nious yet also have pres­ence. The 911 has bal­ance. It is also small. There is a mod­esty about the car which makes it no­table. Good de­sign is where you don’t force things into suc­cess or recog­ni­tion. Catch a glimpse of the sil­hou­ette and you know it is a 911.”

“The 911 has bal­ance. It is also small. There is a mod­esty about the car which makes it no­table”

Be­low Ferry Alexan­der pos­ing with a Typ 964 in 1992, a time when he headed the Su­per­vi­sory Board

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