Man of Le Mans

Published in the December 2017 issue of “Die Porsche Kassette”

Ⓒ2017 Technolab / PedrosGarage.com

The Man of Le Mans              by Pedro P. Bonilla (GCR PCA)

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The Porsche Community lost one of it’s own very recently.

If you are reading this article, he touched your life one way or another.

I’m referring to Peter W. Schutz, former CEO of Porsche.


Through the years and because of his accomplishments Mr. Schutz has been called:

“The Man who saved the Porsche 911”, and I also call him

“The Man of Le Mans”.


Peter W. Schutz was born in Berlin, Germany in 1930 of Jewish parents.  In 1937, because of the rise of the Nazi Party the family emigrated to Havana, Cuba. Two years later they relocated and settled in Chicago, Illinois where he eventually went to college (Illinois Institute of Technology) and obtained his BS in Mechanical Engineering.

Right out of college Mr. Schutz was employed at Caterpillar Tractor where he worked his way up the corporate ladder for 15 years.  He then spent another 11 years working at Cummins Engine where he was involved in corporate strategic planning for the first 3 years and then 8 years as VP Sales.  In 1976 he was invited to speak at the Teamsters Convention.  When Cummins management questioned his decision to accept the appearance he left the company.

In 1980 Porsche suffered its first money-loosing year since its creation in 1948.  Much of the problem was due to declining sales in the US in part due to monetary exchange rates which drastically increased the prices of German products, constant quality control problems, and a less than enthusiastic embrace of the new designs of the 924 and 928 Porsche models.


Mr. Schutz investigated the root of the quality control issue, and found out that it was mainly a simple problem with the drive for the camshaft.  When he then asked why the problem had not been fixed he was told that it didn’t make sense, since the 911 was ending production that year in favor of the 924 and the 928.

The 911 had been the flagship of Porsche since 1963 and the announcement of its cancellation was causing low morale in the engineering department among others in the company.


While in the office of Helmuth Bott, chief of engineering, Mr. Schutz saw a chart that graphed the evolution of the 924, the 928 and the 911.  It showed projected production and sales numbers of the 924 and 928 for up to 20 years ahead but the line for the 911 ended that same year (1981).  Mr. Schutz got up from his chair, picked up a large black marker from Mr. Bott’s desk and extended the 911’s line to the end of the chart, then onto the wall and around to the hallway and told Mr. Bott to “make it happen”.  The problem with the camshaft was quickly fixed which ended the quality control issue.

With Bott’s and his team’s enthusiasm because of the revival of the 911 and with Mr. Schutz blessing,  Porsche went on to develop and introduce what many consider the ultimate 911, the 959 (in 1986).

(The Man that saved the 911).


But back to 1981. At the same time, the Porsche Racing Team was in the process of entering three modified 924s to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  Mr. Schutz quickly found out that there was no hope of winning with those entries and told his team that “they were going to race with the intention of winning, or not going at all”.

His engineers then decided to pull a 936 from the museum display and install in it an experimental engine that Porsche had developed for Indy Car Racing. 

Peter Schutz’ priority immediately became making sure that he had a proud team, eager to work and win, but they only had 61 days to make it happen. 

As he told the story: “In 61 days we couldn’t hire and train a bunch of new people, we couldn’t buy new tooling and machinery.  No.  In 61 days we couldn’t do anything but use what we had!

The racecar was being built out at Weissach, 4 or 5 kilometers away from the main plant.  I would go out there after I finished my chores, maybe at six o’clock or so and people from the plant, from engineers to the financial department, they would jump in their cars and would drive to Weissach.  They wanted to help.  They were cleaning parts, sweeping the floor, running errands, making coffee, and at 11:00 o’clock at night I would have to say: ‘all right folks, tomorrow is another day!’ And they didn’t want to leave.  They were all busy building this car.”


He goes on with his recount:

“A few days after I made the decision to go racing, the phone rang in my office, I picked up the receiver and a man’s voice said: ‘Mr. Schutz, my name is Jacky Ickx, I am a retired race car driver, (yea, right – he thought to himself -  this guy is the leading long-distance sports car driver in the entire world) if the rumors I am hearing are true, I would like to once again drive a Porsche at Le Mans’.  I told him, bring it on. 

Shortly thereafter Derek Bell, Jochen Mass, Al Holbert, Hurley Haywood, Vern Schuppan, Hans Stuck, all the best drivers were calling me asking if they could come and drive those cars.  If I had called any of these drivers and asked them to drive for Porsche the first thing they would have asked me is how much will you pay?  But Porsche didn’t have any money, and they knew it. 

Who the heck called these drivers and told them what was going on?

Well, it was quite a bit of work for me to find out who called all these people. 

It was Heinz Metzger, one of my engine designers, who in another day, when he was young and beautiful, was in Jacky Ickx’ pit crew, when Jacky was a star in rising in Formula 1. 

The other mechanics, all these ordinary people, got a hold of Heinz and told him: ‘Heinz you know this guy, why don’t you give him a call, tell him what we’re doing, if he comes and drives this car we can really win this thing’.  That’s who called the super stars.

We went to that race in June of 1981, and of course, we won.

Two years later, in 1978, he moved to Cologne, Germany and took over the Deutz Engine Division of Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz.  While there he was approached by Ferry Porsche who personally invited him to apply to the position of CEO at Porsche.  Porsche told Schutz that the company was not working as a cohesive unit, and they needed someone to make it all come together.  Although neither Porsche nor Schutz ever specifically stated it, it was believed that Mr. Schutz was selected out of the 12 candidates who applied in order to have an American running the company to re-ignite sales in the US which represented 60% of Porsche’s production and sales.

But not only did we just win the race.  We set the standard for 24 hour racing.  For the first time in the history of Le Mans, the winning car ran the whole 24 hours

and nobody ever

laid a wrench on

it.  All we did was

add oil and fuel,

change the brake

linings and the tires.

It was a whole new

standard.

For the first time in

over 20 years

Professor Porsche

came to the race. 

I made sure of that.

We won that race,

and we never again

lost while I was there. 

I left Porsche in ’87 and that was the last year we won (until 1996).

After the ’81 race, disaster struck.  Disaster struck in the form of change.  All the rules changed.  The Porsche 936 was never allowed to race again.  No more welded steel tube frame with a cosmetic fiberglass body.  For the first time we had to build what is now called a tub.  We had to build it out of aluminum, which is what we had back then.  There was no Kevlar or carbon fiber in those days.  In four months, during the winter of ‘81/’82, that bunch designed a brand new racecar, and in 1982 we went back to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with three brand new cars called Porsche 956s that had never raced before. 

They were numbers 1, 2, 3… and that’s how they finished!”  

(The Man of Le Mans).

After his tenure at Porsche,  Mr. Shutz and his wife Sheila Harris formed Harris & Schutz, Inc. in 1991 to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between Peter and business people all over the world.  Peter’s background in engineering – coupled with his experience in marketing and management – gave him a unique perspective on modern business. 


After he “retired”, he became a world-class speaker and presenter.  His appearances included association conventions, and conferences as well as in-company consulting and seminars. 

The Executive Committee (TEC – now known as Vistage) an organization of CEOs named Peter “Resource of the Year” in 1985.  Peter spoke to more than 400 TEC meetings world-wide, and that’s how I met him for the first time.  I was a member of a TEC Group in St. Louis and when it was my turn to host the meeting and invite a guest speaker I jumped at the opportunity to bring in the legendary Peter W. Schutz.  I had just placed the order for my Boxster one week before.  He was very excited to hear that and after a great meeting where he told us many Porsche stories and lessons learned, we had dinner together and he gave me a bunch of tips on which options to get and which to pass on. 

We kept in touch and even coincided in a couple of other gatherings, including some PCA Board Member meetings in Naples where he resided until his passing.  At one of those meetings we presented him with a PedrosBoard hat which he gracefully modeled for the camera.


Rest in Peace, Peter Schutz.

You will be missed.


Happy Porsche’ing forever,

For more information on Peter Schutz and Porsches, please visit my website:  

www PedrosGarage.com.