Automotive giant Ferdinand Piech has passed away. We remember him through five of his most fantastic cars
Photos: Manufacturers, Newspress
Ferdinand Piech, automotive executive, engineer and business leader, passed away on 25 August 2019.
The grandson of Porsche/Volkswagen founder Ferdinand Porsche, Piech began his career in Porsche in the 1960s, then moved to Audi in the 1970s because of a rule stating that no Porsche family member could manage the company. In 1993 he became CEO of Volkswagen Group, setting it up for its long term success via platform strategy and extensive brand acquisitions.
While his business exploits are notable enough, it’s the cars that really define the man, especially in their extremes ranging from the hyper-efficient to the hyper-hyper. We’ve chosen five cars Piech was instrumental in creating.
1970 Porsche 917
Piech began his career at Porsche thanks to a nod from his uncle, (the other) Ferdinand Porsche. But engineering brilliance was something he always had, and he was chief of development for the motorsports division, beginning with the 906, although this car, the 917 was perhaps his best known machine, since it took Porsche’s very first LeMans victory in 1970. Powered by a 4.5-litre flat 12 engine, the 917 had numerous variants including a 917 K (short).
1980 Audi Quattro
Before Piech, Audi didn’t really stick out from the crowd, it being an amalgam of various historical brands (an ‘Auto Union’ including Horch and DKW) but Piech – then Audi’s tech head – was one of the driving forces that turned Audi into what it is today by creating the Audi Quattro. All-wheel drive and the five-cylinder engine in a car meant to maximise racing success, not just production numbers, with a strong link between the two.
2002 Volkswagen Phaeton
Not all of Piech’s dream machines were successes though, and the Volkswagen Phaeton is a good example. Made as a direct riposte to Mercedes-Benz entering the small car market with the A-Class, the Phaeton was a ridiculously ambitious car that became known as Piech’s personal hobby-horse and fell short of its sales targets. It did have wonderful engineering aboard though, besides Piech’s mad demands that the car be able to do 300km/h all day long (at 50 degrees air temperature) it also packed some brilliant engines we’ll never see again, including the 6.0-litre W12 and 5.0-litre V10 TDI.
2005 Bugatti Veyron
Enough has been said about the Veyron over the years to warrant it legendary status, but it should be said that a totally insane car perhaps needed a less-than-sane bigwig to force it into existence. Obliquely like the Lexus LFA (which Akio Toyoda made possible), the Veyron was born at Piech’s insistence – a no-compromises car for the renowned (and feared) business magnate who fired ‘any employee that made the same mistake twice.’ Piech himself owned two Veyrons.
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2013 Volkswagen XL1
While he may not have been a moderate, well-liked people person, you can’t accuse Piech of being boring. In 2002 he drove a prototype of the VW XL1, a hyper-efficient vehicle, to the VW Group shareholders’ meeting. The diesel-powered PHEV (plug in hybrid) looked like the future and delivered an insane efficiency of 0.9L/100km – in other words you could go more than 20 times as far in an XL1 than in a Veyron.
Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Piëch driving the XL1
Our own Ben Chia drove the XL1 a few years back and says, “Nothing about the XL1 feels ‘normal’ in the traditional car sense. It feels like a futuristic race car, with its extremely low driving position, cameras for mirrors and lack of power steering, all of which helps in its single-minded chase for efficiency.”