Originally from Yorkshire, Tony Hatter has been at Porsche for 31 and has worked on various seminal projects that are indelible in Porsche’s illustrious history. And as you can imagine, the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart was the ideal setting for a good grilling. After a walk around the hallowed halls, with Tony pointing out his various automotive canvases - it was time to get down to brass tacks.
“My initial interest in cars, like most young boys, came from Dinky toys, along with my dad bringing various car brochures home as he decided on the next purchase. Then when buying Motor magazine and Autocar, I just became infatuated with cars, racing cars in particular.
Finding his way
As the years went on, the idea of becoming a car designer began to solidify. However, his location in the North of England didn’t lend itself to such a pursuit.
“In those days there were hardly any car designers. They were people kept in cellars somewhere in the motoring industry. Being disconnected from the industry, I was channelled into some sort of mechanical engineering course at school, then I went on to do an OND in technology in Harrogate. Yet I still didn’t really know how to get into the car industry, still didn’t know people drew cars for a living. So it took a while to find somebody who could say, ‘here’s something you could look at.’”
Tony then switched to a degree in mechanical engineering. “I flunked,” he says. “It was apparent that the course wasn’t what I was searching for.” However, an advert for a four-year course in Industrial Design (Transportation) at Coventry’s Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University) came to his attention. But the real breakthrough came via a Master’s in Automotive Design at the Royal College of Art in London.
“The transport design degree got me quite a long way but the Master’s was the big turning point,” he says. “It was when the world of car design really opened up for me.”
The big break
From there he landed a job at Opel in Germany – the ultimate goal was always Porsche but they weren’t recruiting at the time. “Working at General Motors was super training,” he says. “I gained a great insight into the industry and I was also able to learn German.”
Then five years later in 1986 the planets aligned with a successful application to Porsche and relocation to Stuttgart. “In those days we made 911s and the water-cooled cars, 928s and 924s, but there wasn’t the dynamic project landscape that you have today,” he recalls. “There were a few designers, quite a few Brits in those days, and we started off doing little bits here and there.”
However, it was the 911 that would make his name. “It came about as the 964 had been around for a few years, but it wasn’t really accepted as being enough,” says Tony. “The car was something like 80 or 90 per cent new, though you couldn’t tell from the exterior. It had new bumpers, but apart from that no one could tell it was a true evolution.
“So, with the 993 the brief was to advance the shape. The 959 had already come and gone and had become an icon – there were some design clues we could use from that and that’s how we did the 993.”
Updating such an automotive icon wasn’t to be taken lightly, so how did he go about such a task? “The biggest challenge was knowing when to stop. It was a tightrope walk working on a car that was so in the face of the public. We didn’t want to do so much that people lost faith; but too little, as in the 964, wouldn’t be good either. So we went down the middle and tried to do something that still made it like a 911, yet modern.”
“I think the overall proportions are great. It’s really narrow at the back – we managed to tuck it in – it has super hips. If you close your eyes and touch the fender forms you can feel where the wheels belong. It’s a very taut, muscular car, especially the 2S, which has the wider rear. There’s also the overall balance between the front and rear. If you look at a dark car with highlights reflecting along the fenders, you see that the highlights and the reflections balance each other out.”
From road to track
Once the job was done, and several years before the 993 hit the streets to critical acclaim, me being one of those critics, Tony worked on the Turbo version, then made the switch to Le Mans cars.
The foray into race car design happened in 1995. At the time Tony was working with groundbreaking design technology: “I’m a designer, not a computer expert, so building surfaces on a screen was a new experience,” says Tony.
“I’d been working on this for a few months when I was told ‘we have a new project for you, call this guy.’ It turned out to be the 911 Le Mans cars – the first GT1. That was the starting point of the 911 GT1 series. That car went on to nearly win Le Mans, then we did an evolution that once again nearly won. Then the third one, which was a complete monocoque – the GT1 98 – finally took the chequered flag at Le Mans.”
Tony then became manager of external projects. “It was a similar approach. You’re working with the customer so money is important, along with working to a schedule. This was a great grounding for my last job, Sports Car Design Manager. And now I’m Director of Design Quality. Le Mans was good training for everything that has come since.”
Designing an icon
That includes the road-going version of the Carrera GT, a true supercar that was lapped up by the motoring press on launch, partly thanks to its exquisite shape that sits just the right side of imposing.
“I got involved with the Carrera GT shortly before the show car was finished. This was based on a chopped-up Boxster – we bolted the stillborn LMP1 V10 engine on to the back and that was the show car,” says Tony. “My job was to make it into a real car.
“I worked with the racing department, so I was back with the same crew I worked with on the GT1. It was a case of ‘hey guys, let’s get the band back together!’ It was a fantastic experience. We had to do so many changes on that car – the brief was to try to make it look like the show car, but if you put the two together they’re different cars. It even has a roof and the radiator’s at the front.”
And the future? “I can’t really go into too much detail about upcoming projects, but it’s no secret that we’re working on electric mobility – that’s going to be the next milestone for Porsche. It’s going to be a huge occasion but it will be a challenge from a design perspective.”
Despite all the technological advances, and the ever-escalating competition to produce faster, more powerful cars, Tony believes that car design will become increasingly important.
“We say this every year – design is becoming more and more central, especially as performance evens out. It’ll be less pertinent as the differences in performance become more marginal, so the direction will become much more design relevant.”
Signing off, I have to ask: with more than three decades at Porsche under his belt, what does the marque mean to Tony? “I don’t think there’s another company in the world like Porsche,” he explains. “It’s a family company, still relatively small – it was very small when I joined – making great cars with only one objective – to make the best-performing car that they can.”
Enjoy a full video interview with Tony by simply clicking here.