Ferdinand Piech, the enigmatic figure who spearheaded Porsche’s rise to global sporting dominance, has died in Bavaria at the age of 82.
Piech was the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche and arrived at the family firm as a hot-headed youngster in the mid-1960s. In later life, a more measured if no less ruthless Piech would reshape Volkswagen into the most influential automotive group in the world, but for the Porsche community he is best remembered as the passionate and ingenious engineer who took on the established racing royalty of Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Ford, and won.
A messianic figure with a devoted following, feared and revered in equal measure, Piech was as uncompromising as he was inspired, creating the 917 with a minimal team and within a tiny development window. The huge financial investment this required left Porsche dangerously exposed in 1969, but by the end of the year Zuffenhausen had a world beater on its hands and never looked back.
Piech moved to Audi in the early 1970s, masterminding the brand’s growth into the luxury segment and propelling the development of ‘quattro’ all-wheel drive technology that would ultimately see Audi demolish all comers in the World Rally Championship.
After moving to VW in 1993, Piech turned the company’s fortunes around with ruthless restructuring and cost-cutting measures. The formidable entity he eventually created was able to resist a hostile takeover from Porsche in 2008 and successfully return the favour four years later, adding Porsche to a portfolio that included Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti alongside Audi, Skoda and Seat.
A passionate and occasionally prickly personality, Piech made waves wherever he went, the effects of which will continue to be felt for many years to come. His attention to detail and absolute refusal to compromise made him a both genius in the workshop and a tour de force in the boardroom. He will be greatly missed.