It was a day like any other. In a restaurant at the German town of Rosenheim, an elderly couple dined. Out of a sudden, the husband collapsed. Emergency workers rushed him to the hospital, but he didn't make it. That was the moment that the automotive world lost Ferdinand Piech forever.

Auf Wiedersehen, Ferdinand

He made Enzo sell half of Ferrari to Fiat; propelled Audi to become a true premium brand; rescued Volkswagen from near bankruptcy; and was the brains behind more than a few legendary cars. Few people have impacted the automotive industry as profoundly as Ferdinand Piech.



Piech is well-known to be the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the man who created the original Volkswagen Beetle and founded the illustrious sports car company that bears the family name.  An interesting fact often overlooked is that although Volkswagen and Porsche are regarded as German companies, the Porsche family are Austrian.


Perhaps inspired by the exploits of his illustrious grandfather, Piech cultivated a strong love for engineering. He graduated as a mechanical engineer from Switzerland.

Piech departs this world leaving behind a legacy of considerable success, imprinting a massive impact on the automotive industry. A comprehensive rundown of his achievements are perhaps too lengthy to publish; even the iceberg tip of his list makes for an impressive resume – this was a man who had a hand in the Porsche 911 and Bugatti Veyron.

Ferdinand Porsche with grandsons Ferdinand 'Butzi' Porsche (left) and Ferdinand Piech (right)

Career Milestones


Porsche 917 (1969)

Piech’s first job in the industry. As head of motorsports in 1969, he pushed for the development of the 917 with the objective of winning the Le Mans 24 Hours.


Aerodynamic issues plaguing the car’s handling meant that victory did not come immediately. But after a year of fiddling and finetuning, the 917 dominated 1970 with nine victories in the World Sportscar Championship.


Enzo Ferrari actually sold half his business to Fiat to fund development of the Ferrari 512 to compete against the 917.

Mercedes-Benz OM617 five-cylinder diesel

In a brief period after leaving Porsche, Piech ran a small engineering firm during which he helped Mercedes-Benz develop the OM617 five-cylinder diesel engine.


Used in various Mercedes-Benz models from the mid-1970s right up to the early 1990s, the OM617 is known to be one of the most reliable engines ever produced.

Audi Quattro

Piech joined Audi in 1972, quickly rising to become Manager of Technological Engineering by 1975. His crowning achievement at Ingolstadt was the original Quattro to spearhead Audi’s participation in rallying.


Besides pioneering the growth of Audi’s expertise in all-wheel drive technology, the Quattro was also noted for its legendary five-cylinder powerplant that Piech himself vehemently championed.

Rescuing Volkswagen from bankruptcy

It may sound difficult to believe today, but Volkswagen was a mere 3 months away from bankruptcy when Piech was appointed Chairman of its board in 1993. Putting his passion for engineering to full use, he pushed for significant improvements in product quality, pushing the Volkswagen brand value upmarket along the way.

After managing to turn a few rounds of profits, he proceeded to grow the empire by adding Bentley, Lamborghini, and Bugatti into the Volkswagen Group. The long-drawn acquisition of Bentley was perhaps the one time that Piech found himself outsmarted by a rival, having taken over the Bentley marque, the Crewe factory, and all its technical knowhow only to see the rights to Rolls-Royce brand fall into the hands of BMW.


Interestingly, the man who orchestrated BMW’s capture of the Rolls-Royce brand, Bernd Pischetsrider, went on to join Volkswagen in 2000 and succeeded Piech as Volkswagen AG chairman in 2002. Pischetsrider himself was subsequently replaced by Martin Winterkorn in 2006, his departure reportedly due to differences with Piech.

Volkswagen Phaeton

Despite already having the Audi A8 in the segment, Piech had no qualms commissioning Volkswagen to build a Mercedes S-Class rival. Although overall sales response of the Phaeton turned out lukewarm, it was a car engineered to the highest pedigree, being more closely related to a Bentley Continental than it is to the A8 which it shares the same segment with. They even built a special factory just to make the car.

Bugatti Veyron

Ferdinand Porsche’s success with the Auto Union V16 race cars of the 1930s had nurtured Piech’s strong interest toward 16-cylinder engines. After an aborted attempt to develop a 16-cylinder for Porsche to compete in the Can-Am race series, Piech was finally able to tickle this particular fancy with the Bugatti Veyron, which had an 8.0-litre quad-turbocharged W16 engine with rated outputs of 1,001PS and 1,250Nm, and capable of exceeding 400km/h. Only 450 were ever built, and Volkswagen reportedly lost seven-figure sums on each of them.

Reverse takeover of Porsche

Perhaps Piech’s biggest victory is the successful reverse takeover of Porsche by Volkswagen, after the former had quietly accumulated 42.6 percent shares of the latter, only for the global financial crisis to put a brake on Porsche’s cash flow. Suddenly straddled by €10 billion of debt, Porsche had no choice but to sell out to, ironically, Volkswagen.

Fiery Genius

There cannot be enough words or pages to adequately sum up the genius or achievements of Ferdinand Piech. We are talking about the man who created the legendary Quattro and the W16 engine, and who was also largely responsible for pushing acceptance of dual clutch transmission and direct fuel injection by the masses.

Through his intervention, brands like Bugatti, Bentley, Lamborghini, Porsche, Audi, Scania, MAN, Ducati, Skoda, and Seat were rescued from oblivion and taken to all new heights. His audacity brought us the Volkswagen Phaeton, Audi A2, Porsche 917, and even revived the Beetle.


This man was the reason that Volkswagen was able to emerge from near bankruptcy in the early 1990s and turn itself into a powerhouse within the same decade, snapping up car brands, creating legendary vehicles, and embarking on various ambitious feats and projects.


With the passing of Ferdinand Piech, the automotive industry lost a true icon, one which we may never see the like of again.

Ferdinand Porsche