Former Volkswagen CEO and chairman Ferdinand Piech passed away on Sunday, leaving behind a famous and sometimes infamous legacy. Piech oversaw the growth of the VW auto group into one of the largest automotive manufacturers in the world. Piech led the Volkswagen group in the acquisition of Bentley, Lamborghini, Seat, Bugatti, Porsche, and Suzuki. For all his successes in the board room, Piech started out his automotive career as an engineer. He helped develop or oversaw some of the most iconic vehicles in history.
The 24 Hours of LeMans is one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world and Porsche wanted a piece of the action. Ford was dominating with its GT40, so utilizing Piech and other engineers, the 917 was born. It was powered by a 4.5 liter flat-12 which was basically just 2 2.25 liter flat-6 racing engines from other vehicles. The chassis was revolutionary for its time, weighing in at only 93 pounds and permanently pressurized to aid in finding any cracks in the welds. The 917 was constantly refined over its racing career. Early models did not have sufficient downforce to remain stable, so fins were added to the body. Engines were enlarged to keep up with the other competitors. A flat-16 prototype was made but never raced. Turbochargers were added instead. A 5.3 liter twin turbo flat-12 was the most powerful engine ever raced. In qualifying trim, the vehicle produced almost 1600 horsepower on 39 pounds of boost. James May drove a 917 for an episode of The Grand Tour.
Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4
Piech gave the green light for Bugatti to build, not only the most powerful luxury car in the world, but the most powerful and fastest vehicle ever made. Four turbochargers fed the massive 8.0 liter W16 engine, producing an eye watering 987 hp and 922 lb/ft. That amount of power and all-wheel drive helped move the 4100-pound Veyron to 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds. The top speed of the Veyron was 253 mph, 12 mph faster than the McLaren F1 which held the top spot for over a decade. In 2010, the Veyron Super Sport debuted with 1184 hp and a higher top speed, 258 mph.
New Volkswagen Beetle
The original “people’s car” was a huge sales hit for decades, but was killed off in 1977 due to increasing competition from other manufacturers. VW was looking for something to jumpstart its sales both in America and internationally. Two different Beetle prototypes were built and shown off at auto shows. Strong public reaction let Piech know he was on to something so in 1998, the new Beetle was released. Built on a Golf platform, the new Beetle had a perfect mix of retro styling and new technology. Sales were strong initially but the new Beetle suffered the same fate as the original, with production ending in July of 2019.