Born: April 17 1937

Deceased : August 25 2019

Biography Ferdinand Piech

Ferdinand  Piëch was born in Vienna, Austria, to Louise and Anton Piëch, a lawyer. Louise Porsche was the sister of Ferry Porsche and daughter of Ferdinand Porsche. Ferdinand  Piëch studied at the Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz. He graduated from the ETH Zurich, Switzerland, in 1962, with a degree in mechanical engineering. Piëch wrote a master thesis about the development of a Formula One (F1) engine. At the same time, Porsche was involved in F1 and developed an 8-cylinder engine for the Porsche 804. Probably that development was a trigger for Ferdinand Piëch to write that master thesis about the development of an F1 engine. 

It may not be very well known, but it was Ferdinand Piëch who stimulated the design and development of the 1967 Porsche 911R.  From 1963 to 1971, Ferdinand  Piëch worked at Porsche in Stuttgart, on the development of the Porsche 906. The first proper race car that finally led to the successful Porsche 917.   Ferdinand Piëch wanted a car that was as light as a Porsche 911 could possibly be. It is told that he had a scale on his desk and every single part had to be weighed and should be lighter or it went into de trashbin. A strategy that worked, with the world records in the 1967 Monza record run as one of the major results.

The BP 911R at Monza 09 (11899001R)
The BP 911R at Monza 07 (11899001R)

Piech and Audi / Volkswagen

In 1972, he moved to Audi in Ingolstadt. Starting from 197. As the manager of technological engineering, he was responsible for the concepts of the Audi 80 and Audi 100. Ferdinand Piëch celebrated his 40th birthday on 17 April 1977 with a ball at which guests included Giorgetto Giugiaro. The staff of the Porsche Hotel presented him with an Audi 80 that was just 40 cm (16 in) long and constructed of marzipan. In 1977 he also initiated the development of a car for the World Rally Championship. The final result of that development was the four-wheel drive Audi Quattro. The engine used in the Quattro model was a turbocharged inline-5 cylinder unit.

In 1993, Ferdinand Piëch moved to Volkswagen AG, the parent company of the Volkswagen Group. where he became Chairman of the Board of Management At that time Volkswagen was only three months from bankruptcy, and Ferdinand Piëch was central to orchestrating its dramatic turnaround. Due to his continued influence in the auto industry, Automobile Magazine announced that Piëch has won their Man of the Year award for 2011.

Pitstop and driver change in the 1970 Le Mans 24H in the Salzburg Porsche 917
Pitstop and driver change in the 1970 Le Mans 24H in the Salzburg Porsche 917


At Porsche, Ferdinand Piëch triggered significant changes in the company’s policy. For example, the position of drivers in race cars was moved from the left to the right. This gives advantages to the predominantly clockwise race tracks. After making mainly small 2000 cc race cars that were supposed to be closely related to road cars, Porsche made a risky investment by unexpectedly building twenty-five 5000 cc Porsche 917. No need to tell this surprised the rule makers at the FIA. Even Ferrari had needed to sell his company to Fiat before making such a move. Always thinking big, Ferdinand Piëch started development of a 16-cylinder engine for the Can-Am series.

It is probably no coincidence that his grandfather Ferdinand Porsche had developed a famous supercharged 16-cylinder engine for the Auto Union racing cars in the 1930s. Ferdinand Piëch was denied the chance to complete it, as a turbocharged version of the existing 12-cylinder was simpler, more powerful and very successful. Three decades later as CEO of Volkswagen Group, Ferdinand Piëch insisted on the very ambitious Bugatti Veyron. The Veyron has a turbocharged W16-cylinder, develops 1,001 horsepower (746 kW. This enables the Veyron to reach a top speed of 407 km/h (253 mph). Some of these figures are still not higher than those of the Porsche 917/30. However, they’re higher than most current racing cars.  The book ‘Porsche & Piech” by Eckard Schimpf gives a complete overview of the realizations of Ferdinand Piëch at Porsche.

Porsche ownership

Ferdinand Piëch used to own a significant share of Porsche, exactly 10%. In order to prevent discussions among the many family members, a policy was established in early 1972 that no Porsche family member is allowed to be involved in the management of the company. Even company founder Ferry Porsche, Piëch’s uncle, only held a seat on the supervisory board of Porsche after the company’s legal form was changed from a limited partnership to a private legal company. This made Piëch move to Audi after the foundation of his engineering bureau. In 2017 Ferdinand Piëch sold all his share in the Porsche group. That made him even a bigger billionaire than he ever was.

Personal life and management style

Ferdinand Piëch is the father of 12 children. He was married to 4 different women. He is currently married to Ursula (Uschi) Piëch. He is dyslexic, an atheist, and has a vast car collection. That includes two Bugatti Veyrons that are regularly driven by him and his wife. An aggressive and demanding manager, Piëch’s prolific firing of subordinates throughout his career has been legendary in automotive circles. Particularly the way Ferdinand Piëch engineered the ousting of former Volkswagen CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder and Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking.  According to Ferdinand Piëch, he fires any subordinate who “makes the same mistake twice”. However, his efforts to similarly oust chief executive Martin Winterkorn backfired. This finally led to the resignations of Ferdinand Piëch and his wife from the supervisory board.

In 2014, Ferdinand Piëch was inducted to the Automotive Hall of Fame