August Achleitner: the final interview
April first. April Fools’ Day. A hugely significant day for Porsche, and specifically the 911, as August Achleitner will close his office door at Porsche for the last time, handing the keys over to Frank-Steffen Walliser.
Achleitner’s business cards might say ‘Vice President Product Line 911 and 718’, but he’s long been referred to simply as ‘Mr 911’. He opened the door to that office 18 years ago on 1 April 2001, Dr Dürheimer giving him the job of looking after Porsche’s most famous model.
His leaving is arguably as seismic a change as many of the key points in the 911’s development, Achleitner overseeing the water-cooled era of Porsche, starting with the 996 and signing off with the recently launched 992. You don’t walk straight into a job where you’re responsible for the model that defines a brand. No, when Achleitner removes his nameplate from the door he’ll have been at Porsche for 35 years.
It was perhaps inevitable that Achleitner would work for Porsche. He is the son of a vehicle engineer, born in Cologne, Germany, to Austrian parents, while his father was working for Ford before moving to BMW.
The young Achleitner studied engineering in Munich while his father worked at BMW, Achleitner adding economics to his curriculum in a bid to ensure his eventual career path didn’t follow the normal route. “I saw which kind of jobs my former colleagues of my engineering studies had at BMW, and I thought to myself, I don’t agree with that. It’s too small to be responsible for the left door handle. That’s not my target.”
The engineer wouldn’t, of course, start at the top of Porsche, but his ambition and talent undoubtedly dictated his successful career path. He admits always wanting to work for the company, saying: “I was always a Porsche fan, from my childhood. When I joined I was only in engineering because of my additional studies in chassis; I did five years in chassis development.”
A neighbour having a bright-red 356 when he was growing up might have influenced him, too. His first role was with Porsche Engineering, the company’s offshoot that quietly undertakes work for other manufacturers. “At the beginning I had many projects for customers, because Porsche was always doing customer development at that time, more so than today,” says Achleitner.
He admits during this period to being kept busy by BMW, doing some work for Audi and others and also travelling to Detroit to work with Pontiac. Porsche’s own projects started taking over Achleitner’s time, his first work on the 911 relating the brakes. “The only part which I designed and drew by myself that made it to production was the new brake disc off the 964 Turbo,” chuckles Achleitner, admitting that every time he sees one he thinks, ‘I did that’.
A visible contribution there, albeit through the wheel spokes, but it would be what was behind the 964 replacement’s brake discs that would help define Achleitner’s career path. Achleitner was one of the engineers responsible for the Lightweight Stable Agile (LSA), or ‘Weissach’ axle introduced with the 993.
It had been developed in part for the shelved 989 four-door Porsche, the multi-link rear axle being transformational in helping add some predictability to the 911’s dynamic behaviour. That basic rear-axle concept remains to this day, Achleitner saying it’s under the 992, adding: “It’s always a little bit improved, but it’s the same concept. No big changes.”
For the full, final interview with ‘Mr 911’ August Achleitner, pick up your copy of Total 911 issue 178 in shops now or get it delivered to your door via here. You can also download a digital copy with high definition bonus galleries to any Apple or Android device.