Pinky Lai speaks: “I had to deal with the fate of the 911”

Bizarrely enough, our interview with Pinky Lai materialised through little more than sheer chance. The story begins on Total911.com, where the subject of one of our Thursday opinion columns, ‘In praise of the 996 Carrera’, came to the attention of the designer responsible for the car under our scrutiny.

Pinky, what attracted you to automotive design?
I had never heard of such a profession until I accidentally answered an advertisement from Ford of Cologne, as they were looking for a young and experienced designer.

They gave me an interview at a time when I’d just graduated from the Italian product-design school in Rome back in the ’70s. I was so naive when I read ‘car design’, thinking it was just like industrial design. So it was almost an accident that I ended up at the Ford interview!

Pinky Lai 996

How did your move to BMW come around?
After graduating from the London Royal College of Art in July 1980, I based myself in Germany with Ford. I joined BMW in mid-1984. Shortly after that, Harm Lagaay joined BMW Technik, which was a sister division and I was in the ‘mother’ headquarters.

And then came the move to Porsche in 1989. How crucial was the role of Harm Lagaay here?
A year into working there, Harm asked me during one lunch break to join him in going to Porsche. My instant reaction was, “Shit, I’ve just started to feel loyal to BMW and now you are asking me to switch companies!”

I’m sure it was crucial for Porsche that Harm should join them, but nobody in the world knows Harm first said to me: “Pinky, if you don’t go, I don’t go.” The rest is history.

996 headlight

What brought about such a big change from the 993 to the 996?
The 993 was doomed to end the era of air-cooled engines because the engine development was at its peak. No matter what they (engineers) tried to increase power output, that was all they got, and the number was not good for competing in racing.

Just how close did the company really get to closing down?
Very close, so much so they were letting go of designers despite my offers to take a wage cut. Tears were flowing. The pressure and burden on my shoulders was bigger than the fate of the company: I had to deal with the fate of the 911!

To read the full revealing interview with the charismatic Pinky Lai, pick up Total 911 issue 126 in store now. Alternatively, order your copy online for home delivery or download it straight to your digital device.

996 design studio

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