Never Stop Driving #98: The Piëchesode

One of the most anticipated videos of the year just debuted on our YouTube channel: Jason Cammisa’s deep dive into the career and complex personality of Ferdinand Piëch.

I cherish the characters and personalities behind the cars we love, and Piëch, who died in 2019, was extremely colorful. The grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the engineer who designed the VW Beetle and fathered a son who founded the Porsche sports car company, Piëch possessed a seemingly inexhaustible drive that drove him to produce the race-winning Porsche 917. Le Mans, the Audi Quattro, the Bugatti. Veyron, and a host of other cars that changed the automotive landscape for decades. “All he was interested in,” Cammisa said, “was making great cars.”

Ferdinand Piech next to an Audi in 1982
DPA/Getty Images

The video is an extraordinary documentary, which Cammisa and her team have been preparing for years. Cammisa’s ingenious angle was to depict Piëch’s career with a multitude of cars framed by two very different creations: the fuel-guzzling Volkswagen XL-1 and the top-speed-focused Bugatti Veyron. Since the XL-1 was never sold in the US and the Veyron is so rare, filming was delayed until we got both. Special thanks to VW owner Phillip Sarofim and Houston Crosta for loaning the Bugatti! The wait, I hope you agree, was worth it.

ICO-412 Piech Thumb

I’m so grateful that we can tell these stories and provide them for free. If you would like to support our efforts, join the Hagerty Drivers Club, which includes six issues of Hagerty Drivers Club magazine, discounts on automotive products and many other helpful benefits.

Piëch was not without his faults. He was known as a demanding and autocratic boss, more dictator than collaborator. His management style led to some amazing cars, but was also cited as one of the main reasons why no one at VW dared to speak up and admit that the diesel emissions targets demanded by Piëch were not simply not possible. This led to the Dieselgate scandal which cost VW billions in fines and which was chronicled in the excellent book Faster, higher, further: the Volkswagen scandal by Jack Ewing.

The people behind our cars are rarely boring. Recently, we chronicled Helene Rother, a pioneering designer who wrote the interior of the Nash Metropolitan and paved the way for broader style trends; NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick; and a 16-year-old who photographs model cars in incredibly realistic scenes. There are many others, which we have sorted via this link.

Speaking of personalities, writer Sam Smith recently published a collection of his work titled Smithology: semi-plausible automotive thoughts, travels and writings, 2003 – 2023. Smith’s fantastic work for Hagerty includes an exciting comparison of the Honda Civic Type R and Toyota GR Corolla, a roundup of all the Hellcat-equipped cars, and much more to browse here.

I’ve had the privilege of working with Sam on and off for years and never fail to leave a conversation with him more intelligent than before. In this week’s Never Stop Driving podcast, we talked about his career, what he’s learned, and how he developed his special gift for storytelling. Please listen to it and tell me what you think.

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Have a great weekend!


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