FRANKFURT — Peter Schutz, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who became the only American to serve as chief executive of German sports car maker Porsche, where he was credited with saving the company’s signature 911 model from oblivion, died Oct. 29 in Naples, Fla. He was 87.
Mr. Schutz was a boy when he and his family fled on the eve of World War II. He returned years later to lead a company whose founders had collaborated with Adolf Hitler. The man who hired Mr. Schutz for the job, Ferdinand Porsche Jr., better known as Ferry, had joined with his father in designing tanks for the German war machine. The elder man formed Porsche AG after the war, in 1948.
Among sports car connoisseurs, Mr. Schutz is best remembered for blocking plans in 1981 to end production of the 911 model, which remains the quintessential Porsche.
When Mr. Schutz took charge that year, the company, based in Stuttgart, had just suffered the first loss-making year in its history and was in crisis, largely because of slumping sales in the United States. The 911 had been plagued by quality problems, and its air-cooled motor, mounted in the rear, was considered anachronistic; most cars had water-cooled motors in the front. It was also tricky to drive because the heavy rear end gave it a tendency to spin out.
Sales were falling, and the Porsche board had already decided to kill the 911 in favor of other models, like the 928, which, with a motor in front, was easier to handle.
An engineer with a flair for marketing, Mr. Schutz said that the 911’s quirks were what set the car apart and that stopping production would rip out Porsche’s soul.
“While the car could be temperamental at times, at least it had character,” Mr. Schutz wrote in an article for Road & Track magazine in 2013. “That’s what people loved most about it.”
Under Mr. Schutz, Porsche modernized and expanded the 911 line and unveiled a convertible version in 1982. Later versions retained the model’s trademark rear-mounted engine — now water-cooled — and sleek lines.
Mr. Schutz worked initially as head of the engine division of Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz, an equipment manufacturer in Cologne now known simply as Deutz. Porsche hired him at the beginning of 1981 in the hope that he would be able to revive sales in America, which had become the company’s most important market.
The Porsche and Piëch families, which owned Porsche, had a fraught history. Ferdinand Porsche Sr., a noted automotive engineer, designed the Volkswagen Beetle for Hitler with the help of his son and oversaw construction of the factory in Wolfsburg that remains Volkswagen’s headquarters.
During the war, the factory produced rocket parts, antitank weapons, and military vehicles using slave laborers, including Jews from Auschwitz who were overseen by SS guards. Ferdinand Sr. was held by the Allies after the war but never charged with any crimes.
After the war, Ferry Porsche used modified Volkswagen Beetle engines and chassis as the basis for the first Porsche sports cars, which evolved into the 911. (It was designed by a grandson of the founder.)
Despite their association with the Nazis, the Porsche and Piëch families received Mr. Schutz warmly, his wife, Mrs. Sheila Harris-Schutz, said by telephone from Naples, adding that she and her husband had never felt hostility while living in Stuttgart.