From the December 2010 issue of Automobile Magazine
by Ezra Dyer
Photographs by: Brian Konoske
The Fireman: The American who served as Porsche's troubleshooter for the U.S. market.
Gene Langmesser, CEO of n2a Motors, a California-based retro coachbuilder, served as a project engineer for Porsche from 1988 to 1992. The Germans called him the Fireman, because he extinguished the small conflagrations that arise with any change to a design. And some of the challenges he faced were caused specifically by the U.S. market.
"The 993-series had wraparound taillights that worked fine in Europe," Langmesser says. "But when you drove the car someplace like Arizona, the combination of heat from the desert, the engine, and the taillight bulbs would cause the retaining clips to melt." Which caused the taillamps to fall out. Langmesser redesigned the clips.
Other design challenges came down to cultural sensibilities and Langmesser's role as an American in a German company. The 993's windshield wipers, for instance. "The 993 windshield was so symmetrical that a single wiper could've cleared it with the exact pattern they required. That's what I wanted to do. But the Porsche bosses viewed the single wiper as a Mercedes-Benz thing. They said something like, 'People pay good money for a Porsche-this is not a Mercedes.' So I gave it two wipers, but they're mounted about two inches apart." Thus was Porsche's honor preserved.
Langmesser points out that Porsche's engineering muscle still extends far beyond its own vehicles. Even one of America's most star-spangled brands has some Porsche DNA in its lineup. "The Harley-Davidson V-Rod," Langmesser says. "That's a Porsche motor."