Andreas Preuninger proves the German stereotype (rigid, anti-fun) untrue. He’s been in charge of Porsche’s GT cars for 21 years. Many in the automotive business are buttoned-up, sticking to a corporate-approved script. Tall, athletic, almost always grinning, funny, and never afraid to speak his mind, Preuninger is the opposite. Last year at the L.A. Auto Show, we spoke with Andy to better know the person behind our Performance Car of the Year winner.
Admiration of Porsche was almost a birthright. Preuninger grew up near Stuttgart and had an uncle who owned a Porsche. “The 911 thing hit me hard and early,” he says.
This story originally appeared in Volume 9 of Road & Track.
While studying engineering at the University of Stuttgart in the early Nineties, Preuninger knew he wanted an automotive career of some sort. His father was a supplier to Porsche and invited him along on an engineer-guided tour of the Weissach development center. “When I left Weissach three hours later, I knew 'That’s the place I want to work,” he recalls.
"From that point on, I had to focus," he continues. "Because I didn't have that focus in the university before that. Now, I knew what it was all for." At the same time, he did freelance work for Germany's biggest car magazine, Auto Motor Und Sport. "That's where I learned to drive," he says. "So, the guys from the test department showed me how to be quick with a car."
After graduation, Preuninger sent his CV to Porsche, but these were dark days for the company, where sales ground to a halt and hiring naturally slowed. He got a job working for a supplier in Spain, but never stopped sending CVs to Porsche. Eventually, he secured work with Porsche's engineering consultancy, and on the side, taught car control at Porsche’s driving school in Finland. He says almost exclusively eating salmon and reindeer got old, but doing "sideways stuff" every January was fun, and the school allowed him to interact with, and better understand Porsche customers.
Preuninger consequently knows the audience well. When a manual transmission was reintroduced for the GT3 in 2016, he made a bet with then Porsche Cars North America head Klaus Zellmer on the take rate. Zellmer didn't think it would be greater than 20 percent—it ended up at 50 percent after the first few months, and an astonishing 70 percent over the lifetime of the car.
After a few years at Porsche Engineering, he got a role on the GT road car team around the time the first 996 GT3 was in development. He quickly became the head of the department, taking charge with the facelifted 996 GT3.
The best products in the world often embody a single person’s vision. In Porsche’s GT division, that person is Preuninger. “The main theme in my head is always entertainment, because nobody needs these cars to go from A to B,” he says. “I don’t think it’s very easy to sell a car that’s quick on track but boring. People use these cars as a hobby, and you want to do things in your spare time that are entertaining, that are fulfilling, that make you grin, that make you happy.
"That has a lot to do with satisfying your senses and having something that really, really infuses you," he continues. "The communication between the driver and the car, this is the center point of what a GT car should feel like….A GT car needs this special intimacy between man and machine, interfaces where emotion can flow in the body,” Preuninger says. “That makes the driver feel like an integral part, rather than a user.”
That means getting steering, pedal weights, throttle response, sound, and if applicable, the shifter right is key. Of course, track performance is important, too, as is beating rivals, including previous GT models. But the subjective experience is paramount.
How does he know when a car is done? It’s about what happens when you step out. “You have to turn around, look at it again, and pat it on the roof. Then you’ve got it right.”
Preuninger’s hobbies see him outdoors as much as possible. "I'm a spring and summer person. I really suffer in the wintertime," he says. "I have the opinion that from the 1st of November to the 30th of March, I don't want to see Germany…It's a quarter of your life or a third of your life that you're always aggravated by the weather and the cold." In fairer weather, he enjoys cycling, boating, shooting, and riding motorcycles. "I'm a dirt bike freak," he says. "So the best way to spend my spare time is being on a two-stroke dirt bike, somewhere beautiful in nature." Reluctantly, though, he swapped his two-stroke for an electric KTM, so he can ride without attracting unwanted attention.
A lifelong music fan, Preuninger also picked up guitar when his son was born. The two now play, and the elder Preunigner started building his own instruments. "I love complicated things," he says. "It's the wood of the guitar, it's the potentiometers, it's the strings, it's the pickups. it's how you set it up, what patches you need for the amplifier. You're always in search of the best tone." What connects these hobbies is the challenge, the precision required for long-range shooting with a large-caliber gun, or to perfectly recreate an Angus Young guitar sound.
Spare time is hard to come by, though. When Preuninger started at the GT department, it was responsible for just one model—the 911 GT3. It has since expanded to the 911 GT2, GT2 RS, GT3 RS, the Cayman GT4 and GT4 RS, and the Boxster Spyder. His department also created the epic 991-generation 911 R and Speedster. All are modern classics, and demand for Preuninger-developed cars is huge–try buying a new GT3 at sticker. Preuninger's value to Porsche is enormous.
You'd love to meet him.