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5000 miles at 200mph

11 months ago

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Dr Ulrich Eichhorn | Engineer


18 July 2023

It was near the end of 2000. I was new at Volkswagen, the youngest technical manager in the company, hired by none other than Ferdinand Piëch himself, plus Martin Winterkorn, thanks to the totally unexpected chassis performance of the first Ford Focus and other cars I’d worked on during my time at the Blue Oval.

I was heading ‘Research’ which is not to be confused with ‘R&D’, which concerns itself with the near future. In Research we’re looking at something between five and 25 years into the future, examining potential technologies, some of which will never see the light of day. As Group CEO, Piëch was my immediate boss and Chief Technical Officer all rolled into one.

By then the W12 cylinder engine, with which I’d later become so familiar during my time as engineering boss at Bentley, had already been created in order to package 12 cylinders and ultimately 6-litres into a space where conventionally only eight cylinders and about 4-litres would fit. It followed the logic of the established VR6 engine family which provided six cylinders and up to 3.6-litres in a Golf-class package, where 2-litre fours were the norm.

The only two problems were that the competition was already spreading doubt that such a compact engine could ever perform and last as well as their engines of similar capacity, but 50 per cent greater physical size. The second problem was that, to begin with at least, they were entirely correct. Happily this was a problem we were able to solve well before production began.

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