911 icon Anatole Lapine was a pioneering designer who had a close relationship with Porsche for decades. Head of Porsche Design for almost 20 years, we take a closer look at the life and work of a true 911 hero. Written by Chris Randall. Photography courtesy Porsche Archive.
911 hero: Tony Lapine
Anatole Carl Lapine – known to many as Tony – was born in Riga on 23 May 1930, but as World War Two loomed things were about to get very difficult for him and his family. As refugees from Latvia they moved first to Poland and then to Germany. But, having shown a flair for design, 1950 would see Lapine working for Daimler-Benz, and just a few years later the family relocated to America and the state of Nebraska, where he ended up working on snow ploughs. The beginning of a glittering career was just around the corner.
After working for General Motors in the US and Opel in Germany – involved with the Chevrolet Corvette and as head of the Opel Research Centre respectively – he would join Porsche on 15 April 1969. He’d known Ferry Porsche since 1957, and they’d subsequently met on a number of occasions; it was perhaps inevitable that someone as talented as Lapine would find himself welcomed into the Zuffenhausen fold. Having owned a 356 for a number of years he knew exactly what made these cars tick, and while his role saw him oversee a number of significant models, including the 924, 944 and 928, it’s his work on the Neunelfer that interests us here.
Lapine had lived through something of a tumultuous time at Porsche, what with internal politics, strong characters and the potential demise of the 911. Indeed, as head of Porsche Design he’d worked under both Ernst Fuhrmann and Peter Schutz, and while he’d overseen the introduction of the G-series models, a much bigger challenge lay ahead. We’ve covered the 964’s development and importance on numerous occasions, but suffice to say Lapine and his team faced a huge task in transforming the styling and technology and ensuring the 911’s long-term survival. Although reportedly unhappy with the restrictions imposed on the project, the result was a success, this being the Neunelfer that broke with the past and marked the beginning of the technological cars we know today. And it’s even more of an achievement given that Lapine never owned a 911, nor did he especially like them.
The development of the 964 would be his swansong, as he retired from Porsche in 1988, a move no doubt accelerated by the heart attack he suffered not long beforehand. It was the end of an amazing career, one that had seen him oversee a vital model in the 911 story. After all that, perhaps it’s no surprise that a quiet retirement wasn’t really on the cards, and his life post-Porsche would include sailing across the Atlantic. He passed away on 29 April 2012, and the automotive world lost one of its brightest stars – and a true 911 hero as far as we’re concerned.