When people talk about "car guys" -- bona fide car guys -- the mental picture I always get is of a dashing young German with an Errol Flynn moustache.
You could argue (as I often have) that Wolfgang Reitzle was the single biggest contributor to BMW's emergence as the brand powerhouse it is today. It goes back to the 7 series launched in the fall of 1986, which the then-37-year-old Reitzle supervised from stem to stern. The Siebener was lauded as the finest sedan in the world. Mercedes-Benz panicked.
When Reitzle left BMW in 1999, Ford CEO Jacques Nasser hired him to run Jaguar, Volvo, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Lincoln as head of the Premier Automotive Group. Reitzle walked away from Ford in 2002, a few months after Nasser was ousted.
He became CEO of Linde, now the world's largest industrial gas company. That was fine, but instead of building natural gas plants, many of us felt Wolfgang Reitzle should be sweating the details of luxury cars.
Now it turns out he's been doing just that. Sort of.
A captivating personality, Reitzle a few years ago befriended Indian industrial magnate Ratan Tata, the guy who bought Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford in 2008.
The two met in Mumbai as Linde bid on a contract at Tata's vast steel operations. They lapsed into a 30-minute conversation about cars as Tata's steel guys sat twiddling their thumbs.
Last week, Ratan Tata told Keith Crain that he and Reitzle now meet every month or so to discuss Jaguar and Land Rover models.
And Reitzle doesn't hold back.
"He's got a very keen eye; he's very outspoken in terms of what he believes we should do," said Tata.
Reitzle retired from Linde last year but remains chairman of Continental's supervisory board. And he critiques Jags and Land Rovers for Ratan Tata. Could he do even more in the car world?
He turns 66 this week -- three years younger than Bob Lutz was when Rick Wagoner asked Lutz to come out of retirement and join General Motors as head of product development.