The ultimate car guy

Bentley Chairman and CEO Franz-Josef Paefgen hails from Germany -- but his automotive heart is all British.

(Fortune Magazine) -- In 2002, Franz-Josef Paefgen, the former chairman of Audi, took the wheel at Bentley Motors, another of the VW Group's luxury brands.

Within two years he increased sales six times over -- from 995 cars sold worldwide in 2003 to 6,576 in 2004. The main contributor? The all-new Continental GT coupe, a car that brought a sporty and "affordable" ($150,000) 12-cylinder Bentley to the market -- and a new crop of celebrity and hip-hop clients to the brand.

Paefgen with (from left to right) a 2002 Bentley Azure, his '56 Morris Minor, his '53 Bentley Mark VI, and his '08 Arnage T.

The following year he launched the equally successful sedan version, the Flying Spur. Paefgen's ardor for British cars predates his current job by decades -- and dominates his personal garages. He spoke with Fortune's Sue Zesiger Callaway about owning and driving great and humble cars.

Q: What cars do you own?

A: In the U.K. I have a '53 Bentley Mark VI and a 1956 Morris Minor that I bought because I didn't want to be seen all the time going to the pub in a Bentley! In Germany I have my first old car, a 1967 Lamborghini 400GT -- all original with only 24,000 kilometers.

There's my "driver," a 1953 Jaguar XK120 fixed-head coupe. And there's my challenge: a '56 Bentley S1 convertible with a Graber body -- one of only two built -- that's undergoing a full conservation.

Q: Do you drive your old cars?

A: I drive all my cars regularly -- especially the XK120. I've driven 120 mph with this Jag, and it regularly does 100 mph on the autobahn -- it's good for it.

Q: What makes you buy a particular car?

A: I have a simple explanation: It's like a bird that learns a certain whistle early in life and never uses another. We all have a tendency to love the cars that were desirable but out of reach when we were 16 or 17. My first big love was a Jaguar Mark 2 that a neighbor owned.

Q: What makes you such a passionate Anglophile?

A: When I was 16, I was sent on a school exchange program in England. In the '60s there were a lot of great and affordable British cars that I admired -- Spitfires, Midgets, Jags -- and hoped that I might be able to buy someday.

Q: Which car do you most wish to own?

A: Many! Of course, you can't drive more than four or five cars. If I don't drive them, I sell them. But I'd say a Ferrari 275 GTB short wheelbase. It's the car that influenced postwar sports-car design the most. Top of page