Exclusive Dutch sportscar maker Donkervoort Automobielen today announced the retirement of its founder and President, Joop Donkervoort.
Donkervoort, 71, founded the company in 1978 and served as its President and Managing Director, building it from scratch into a world-renowned sports car brand. He will pass the daily management of the company to his son, Denis, from January 1, 2021.
“My father has achieved astonishing things over a lifetime here and the Donkervoort extended family of staff and owners will always be grateful for his vision, tenacity and belief that our cars should create emotions,” Donkervoort Automobielen Managing Director Denis Donkervoort said.
“His expertise and experience will not be lost to Donkervoort, though, and he will always have a significant role to play at the company he founded. Anybody who knows my father knows he will not slow down, but he is now available to share his expertise on projects with us, but also on projects outside with other companies.”
Donkervoort Automobielen is thriving, with the introduction of the critically acclaimed D8 GTO-JD70, the Bare Naked Carbon Edition and the D8 GTO- JD70 R models in 2020. It has also spun off its patented EX-CORE carbon-fibre process as a stand-alone business, allowing Donkervoort to concentrate on its core expertise of crafting exclusive, light-weight, emotionally enriching sports cars.
Still fit and healthy, Joop Donkervoort plans to spend his newly spare time in exercising, mentoring young entrepreneurs and contributing as a consultant to design and engineering projects both inside and outside Donkervoort Automobielen. He will continue sharing his expertise in the development of still-secret, all-new Donkervoort models, from their chassis and suspension through to their material mix and design concepts.
The initiator and driving force behind the ultra-strong and innovative EX-CORE carbon-fibre concept, he has already pushed the material into testing with four Formula One teams and will continue working on special EX-CORE projects.
“It is a good moment to step down after 43 years, with the business in good shape and the management in strong hands, so I can devote time to other business interests and consulting opportunities,” Joop Donkervoort said.
“Over the years, I was often asked for advice by both startup and existing businesses and although I would have very much enjoyed to have helped, I never had the time and was focused on Donkervoort only. This step finally leaves more room for external projects and I am therefore excited to have been asked again to step into other projects.“
It has taken Joop Donkervoort 13 years to complete his succession plan, with the time spent mentoring Denis, and placing and training experienced, expert personnel in critical roles prior his departure. Managing Director Denis Donkervoort has handled Donkervoort’s day-to-day operations for more than a decade already and has been schooled by his father in every aspect of the business.
Besides his management experience and his knowledge of how to survive the highs and lows of the automotive business, Joop has also absorbed unique expertise in lightweight, small-series and composite construction. That expertise will not be lost to Donkervoort Automobielen, though, with Joop Donkervoort confirmed as a member of the company’s Advisory Board.
More details of Advisory Board will be released in the next few months.
“I have always been interested in the technical side, but it has never been my biggest motivator,” Joop Donkervoort admitted. “Technology is a mean to an end. Important, of course, but it is still a means to create human emotion. Not the other way around. “What counts is the experience, pleasure, relaxation… the emotion.”
Almost 1500 Donkervoort sports cars have been built since Joop Donkervoort founded the company in Tienhoven, The Netherlands, and they are filled to the top of their windscreens with his philosophy. All have been hand-built in consultation with their buyers and they are all customized to the point that no two Donkervoorts are ever identical.
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For those new to the Donkervoort story, the car company’s history began when Joop Donkervoort bought the Dutch distribution rights to the Lotus 7, only to find it wasn’t legal on the roads in The Netherlands.
After initially trying to re-engineer the car to meet Dutch Type Approval, he instead decided to “finish” the Lotus 7 by starting all over again, but his way, because he was convinced he could improve it, especially in comfort, reliability, practicality and driving dynamics.
And with that, the first Donkervoort road car, the S7, was born in 1978 and lead Donkervoort to becoming the first small-series manufacturer to meet Type Approval.
But it actually started much earlier than that, with school notepads filled with car drawings instead of geography homework, suspension systems sketched during history classes and perfect powertrains and sleek bodywork created in place of art lessons.
An obsession with making the perfect sports car absorbed Joop Donkervoort from a very young age.
Donkervoort progressed, with Joop seeing himself as more of a professor and technician than a businessman, and he marked the company’s tenth anniversary with the Donkervoort Cup racing class for its new D10. It allowed its owners to drive to the track, race and drive home again, with Donkervoort taking care of everything from technical and tyre assistance to hospitality and catering.
By 2000, Donkervoort had formed a strong relationship with then-Audi chief Dr Franz-Josef Paefgen for engine supplies and technical help and it had outgrown its Loosdrecht site and moved to its current headquarters in Lelystad.
A new generation of D8 cars lead Donkervoort to its first GT closed-roof model in 2007 and into GT4 racing, where it won its class in everything from the Spa-Francorchamps 24-hour race to the 24H Dubai race.
It also introduced new Donkervoort blood, with Joop’s children, Denis and Amber, entering the business in the technical and marketing sides, respectively.
The 2011 D8 GTO marked a turning point for Donkervoort, with lead designer Jordi Wiersma and the engineers delivering a beautifully balanced, strong, fast and distinctive open-topped super sports car.
It was a car that opened new markets to Donkervoort, and its core engineering provides the basis of the JD70.