We visit the mecca for Porsche fans, the company’s museum in the heart of Zuffenhausen, Stuttgart.
The grand Porsche museum, located across the road from where they still make cars in Zuffenhausen, Stuttgart, is a trove of the company’s history, displaying some of its vast collection of cars, racers and concepts. It was built in 2009 but cannot house Porsche’s massive collection of cars, numbering some 700 items. That means those on display in the museum are constantly shuffled about so there are always plenty of novel things to see.
One of the great aspects of the museum is its accessibility to the cars; you can get right up close to them as there are no barriers, no ropes keeping you at a distance. Given that they rotate the cars around frequently, there’s not the need to cram too many vehicles into the space either, giving everyone room to move around and appreciate the cars from different perspectives. And with around 80 to 100 cars displayed at any one time, there’s plenty to take in.
There are corporate messages stealthily intertwined within the displays, which include motorsport heritage and a winning culture. The first vehicle we encountered upon entering the exhibition floor this time around was an old electric ‘horseless carriage’ dating back to 1898. It’s a clear link to Porsche’s recent foray into electric vehicles. The Egger-Lohner C2 is described as being the oldest construction by Ferdinand Porsche still in existence. It uses a rear-mounted electric motor making 4kW. It had a top end of 25km/h while the 500kg battery delivered a range of 80km but was said to take one week to recharge… To overcome the weight of the machine and its lack of power, it had a complex controller with twelve-speeds incorporating six forward gears, two reverse gears and four braking levels (an early example of brake regen perhaps?). It was also Porsche’s first race winner, completing a 40km trial in conjunction with the first International Motor Show in Berlin in 1899.
Porsche 356 Roadster
A few decades later, the first Porsche road car rolled out of the company’s original factory in Gmünd, Austria. The 356 No 1 Roadster, a hand-built, mid-engine, two-seater was granted road legal status on June 8, 1948. Porsche needed money to build more cars so sold what was its first prototype to a customer, Rupprecht von Senger, making him the world’s first Porsche owner.
The car would pass through several more owners and, as a result of a few accidents, received various alterations to its bodywork. It was a prototype after all, so there were no off-the-shelf parts for it. It was in 1958 when the car was taken back in by Porsche, the owner of No 1 at the time being the editor of the now long-lived Christophorus Porsche magazine. He swapped it for a new 356 Speedster.
There are two No 1s on display at the museum, the original road car, and a show car that was crafted in 2017 to recreate more precisely what No 1 looked like when it first left the factory in 1948. This process had the Porsche museum team 3D scan the original car, and then cross reference these plans with original drawings from the Porsche archive to bring the authentic shape of the original car back to life. They then made a mould which was used to form wooden bucks to finally turn out the aluminium body panels.
Due to the repair work conducted on the original road car, the differences between the show car and No 1 include a reshaped nose and a narrower rear body, including the original one-piece clamshell rear section. The interior also features the original bench-type seat. But it’s just a show car as there’s no engine while the front end and steering is from a Beetle, like the original.
50 Years of Porsche Design
Special exhibits form part of the moving feast of displays and 50 Years of Porsche Design was celebrated recently. The offshoot company was founded in 1972 by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche (Ferry’s son and designer of the 911 and 904, among others), along with his brother Hans-Peter. It’s now a lifestyle brand in its own right, its core lines being watches, sunglasses, luggage and leather goods. They have various design studios in Europe, the US and China where they also create products for external clients in consumer goods, household appliances and industrial products. While we admired the various consumer items on display, we rather liked the 1972 911 S 2.4 Targa, restored by the Porsche Classic department. However, its classical lines and period chrome make the new Porsche 911 Edition 50Y Porsche Design, which is inspired by the 72 model and limited to 750 units, seem a little contrived.
Porsche 917- 001
Porsche has racked up 19 overall wins at Le Mans and is looking to bag its 20th next year with its new 963 LMDh racer. Its first overall win was courtesy of the 917 back in 1970, the number 23 car piloted by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood. There are various 917 models on display at the museum, including the very first one, 917- 001, which has been restored to its original 1969 condition. This was the car that was displayed at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1969, the first of 25 needed for type approval for Group 4 racing and designed primarily to win at Le Mans. The 001 was never raced but was rather a testing and development car. It was later converted to a ‘short tail’ configuration with new front and rear ends, painted in the race winning red and white livery from 1970 and went on display around Europe before becoming part of the historical collection. Porsche restored the car back to its original 1969 long tail configuration in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 917 in 2019.
Porsche Type 754
The type 754 is one of the collection’s design studies, and a forerunner to the 911. With the 356 at the end of its life, the company needed a new car. But it had to be a ‘Porsche’, and that meant retention of a rear-mounted engine while the brief called for a more refined, usable two seater sportscar with two comfortable ‘jump seats’ in the rear. In 1959, Ferdinand Porsche’s concepts were used to make the prototype 754 which was created in 1960 as a four-seat design study. While the front end featured what would be the nose of the 911, the glass house is what you might describe as an abomination. It was deemed a necessary concession to allow for decent headroom in the rear. But the boss wanted more of a fastback rear end, and thankfully Dad’s will prevailed.
It was November 9th, 1962 that the first prototype 901 underwent testing, and in September of 1963 the car was shown at the Frankfurt motor show. During the development process, Porsche took control of the old Reutter bodywork business, bringing the pressing of the panels in house. Reutter would evolve its business somewhat, eventually becoming Recaro.
In May 1964, Porsche had a pre-production model ready for external testing, the 901’s 2.0-litre SOHC flat six making 130hp while a new five-speed manual was fitted. When the 901 was shown at the Paris show in 1964, Peugeot objected to the name, saying it infringed on its trademark naming policy. Porsche, being pragmatic, changed the designation to 911 on October 22, 1964, a simple change of a number meant minimal alterations would be needed for existing documents, manuals and advertising.
On that day, chassis number 57 was being built, one of the last 901s made. Only within the last few years has the Porsche collection attained a 901. This red number 57 was a barn find and in a right state when discovered. After having two independent valuations undertaken, Porsche ended up paying its owner Euro107,000 for the wreck. It took them 12 months to restore the shell with parts from a 1965 911 used to complete the bodywork. Porsche Classic rebuilt the engine, restoring what original parts they could, or using new genuine parts for those lost to corrosion. The three-year restoration was completed in 2017, and it’s now the oldest 911 in the collection.
Not all Porsches have been rear-engined, of course, the company introducing its first car with the engine up front in 1976 being the 924. This introduced the ‘transaxle era’ with a humble four-pot up front but with its transmission mounted on the rear axle, weight balance was improved to deliver a fine handling yet more affordable Porsche model. The 924 was originally designed by Porsche for VW, who abandoned the project in 1974 as a result of the oil crisis and Porsche then adopted it as its own entry model, arriving in 1976.
The 928 was the next transaxle machine, intended to replace the 911 and was a technical marvel for the time. It debuted in 1977 and won the European Car of the Year award, the first sportscar to do so. It soldiered on throughout the decades until the GTS, the last of the line, in 1995. The 944 joined the line-up in 1981 and was looked upon as more of a genuine family member than the 924, its engine derived from one bank of the 928’s big V8. It was in production until 1991, selling over 160,000 examples. It was replaced by the 968, an evolutionary model which would take the four-cylinder concept to extremes with a 3.0-litre version taking the title of the gruntiest naturally aspirated production four pot. By the time all model lines ended in 1995, 400,000 had been built.
While the transaxle era could be seen as a success, when it came to an end Porsche was in a bad way financially. Its three model lines shared very few components, making them expensive to build, and the company was in dire straights, with demand dropping and production in decline.
Mercedes-Benz 500 E
The 500 E project was therefore a lifeline for the Porsche business in the early nineties. It was commissioned to design and build the car for Mercedes-Benz as a halo model for the W124 E Class range. It went on sale in 1991, Porsche developing the chassis, engine and brakes as well as the new bodywork for the car. The V8 was a development of the 5.0-litre four valve unit from the 500 SL, producing 240kW and 480Nm in the 500 E, hooked to a four-speed auto.
The production process was hardly efficient, the car moved back and forth from the Mercedes factory to Porsche for the fitment of the unique body parts and driveline components, with each build taking 18 days. They ended up producing almost 10,500 of them, the production helping utilise capacity in the Zuffenhausen factory, and keeping the workers employed.
The price of entry to the museum is just 10 Euros, certainly worth it, and you can boost your experience with a guided tour, as well as tacking on a factory visit to see the Taycan or the 911 come together, for the factory is just across the road.
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