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© 1958 by Sport Car Press
Copyright © 2014 Edizioni Savine
All Rights Reserved
Strada provinciale 1 del Tronto
64010 – Ancarano (TE) – Italy
Source text and images taken from the Public Domain
Writing a book on a well-known and much-revered sport car proves just one thing. It should have been an encyclopedia instead. Yet we hope that we have offered at least one nugget that is new to each reader, within the limits of this volume. Regardless of the name on the cover, no such book is the independent work of one man. We would like to acknowledge the help of many firms and many private Porsche drivers in compiling the facts and results which you find here. Even more, we want to thank the many people at the Porsche factory itself, since they made the Porsche Guide possible in the final analysis. There are literary sources as well to whom we are indebted. Porsche und der Weg eines Zeitalters by Herbert A Quint; Hohe Schule des Fahrens by Richard von Frankenberg, a very well-informed writer and Porsche driver; Valve Timing for Maximum Output by Ed Iskenderian; and various copies of Motor Revue published by Motor Presse Verlag, Stuttgart, were particularly valuable. We only hope they will all say that their freely offered time and information was well invested.
Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are courtesy of the Porsche Works.
Picking a car, particularly a sport machine, is an ultimate of free judgment. You usually approach the task with a raft of utopian dreams as to what your next touring beauty should include. If you happen to find the one machine that embodies every one of your notions, you are either blessed with next century’s model or a fantastically low level of expectation.
No matter which car you pick, old or new, there will have to be a compromise somewhere, regardless of the bottomless depths of your pocket. Otherwise the very wealthy would drive one car forever. The fact that every sporting driver changes cars often is sufficient evidence that his conception of the “perfect” car is subject to review. So is yours.
There are many ways to pick a car. You can listen to friends, or you can read publicity with your critical faculty turned down low. The first method is helpful only if you have a wide range of friends with varied tastes. You’ll get plenty of information from them— particularly if they are sport car addicts too. Sorting it out is another matter. If you have the cool judgment to come up with the one true answer, you didn’t need their advice in the first place.
Reading publicity—or listening to a salesman—is equally rewarding, if you are interested only in a volume of superlatives. If you really want to find a sports car—or evaluate the one you have —accepting publicity at face value is a little like eating beef stew under water. You’ll get more meat from the stew and it is less likely to be watered down.
Which brings up the question: “How do I pick or rate a sports car?” The cynics will suggest that you did it by ear—the deaf one— but there are ways to pursue the problem.
None of them arc infallible, but one of the best is to learn the background of whatever machine has caught your fancy. You can learn a great deal about any car from the history of its ancestors. And your respect for its present features will be enhanced by the knowledge of why they are included.
Knowing the background of a car often means knowing the dreams and trials of the man who conceived or built it. Find out what he did before he built this particular model—why he put the engine front or back, or why he entered the air-versus-water-for-cooling controversy, to list but two examples. In other words, follow his development as a designer and you will be well on the way to tracing the development of your next car. No fine designer—any man who has turned out a car with claims of greatness in its own right—earned his title without some pretty advanced ideas on the automobile.
Tracing the hand of a man, or even of a small group of men, becomes harder in direct proportion to the number of brain children produced each year. The mass-produced cars are no flowering of one man’s mind, and their antecedents often were so tangled in company policy that there is little purpose in trying to follow the leads.
This makes our case for following up the background of a sports car much easier, almost by definition. They are a breed of specials, designed by dedicated men who built sports cars because they believed in them as faster, more pleasing to drive and, above all, safer. When you come to examine a Porsche, the concept of studying the man as part of the car assumes vital importance. It is perhaps the classic case in support of history as the basis for the current models.
Ferdinand Porsche was the car.
As a matter of fact he was the single motivating force behind practically every design that rolled out of his drafting rooms as far back as the turn of this century. So, by making a short pilgrimage through the highlights of his life, we can understand the trends that culminated for him in the present Porsche 356 and 550 cars—the cars that have caused so much consternation in the ranks of competitors around the 1 1/2 liter territory.
These coupes, convertibles, Speedsters, and Spyders, with their 1100, 1300, 1500, and 1600cc engines, are the tip of a direct arrow from the unwieldy Lohner electric and “combo” cars that the Professor built and personally raced to victories as early as 1902. The Lohner electric was the first car Ferdinand Porsche designed. More, it was the first car of his to set a record. He drove it himself for a new hill mark in Austria, starting a practice of build and test that he followed to the last model. Competition and production were always twins with Porsche.
That “combo” incidentally was a mixture of gasoline and electricity, with the electric motors enclosed in the front wheel hubs. It was built in Vienna. It may seem like a far cry from this early Lohner with its odd power packs to the 356 Porsche. After all, who ever heard of an electric-powered Porsche? Nobody.
But it was electricity that first attracted this boy in a tiny Austrian village. If he hadn’t become buried in early electricity, the chain that led him into engineering might never have found its anchor link.
Forerunner of Porsche. Streamlined racer designed for Berlin-Rome race in 1939. Based on Volkswagen motor and parts.
For there was no technical heritage to push Porsche into the field. His family not only claimed no ancestral mechanics, but they even worked overtime to discourage his bent. But Porsche had engineering in his fingertips. And he became so devoted to all forms of mechanics that his father finally sent the boy off to Vienna, giving up his attempts to discourage him. There young Porsche attended classes at the technical college, though he couldn’t register because he didn’t have the money. He returned as often as they ejected him, until finally the faculty let him stay and watch—with rueful contempt.
The object of their amusement soon joined the Lohner works, at the age of twenty-five—not as an apprentice but as head of the technical department. It was the start of a career that lasted fifty years—a start that ignored degrees and formal schooling. His title was an honorary one bestowed by the Austrian government.
Lohner wasn’t large enough for this man whom many soon called a genius. Five years later he moved to Austro Daimler, again as the head of the development section. That was probably the true beginning of the Porsche saga. He was just thirty years old and the date was 1905.
Porsche’s name spread in widening circles through European motoring, as he moved on to Daimler in Germany—before the Benz name was added—to Steyr, and finally into his own office. He worked on such wonders as the Auto Union behemoths for the pre-war 750kg grand prix formula, the Volkswagen and its forerunners, and finally helped lay down the car that carries his name.
But there were many achievements and way stations along this trail. Hundreds of thousands of people have driven Porsche designs. Perhaps that figure should even read in the millions. And every one of those cars bore the unmistakable stamp of the man. His Volkswagen is well known as the most-driven car in Europe today. But it wasn’t the first Porsche design to claim that distinction. A car he designed for Panhard, early in the century, had the same success. It was eventually built for France, England, and Italy.
It was Porsche’s habit to go from desk to drawing board in the design rooms wherever he worked. He kept minute track of every nut, bolt, and cylinder barrel. And he always had a definite appraisal when an engineer showed him a new piece of work.
It was either, “I don’t like it” or, “That’s clean work; I like it.” If the verdict was no, he expected the man to work overtime and almost without rest until the piece was right. Nobody,who said “It can’t be done” stayed with Porsche very long. He was capable of unending hours of effort to perfect just one screw, and he could never understand other men who didn’t feel the same way.
Old-timers who opened his private bureau with him in 1930— there are still a few of them in the Zuffenhausen Porsche factory— recall two character traits. He had the memory of two or three proverbial elephants. And he was easily provoked to anger. Yet in spite of this, he would maintain a friendship for many years. These are characteristics often found in a man of exceptional talents. They made it hard for Porsche to tolerate a mentality that didn’t soar with his own.
Above all, Porsche was a practical engineer. He had to take a part in his hands and feel it, from the first mock-up to the finished car. One of the designer’s long-standing habits was to drive every vehicle that he blueprinted. In the early days he raced them as well and won a large roomful of silverware in some of the tougher tests of the first decades. This test driving is a practice that his son, Ferry Porsche, pursues as well.
If you had to find a single phrase to characterize Ferdinand Porsche it might well be: Dream and do.
The car that could be called his first true racer was designed and put on the track in three months. It dates from the early days of his gasoline-electric combinations and used a Mercedes engine to power the hub motors. Porsche continued to develop this mixed principle for many years and used it as late as the last war in heavy gun transporters and similar “road trains.” An unusual feature of that first racer was water-cooled brakes.
In 1910 came one of his first Austro-Daimler designs. It was a preliminary step in search of the road to current models, because it was one of the first cars to recognize and try to make use of streamlining. Actually the term is loosely used, but the car did mark the early Porsche interest in cutting drag. He always worked toward more performance from less engine. This has reached a high level in the current 1.6 liter and smaller cars.
The year 1913 has a special meaning for current Porsche fans That year an eighteen-year old boy, Julius Rabe, joined the Austro-Daimler staff. He worked with the Professor from that time forward, accompanying him to the new Porsche bureau in the thirties. He is today chief engineer for Porsche.
Porsche’s small car leanings, particularly in a sports sense, can be traced directly to 1922. That year saw the debut of the 1100cc Sascha, a steady class winner. It was a four-cylinder, twin-cam car. Porsche, even then, was dreaming of the “European Model-T.” For him that meant a small sports car as well—perhaps even first.
His next stop was with the Daimler firm, near Stuttgart. There he worked on all kinds of automobiles—both passengers and racing. It was during this stage that Porsche began to experiment with light metal pistons and cylinders, as well as with overhead camshafts. He developed a close tie between track and road, using the lessons of his race team to improve the everyday vehicle.
The first “Porsche-Mercedes Benz win” came on June 11, 1926, shortly after Benz joined Daimler. Rudolph Caracciola drove a supercharged 2-liter Porsche design into first place in the German Grand Prix on Berlin’s Avus Ring. The Porsche-conceived M-B sports cars carried this winning stamp too and regularly beat out-and-out racers. But Porsche still wanted to build “everyman’s car,” whereas Daimler, particularly after merging with Benz, was aiming for the luxury trade. Porsche went to Steyr in Austria.
The Steyr era is notable for one design, the Type 30. This car marked the birth of his swing axle. It was a conception of road holding that Porsche never abandoned. He improved it steadily. Such an axle is part of the modern 356, of course.
The beginnings of the firm that carries his name today came in 1930. The doors opened on December 1 of that year. Porsche spent most of 1930 gathering his force and preparing to open the office that was the direct parent of the current Porsche factory.
The bureau was opened in Stuttgart, since most of the German automobile industry was near-by. At first it was chiefly a consultative design office, which the Professor didn’t like, but gradually it became a working shop as well. And Porsche was now free to concentrate on his small car dream. One of the designers in those first days was young Ferry Porsche, who worked steadily beside his father. His first job was a new connecting link.
Beginning in the thirties, the total of Porsche designs and patents climbed steadily. In 1932 came torsion bar suspension—the first time this idea was actually applied. The French had thought of the concept earlier but never tried it. Porsche put the bars in a car and cut the spring weight by a full 70 per cent. The idea has been widely used by sports car builders ever since and adopted by passenger car firms throughout the world as well.
The small car plans moved forward too. Porsche had the outline of a “Volkswagen,” or people’s car, two years before the German government made it a top priority project. The first to try and build one of these utility cars was the Zuendapp works—in December, 1931. They got the designs from Porsche and their bodies from Reutter.
The German NSU works was the next to attempt a so-called Volkswagen—the Porsche type 32 design. Here we find a four-cylinder boxer motor, swing axle, and torsion bar suspension. All are developments that carried directly into the post-war Porsche, via the final VW conception. Ferry came into his own with this NSU, taking on the duties of test engineer.
But the prolific Professor didn’t restrict his activities to small passenger cars, much as he loved the breed. He designed racers as well. And record cars. His Auto Union race cars, rear-engined giants with 500 hp plus motors, were legendary in the years just before WW II ended racing. Hans Stuck took one of the first of them out on an early test drive and promptly broke a whole string of world’s records. It is a measure of Porsche’s preparation that his car was ready for record work on its first real run. By 1937 these “tanks” had amassed 37 wins in 55 tries. And they held 15 world and 23 class records.
A special Porsche job at about the same time was the mammoth Mercedes Benz, designed to capture the world’s land speed record from the English. It was a 25-foot monster with three axles and a potential speed of around 435 miles per hour. The car never ran, because the war intervened. Today it sits in the Mercedes museum, without the engines which disappeared during the war and have never been traced. At that time the record was over 300 mph, but Porsche wasn’t satisfied with just topping this. He wanted to push to the very limits of landborne speed.
There was another racer built in those days just before the war. It was a much smaller project, but it is particularly interesting for us because it could be called the direct forerunner of the present Porsche. The car was built for the projected Berlin-Rome race of 1939. It was an enclosed single seater with a super-tuned Volkswagen engine and a speed of close to 90 mph, from only 1100cc and 40 hp. The body was aerodynamically planned and extensively streamlined. The lines even bear a certain family resemblance to the current 356 Porsche.
During the war years the Professor devoted himself to road vehicles of all sorts, as well as to such diverse projects as wind generators and aircraft engines. He was a man who had to design. He didn’t particularly care what the project was or whom it was for, as long as he could exercise his talents and create machinery.
And thus we come to the immediate post-war years with the European—and particularly the German—automobile industry turned upside down. The Porsche bureau had been moved to the tiny town of Gmuend, Austria, in May, 1944, to escape the last days of the war. In a town where there was not even a railroad siding, Porsche’s son and daughter kept the idea of a firm alive. The Professor was in a French jail, where he had been thrown after accepting an invitation from the French to advise them on their automotive rebuilding program.
Actually there was little work until 1946. Then came a contract that started Porsche on the road back. The Italian race driver and industrialist, Piero Dusio, wanted to build a grand prix car. He was going to run it under his Cisitalia firm name, but he needed help with the design.
Cisitalia GP car, designed by Porsche bureau in Austria in 1948
Dusio went to the restricted Porsche bureau in November, 1946, and layed the project before them. Actually it included more than the single grand prix car. He wanted a team of them—they agreed on six—plus a 1500cc race sports car, a tractor, and a turbine. But the grand prix machine would come first. It would be Porsche design Type 360.
We might explain this design notation system here, since it determines why your car is known as 356. The serial numbers started with the first drawing put on a board when the Porsche bureau opened in December, 1930. That first plan was Number 7, as a matter of fact, since they thought it looked better than a 1. Since then the chronology has been faithfully maintained for more than a quarter century. There is a number for each design started, regardless of the outcome or the final application.