An Auto-Otaku in Stuttgart 2021: Visiting the Porsche museum Part 1

Sited on an area covering 5,600 square metres and featuring over 80 rotating exhibits from their collection of over 300 rare and historical vehicles (almost all kept in full running order), the Porsche museum is not really a museum per se, with little deep insight into the history of the brand or the people behind it. Instead, a meticulously curated showcase of the many beautiful machines carrying the Porsche Crest and the stories behind each vehicle. Yes, it’s a smörgåsbord of Porsche eye candy but since when was that ever a bad thing?

The Porsche museum is also, like many others have mentioned (and as shown in the map above), not that vast, circling around itself over two levels, the museum can be easily covered in slightly over an hour or so for the casual visitor and perhaps a little over two hours for automotive geeks. For the Porschephiles, I reckon three hours or so would suffice.

So if you ever find yourself in Stuttgart for less than a day and can’t decide between the two main automotive museums, I’d recommend heading to Porscheplatz because you’ll be able to cover most of it at an enjoyable pace, something you will not be able to do at the massive Mercedes-Benz museum.

With my lunch happily settled, it was time to head down (tickets in hand) to continue with the latter half of the day. While the museum does hold a themed exhibit regularly (this year, it’s “50 years of Porsche Development Weissach”), the rest of the exhibits are (like all other museums) mostly displayed in a chronological manner. So without further delay, here’s Part 1 of my walk through the (eye-candied) halls of Porsche’s automotive history.

Beginning with something of an oddity, the World’s first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle. Developed in 1898 by a then 23-year old Ferdinand Porsche at Lohner-Werke, the Lohner–Porsche initially had hub-mounted electric motors in the front wheels (like this vehicle shown) and was powered by batteries and a gasoline-engine generator. In later years, those electric motors were eventually mounted to each of the four wheels, just like a Taycan but with 400-565 less horsepowers.

Unfortunately, with its high costs, the Lohner-Porsche failed to achieve mainstream success but its innovative and pioneering design and mechanics were studied by Boeing and NASA to create the Apollo program’s Lunar Roving Vehicle with many of its design principles mirrored in the Rover’s design.

After the very talented young Ferdinand Porsche was snapped up by Daimler-Benz to be their chief designer in 1906, Jacob Lohner, his now ex-boss said at the time, “He is very young, but is a man with a big career before him. You will hear of him again.” If they only knew.

His great career was unfortunately tainted by a dark moment in his past because for all his talents and ingenuity, Ferdinand was also an active member of the Nazi party and an officer of the infamous Schutzstaffel (SS) on very good terms with the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler. After WWII, French authorities arrested Ferdinand Porsche on charges of being a war criminal and he was imprisoned for 22 months before his son, Ferry Porsche, was able to buy his freedom. Historical facts that, unfortunately, seems to have been glossed over in the museum.

The tide did change for the better for the father-son team though because in 1948, shortly after Ferdinand’s release, the Porsche automobile company we all know of and love today, Porsche AG, was formed. The rest, as they say, is history.

And here is where it all started for the fledgling young company. Porsche 356, number 1. Technically based on the Volkswagen Beetle but with a more powerful 4-cylinder boxer, the first-ever 356 received its operating permit on the 8th of June, 1948. Interestingly, the 356 was initially a mid-engined design and only moved onto its now-iconic rear-engined layout for series production.

K45286 then, remains a one-off prototype.

That 356 prototype, of course, led to this. The earliest series production 356. The 356/2 Gmünd Coupé.

Hand-built in Gmund Austria in very limited numbers and more basic than even a present-day Caterham, these lovely aluminium-bodied 356/2 Gmünd Coupés could top out at 140km/h with only 40hp, in 1948!

As production moved to Zuffenhausen from the 1950s, the time-consuming hand-beaten aluminium bodies were switched to steel construction with few changes in terms of aesthetics.

Probably the most beautiful of the 356 bodies (at least in my opinion) and certainly now one of the most desirable amongst collectors, the 356 Speedster. Initially built as a lower-cost, somewhat spartan open-topped version of the 356, the 356 Speedster was an instant sales hit.

Ironically the Speedster designation on the current 911 is now one of the highest-priced variants available with little in the way of luxury. Spartan it is not.

While the initial 356 prototype’s mid-engined layout was shelved as it headed to production, Porsche kept working on a midship platform with an air-cooled four-cylinder engine culminating with the 550 Coupe and 550 Spyder.

A sports car designed to go racing the 550 quickly established dominance in the 1.1- and 1.5-litre classes, even winning the first race it entered, the Nurburgring Eifel Race in May 1953. Thereafter becoming a formidable force on the racing circuits, usually finishing within the top 3 in its class.

This particular 550 Spyder was the first manufacturer’s car to get race sponsorship through Fletcher Aviation, and later with Telefunken and Castrol.

The 550’s successor, the 718, commonly known as the RSK was even more successful on the track.

With class wins in the Carrera Panamerica Mexican road races, Porsche decided to make the potent little engine from its 550 available in its production coupes and open-topped Speedsters and Cabriolets. These special engined cars would carry the name “Carrera” in recognition of those racing successes, and they are both extremely rare and much sought-after today.

Then, in 1959, the most potent and motorsport-focussed, road-going Porsche 356 Coupe appeared. The 356 Carrera GT. The GT3 RS of its day.

Initially fitted with an already enlarged and more powerful 1587cc version of Dr Ernst Fuhrman’s rough, but feisty quad camshaft four-cylinder boxer engine, this particular unit instead houses an even larger 2-litre race engine capable of 180hp. More than 4 times what the original 356 made.

While it retained its Reutter-built steel body similar to other volume-production 356 models, it now had aluminium doors, an alloy front bonnet, a new louvred engine lid, perspex side windows, and 15-inch light-alloy wheels fitted to steel centres.

While the visual enhancements were subtle, they were enough to set apart these special Carrera GTs from “normal” production-series 356s. Though, is there ever such a thing as a “normal” 356? Current values hover around USD$1 million apiece though right-hand-drive versions might command quite a bit more since only 3 were ever made from its total 114 production run.

4 years after the final 356 Carrera GT rolled off the production line, the Porsche 904 or Carrera GTS was unveiled as the successor to the highly successful 718. Designed and engineered to compete in the FIA-GT racing class, Porsche had to build at least 100 cars to comply with Group 3 homologation rules and even though there was exceeding demand from customers, Porsche eventually only crafted 106 cars. Its purity of design also makes it one of my favourite Porsches from an aesthetic point of view.

In the metal, the 904 is also surprisingly petite.

Make no mistake though, the 904’s diminutive stature belies its prowess in competition with numerous wins and top finishes in international races even against more powerful rivals. At Reims in 1964, a customer car fresh from Stuttgart even drove to the track and went on to win without the need for any spares. The Targa Florio, the Nürburgring, Le Mans, Spa, Monza, Sebring, Watkins Glen, Zandvoort, Daytona, the little 904 has seen them all.

The 904’s hardiness and reliability also gave it numerous accolades off-road, winning rally events including the Tulip, Munich-Vienna-Budapest, Geneva, the Alpine Rally, Spanish, Rossfeld, Hellbronner, and Gaisburg rallies, as well as a class win and second overall in the Monte Carlo Rally, a race with just 22 finishers out of 237 entrants. The beautiful Porsche 904, she’s a tough little fighter.

As you can see, the 904 also marked the beginning of a series of sportscars that culminated in the very dominant and very iconic 917.

The 908/1, 908/2 and 917.

Which of course, leads me to these Stuttgart legends. The svelte Martini 917LH (Langheck, or “Long tail”), the iconic “Pink Pig” 917/20, the legendary Gulf Racing 917KH (Kurzheck, or “Short tail”), the stunning 911 RSR and the sheer dominance that is the 917/30 Can-Am.

Do they even need an introduction?

917L-042. 1 of only 3 surviving Long tails in existence.

There are many imitators but this is the original and there is none like it.

Winning 7 out of the 10 races it competed in. This is what it means when people call a car legendary.

RSR #09. This particular car, chassis #9113600020, known internally as R2 EVFV (Entwicklung, Versuch, Fahrversuch, or Development, Experimental, Road Test Vehicle), spent much of its life doing just that -being a test and development vehicle. In its lifetime this RSR also competed both as a rally and track car, even ending up on its roof after some less than deft driving by one Giulio Pucci.

In the 1973 Targa Florio, against more powerful rivals from Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, chassis #9113600020 driven by Leo Kinnunen and Claude Haldi finished 3rd overall. More interestingly, with no more space in the team’s transporter after the race, RSR #09 had to be driven over 1,200 miles back to Stuttgart from Sicily. For the remainder of the 1973 season, RSR #09 went back to being a test and development vehicle before rolling into the Porsche museum a year later for its well-earned retirement.

And here is where I shall sign off Part 1, with the tail end of the mighty 917/30, one of the most powerful racing cars to ever hit the racetracks. Depending on the state of tune, these machines could push out between 1,100 to 1,580 horsepowers and dominated Can-Am races so much, people lost interest in the series! Hopefully, you haven’t lost interest in my post yet because part 2’s on the way.

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