What do you do when you live behind the Iron Curtain yet dream of owning a Porsche? Why, you build your own… We tell the fascinating story of the 356-inspired Lindner ʻPorscheliʼ coupé
The Lindner ‘Porsche’ was a dream come true for two East German brothers
ʻAt Schloss Dyck we were the outsiders,ʼ says Alexander Fritz. ʻWhile others were whisked away to their five-star hotels in chauffeurdriven limousines, we walked to our lodgings in a monastery, stopping off on the way at the local beer cellars.ʼ The Schloss Dyck concours dʼélégance, you see, is an event held every autumn for only the very rarest and best classic cars.
Alexander Fritz and his Lindner coupé were invited by the organisers to compete in the concours in the category for ʻCoupés and cars of class built between 1948 and 1955ʼ. Among the other entries were a Mercedes 300SL ʻgullwingʼ, once the property of the Aga Kahn, and Prince Bernhardʼs Ferrari 212, so a rare German sports car that looked rather like a Porsche wasnʼt too far out of place. Except, of course, it wasnʼt strictly a Porsche…
Knut and Falk Reimann were twin brothers, born in 1932 in Dresden, the city infamously laid to waste in February 1945. Post-war they loved travelling throughout Germany but were frustrated by the partitioning which split their home country in two: the ʻfreeʼ west and the communist east – the
Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or DDR for short. Contact with the outside world became increasingly difficult, but visiting Berlin gave them the opportunity to peak into the west to see what they were missing – and foremost among the hidden pleasures were cars like the early Porsches, of which they could only dream of owning.
However, there were still the battered remains of cars and motorcycles that had somehow survived the war. The two brothers began by repairing a BMW motorcycle, followed by a Fiat Topolino, but what they hankered for most of all was a Porsche. But where to begin?
The answer lay in the form of the remnants of a wartime VW Type 82 Kübelwagen which the brothers discovered near their home. This simple platform chassis, once stripped of its body, was taken to the coachbuilding company Lindner in
Mohorn, near Dresden, an old-school carrosserie run by Arno Lindner and his son Helfried. The Reiman brothers talked of creating a Porsche-styled coupé, a challenge to which Helfried Lindner rose with some enthusiasm as he saw it as a great way to promote the family concern, maybe leading to building a series of such cars.
The chosen method of construction was one which had stood the test of time: using an ash frame for the main body, with a tubular steel front and rear framework to support the nose and tail sections. Over this framework of wood and metal, hand-formed steel body panels would be mounted, the Kübelwagen chassis being stretched by some 30cm. The source of the necessary metal in such days of austerity? The bonnets of 15 old Ford trucks… The construction process took some 1000 man hours, for which the brothers were charged 3500 Ostmarks (the currency of the DDR at the time). It was not, said Helfried Lindner, a lucrative contract…
The plan was to build a series of a dozen or more coupés but before that the prototype was put to the test. Because the borders between East and West Germany were somewhat ʻporousʼ at the time, the brothers had little difficulty in travelling outside their home country, visiting Brussels, Nice, Lake Geneva and eventually Italy. In 1956, they ventured south to Stuttgart to visit the
“THEY TALKED OF CREATING A PORSCHE-STYLE COUPÉ…”
Porsche factory itself. There, after some negotiation, they were allowed to look round the factory, leaving a letter for Ferry Porscheʼs attention in which they asked if it would be possible to buy parts to convert their old VW engine into something more along the lines of Porscheʼs 356 unit.
A few weeks later, a letter arrived in which Ferry Porsche expressed his admiration for the project and agreed to supply parts – they would be despatched to the Winter VW dealership in West Berlin. From that point on, it was up to the Reimann brothers to find a way to smuggle the parts into East Germany.
The brothers named their car a ʻPorscheliʼ, using a false number plate to fool the DDR border guards into thinking it was a West German car. Sharing a driverʼs licence to save money, the twin brothers drove through France, Italy and Belgium before the net began to tighten and the borders became less pervious. The fun continued until one fateful day when the border guards said ʻno moreʼ – the brothers were eventually imprisoned as they planned their escape to the west in 1961.
They were released after a year, but the car had, in the meantime, fallen into the hands of Siegmar Bunk, a driver for the Dresden-based Melkus company (which manufactured small-capacity racing cars), who subsequently sold it for parts. Falk Reimann moved to Hungary, while his brother Knut remained in Germany, but of the car there was no trace.
Today, it is believed that just two of possibly 13 Lindner ʻPorschelisʼ survive, one of which – the car seen here – is thought to be Number 4. The sorry remains of the car surfaced in 2008, having been rescued by classic car enthusiast, Ernst Bernsteiner. Nobody knew much about the car when he showed it in ʻas foundʼ condition at some old-
timer meetings, the sorry-looking coupé only receiving comments suggesting it was a Tatraplan, or that it had the wrong bumpers for a Pre-a 356 Porsche…
At the time, current owner Alexander Fritz had little interest in the Lindner until he began to carry out some research. After spending several hours in front of the computer, the full story began to unravel and he struck a deal. In 2012, he tracked down the Reimann brothers, Knut in Berlin, Falk in Budapest, and they were more than happy to dig out all their photo albums showing their adventures with the Porscheli. Helfried Lindner, by now an old gentleman, was also tracked down in the search for information.
The hunt for a suitable restorer led Fritz to Absolut Classic in Budapest, the only company that was prepared to take on the restoration at a reasonable rate.
Sadly neither Knut Reimann nor Helfried Lindner lived to see the completion of the restoration, but Falk did and was overwhelmed when he finally saw his treasured sports car once again looking as it did some 60 years earlier. He, too, passed away within weeks of the restoration being finished, a silver rose from his funeral flowers now sitting in the bud vase on the dashboard of the restored car.
At the prestigious Schloss Dyck concours, the Porscheli was the only Ddr-built car on show. It impressed the judges enough to win its class. It also impressed Porsche, who recently used it as part of a special display. The Reimann brothers and Helfried Lindner would have been proud. CP
“THE REIMANN BROTHERS WOULD HAVE BEEN PROUD…”
Above: From this angle, the Lindner-built coupé clearly displays the influence the Porsche 356 had on its design, right down to the trademark grille on the engine lid
Below left: Dashboard features gauge pods and gloveboxes (with accessory lids) from a Volkswagen
Below right: Alexander Fritz spent many hours tracking down information before embarking on the restoration
Below: Longer wheelbase and lower waistline changes the proportions compared to those of the 356
Above right: Front end bodywork was formed over a tubular steel frame
Above left: The Lindner coupé used an early VW engine, brought up to Pre-a Porsche specifications
Above: Rear three-quarter view is probably the least attractive, the rear bodywork looking a little too wide. But that is not to detract from the amazing efforts of the Reimann brothers in creating their ‘Porscheli’
Below left: Ash frame with tubular steel subframes supported the hand-beaten steel bodywork
Below centre: The Reimann brothers with their dream car
Below right: Alexander Fritz has written a book about the fascinating Lindner coupé and its creators