We turn the clock back 70 years and head for Aus­tria…

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words: Kieron Fen­nelly Pho­tos: Porsche Archiv

To­wards the end of the war, Porsche was forced to re­treat to an Aus­trian back­wa­ter to save the com­pany from al­lied bomb­ing. But nei­ther the re­mote­ness of Gmünd nor the lo­gis­tics dis­rup­tions of the post war pe­riod slowed the Porsche dynamic: by the time the firm re­turned to its na­tive Stuttgart, the con­sult­ing en­gi­neer had also be­come a noted sports car maker and within a year its cars were par­tic­i­pat­ing at Le Mans

In 1931 Pro­fes­sor Porsche es­tab­lished his own busi­ness, Dr. Ing.h.c.F. Porsche Gmbh,K on st ruk­tio ne nu nd Be ratungfür

Mo­toren und Fahrzeuge, usu­ally re­ferred to as the Kon­struk­tions Büro. He was by then a well-known fig­ure in the Euro­pean au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try hav­ing worked at some point for­many of the big names, no­tablyaus­tro-daim­ler and Steyr in­aus­tria and­mercedes in Stuttgart. Abril­liant and in­no­va­tory en­gi­neer, Fer­di­nand Porsche was also a rest­less spirit and he com­plained that if com­pa­nies, mean­ing his em­ploy­ers, could live off his ideas for ten years, he could­nʼt.

Found­ing his own con­sul­tancy broad­ened the range of chal­lenges he could take on. His firmwas very suc­cess­ful – among­many projects it de­signed and en­gi­neered was the Wan­derer, an up­mar­ket four- and six-cylin­der sa­loon. An old name, Wan­derer had be­come part of theauto Union sta­ble which also con­trolled Horch, Dk­wan­daudi. This con­nec­tion led to Porscheʼs work on theauto Union rac­ers which in the late 1930s were locked in a strug­gle with­mercedes, which left all other com­peti­tors far be­hind. And of course, the Volkswagen…

Fer­di­nand Porscheʼs abid­ing in­ter­est in de­vel­op­ing a small, mass pro­duc­tion car co­in­cided with Hitlerʼs dream of mo­toris­ing the Ger­man pop­u­la­tion. The pro­fes­sor was not un­ac­cus­tomed to op­er­at­ing at such high lev­els: in 1932 the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment had of­fered himthe post of di­rec­tor of the Sovi­et­mo­tor in­dus­try which he turned down ʻonly be­cause I am­too old (he was 57) to change ca­reer and I could never work through in­ter­preters,ʼ he told son Ferry who had ac­com­pa­nied hi­mon the trip to­moscow.

In fact Ferry Porsche had worked closely with his fa­ther even be­fore the in­cep­tion of the Kon­struk­tions Büro. By 1939 he was managing the of­fice in Stuttgart be­cause his fa­therʼs in­volve­ment with the VW pro­ject was so in­tense that he was ei­ther trav­el­ling or work­ing at Faller­sleben, later known as Wolfs­burg. Dr Porsche was sup­ported there by An­ton Piëch, the Vi­en­nese lawyer who had mar­ried Fer­ryʼs older sis­ter Louise, and an en­thu­si­as­tic early re­cruit to the firm.

Dur­ing the war, gov­ern­ments on both sides com­man­deered en­gi­neer­ing firms, avi­a­tion and ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers to build equip­ment or weapons for the war ef­fort. For the newly es­tab­lished VW plant it was no dif­fer­ent and Dr Porsche was pressed to de­sign bat­tle­field ve­hi­cles, pro­duc­ing sev­eral va­ri­eties of the Kü­bel­wa­gen, an open lightweight ʻjeepʼ based on the Bee­tle; Porsche also de­signed tanks – in­deed the Leop­ard would stay in pro­duc­tion till the 1970s, as well as the Maus 200 tonne tank, so heavy in fact that Dr Porsche had to en­gi­neer a ded­i­cated rail­way truck to carry it.

As were most Ger­man cities, Stuttgart was bombed pe­ri­od­i­cally, but from 1944 as the might of the USAF be­gan to make it­self felt, the Swabian cap­i­tal came un­der sus­tained bom­bard­ment. As a strate­gic producer, Porsche was given per­mis­sion to leave Stuttgart and re­lo­ca­tion to Cze­choslo­vakia

was of­fered. Ferry turned this down and af­ter pro­tracted ar­gu­ments per­suaded the author­i­ties to al­low the com­pany to move to Kärn­ten in south­ern Aus­tria.

He man­aged to se­cure two sites, one at the air­field at Zell am See, which they would use for stor­age and con­ve­niently close to the fam­ily home of Schüttgut, and a sawmill at a vil­lage called Gmünd. About 120km south of Salzburg and 15km from the near­est rail­way sta­tion at Spit­tal, Gmünd was a re­mote spot by any yard­stick, but in the sham­bles as Ger­many be­gan to col­lapse, the move was vi­tal to save their com­pany.

Ferry Porsche did not hes­i­tate: in Novem­ber 1944, a large group of mostly Porscheʼs Aus­trian engi­neers and work­ers moved to Gmünd; ma­chine tools and ma­te­ri­als were ware­housed at Zell am See and a skele­ton staff re­mained in Stuttgart be­cause Ferry be­lieved sur­vival was more likely if the fir­mʼs as­sets were spread be­tween three places. Work con­tin­ued and, as the war ended in April 1945, the Stuttgart men were work­ing on a sec­ond Maus pro­to­type.

1945 proved, in­deed, to be a fraught year. Travel was dif­fi­cult as un­der al­lied par­ti­tion­ing of Aus­tria Zell am See was in the Amer­cian zone and Gmünd in the Bri­tish, and per­mis­sion was re­quired to go be­tween them. Ferry re­counts in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy that Amer­i­can of­fi­cers were bil­leted on them at Zell am See. They helped them­selves to the con­tents of the fam­i­lyʼs wine cel­lar then calmly emp­tied the sheds which con­tained ma­chines, parts and un­fin­ished pro­to­types; they also con­fis­cated ev­ery­thing else, in­clud­ing the car built for the 1939 Rome-ber­lin race, which Ferry had driven as his own trans­port dur­ing the war. The Amer­i­cans de­cided this would be bet­ter as an open car and hacked the roof off it, more or less wreck­ing it be­fore Fer­ryʼs eyes. Against this set­back, the Amer­i­cans car­ried out de­naz­i­fi­ca­tion pro­ce­dures ef­fi­ciently and by the sum­mer, all the Porsches had been ac­quit­ted.

The sin­gle storey buld­ings at Gmünd were steadily trans­formed into work­shops; an ac­com­mo­da­tion block was built and Porsche engi­neers de­vised wa­ter tur­bines to cre­ate a power source, even selling a few to lo­cal farm­ers. In this purely agri­cul­tural set­ting they worked on trac­tor de­signs, a small twos­toke diesel, later the ba­sis of the All­gaier Porsche trac­tor, and re­paired army ve­hi­cles which had been pressed into civil ser­vice and which were now fall­ing apart. In the post war months, trans­port of any type was in huge de­mand.

The Porsche men also con­structed winches, made trac­tor equip­ment and trail­ers. By mid sum­mer over 250 peo­ple were

work­ing there. Then what Ferry refers to as the dark­est days oc­curred: he and his fa­ther, and An­ton Piëch, were arrested in what re­mains a dis­grace­ful foot­note in French his­tory. The three were charged with mal­treat­ment of French POWS at the VW plant. The real rea­son was con­cern by the new French gov­ern­ment that Porsche planned to bring a VW type assem­bly to France, to the detri­ment of the French auto in­dus­try.

It was true that over­tures had been made to Dr Porsche in 1945 and he had re­sponded positively be­cause at that point it had seemed the fac­tory at Wolfs­burg was to be dis­man­tled and the land re­turned to agri­cul­ture. How­ever, noth­ing con­crete had ever been dis­cussed.

It was also dis­ap­point­ing that Pierre Peu­geot, who had made sig­nif­i­cant prof­its sup­ply­ing parts to VW dur­ing the war and knew con­di­tions at Wolfs­burg, said noth­ing in the Porschesʼ de­fence. The French soon re­alised that they could not jus­tify hold­ing Ferry and he was re­leased in the spring of 1946, but his fa­ther and An­ton Piëch were held in ap­palling un­heated con­di­tions through the win­ter of 1946–7. The ex­pe­ri­ence broke both menʼs health and they were fi­nally re­leased only to re­main un­der house ar­rest in Kitzbühl in the French sec­tor of Aus­tria in June 1947. Never of­fi­cially ac­quit­ted by the French, Dr Porsche was des­tined to re­main state­less and there­fore with­out a pass­port for the rest of his life.

In the ab­sence of her hus­band, fa­ther and brother, Louise Piëch, as­sisted by Karl Rabe, whom the Bri­tish had ap­proved as manager of the Gmünd site, had held the fort through the dif­fi­cult first win­ter un­til June 1946 when Ferry was fi­nally re­leased from house ar­rest. With his re­turn, con­sul­tancy ac­tiv­ity could be­gin again and through this, the most vi­tal con­tact for the fu­ture of Porsche was made: Cisi­talia.

Through a for­mer VW em­ployee, Ru­dolf Hruska, an Aus­trian now act­ing as an agent in Italy for Porsche, Ferry was in­tro­duced to Piero Du­sio. An in­dus­tri­al­ist and ama­teur racer be­fore the war, Du­sio was now plough­ing some of the vast for­tune he had made selling boots to the Ital­ian army into a sports car build­ing en­ter­prise. He was em­ploy­ing some of his coun­tryʼs best auto engi­neers and had even ven­tured into build­ing rac­ing cars: veteran GP driver Tazio Nu­volari had al­ready tested and raced a tiny Fiat-based sin­gle seater.

Du­sioʼs am­bi­tions seemed lim­it­less and his engi­neers told him to seek out the Ger­man ex­per­tise which pro­duced the Mercedes and Auto Unions. The ar­rival of Ferry Porsche on the scene was then quite prov­i­den­tial.

The con­tract to de­sign and en­gi­neer the Cisi­talia GP car


pro­vided not only the money to pay for Dr Porscheʼs re­lease, but also the nec­es­sary con­tacts: Du­sio, who had rel­a­tive free­dom to travel abroad, was able to use his friend­ship with renowned French jour­nal­ist Charles Faroux in par­tic­u­lar, to ne­go­ti­ate the Pro­fes­sorʼs free­dom, or at least el­e­va­tion to tem­po­rary house ar­rest in Aus­tria. At the same time, Ferry and Karl Rabe, who were look­ing for other op­por­tu­ni­ties to de­velop Gmündʼs nascent trac­tor busi­ness, were very taken by Cisi­tal­i­aʼs suc­cess­ful small sports car, built like the sin­gle seater around a tubu­lar frame and us­ing Fiat en­gine and gear­box.

In 1947 Pin­in­fa­rina had cre­ated a stun­ning coach­built ver­sion and tuned Cisi­tal­ias fin­ished sec­ond, third and fourth in the Mille Miglia. Du­sio planned to sell 500 of his cars for ex­port at US $7000 a piece. For com­par­i­son a Cadil­lac cost $5000.

This set Ferry and Rabe think­ing: there was no short­age of work at Gmünd and the Cisi­talia con­tract would con­tinue to oc­cupy the engi­neers for some time, but the idea of a two-seater sports car as­sem­bled with mass-pro­duced parts was firmly im­planted. Al­though Dr Porsche still hoped to be able to re­turn to VW and the Porsche trac­tor was al­ready on trial with a lo­cal farm­ing co­op­er­a­tive, Ferry could see that they also could em­u­late Du­sio and build not a Fiat-, but a Volkswagen-based car, and, crit­i­cally, they could do it at Gmünd. Later he would say ʻWe de­cided to build cars with the peo­ple we had, some very good engi­neers and me­chan­ics.ʼ

Typ 356/1 was an open barchetta. Us­ing VW en­gine and run­ning gear, it had an el­e­gant tubu­lar frame, but dif­fered from the Bee­tle in hav­ing its en­gine mounted ahead of the gear­box. This ne­ces­si­tated some re­work­ing of the VWʼS tor­sion bar sus­pen­sion, but by spring 1948 Ferry was test­ing a pro­to­type on lo­cal roads, his cousin Herbert Kaes won a lo­cal hill­climb with it in July and jour­nal­ists were able to drive it around the course at Berne prior to the Swiss GP.

Their re­ports were en­thu­si­as­tic and or­ders ar­rived from well-heeled Swiss en­thu­si­asts un­con­strained by the cur­rency and travel re­stric­tions im­posed on ev­ery­body else. Mean­while Ferry was al­ready look­ing ahead: the harsher cli­mate of North­ern Europe would re­quire a closed car and he had com­mis­sioned a coupé de­sign, Typ 356/2, which would have the gear­box Vw-fash­ion ahead of the en­gine. This would cre­ate a roomier car. But if the fac­tory at


Gmünd was as­sem­bling chas­sis and run­ning gear ef­fi­ciently, the more com­plex coach­work re­quired by the coupé was more dif­fi­cult to make, and Gmünd turned them out too slowly.

In Oc­to­ber 1949, Ferry com­mis­sioned Reut­ter in Stuttgart to build 500 coupé bodies, and was ne­go­ti­at­ing to take the com­pany back to Stuttgart. As the re­turn be­gan in early 1950, fi­nal trim­ming and fit­ting out of 356 bodies was car­ried out by a Vi­en­nese coach­builder fore­shad­ow­ing the ex­ten­sive use of sub­con­trac­tors, no­tably Reut­ter and Kar­mann, that Porsche would rely on over the life of the 356.

The need to re-es­tab­lish Porsche at Stuttgart was now im­per­a­tive: in 1948 in the first flush of en­thu­si­asm for the ʻDu­sio methodʼ Ferry had en­vis­aged mak­ing 150 cars by 1951, but in two years only 60 had been shipped. Lo­gis­tics de­lays and the lack of fa­cil­i­ties and coach­builders at Gmünd were all re­spon­si­ble, but Ferry be­gan to won­der whether the ven­ture into car build­ing was wise. Af­ter all Porsche had re­newed its po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive con­sul­tancy agree­ment with VW, where pro­duc­tion was now well es­tab­lished and in set­ting up PorscheSalzburg, this or­gan­i­sa­tion un­der Louise Piëch would now be­come not only Porscheʼs Aus­trian HQ, but also the VW im­porter. But if Porsche re­sumed work­ing in Ger­many, a man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tion was es­sen­tial to avoid puni­tive tax­a­tion.

This was part of the think­ing be­hind his de­ci­sion to de­sign the 356/2, a far more ver­sa­tile model than the orig­i­nal road­ster. More­over the VW agree­ment en­abled Porsche to use VWʼS ef­fec­tive sales net­work. An en­thu­si­as­tic re­sponse from these deal­ers who read­ily stumped up de­posits meant that by spring 1950 Porsche had enough work­ing cap­i­tal to jus­tify in­vest­ment in man­u­fac­ture.

A year ear­lier, when he was once more al­lowed lim­ited travel, Dr Porsche had ne­go­ti­ated the con­tract with Zuf­fen­hausen-based Reut­ter, and the coach­builder now pro­vided Porsche with tem­po­rary fac­tory space and sheds ad­ja­cent to its coach­works un­til the Amer­i­can Army moved out of Porscheʼs own build­ing, the im­pres­sive Werk 1, pur­pose-built in the late 1930s. How­ever this move was de­layed by two more years when, be­cause of the out­break of hos­til­i­ties in Korea, the US forces in­clud­ing the ve­hi­cle de­pot at Zuf­fen­hausen were or­dered to re­main in Europe. This devel­op­ment obliged Porsche to buy a sin­gle­storey wooden bar­rack build­ing to house its en­gi­neer­ing depart­ment, no doubt pro­vok­ing ironic com­ments about the sim­i­lar­ity with the con­di­tions they had just left in Gmünd!

To­day the site of Porscheʼs Aus­trian fac­tory is recog­nis­ably as it was in the 1940s. A Porsche mu­seum was es­tab­lished in a new build­ing in 1982 and its proud cu­ra­tor claims that his was the first pri­vate Porsche mu­seum. He has re­stored the var­i­ous huts and it is not hard to imag­ine the sawmill hum­ming with ac­tiv­ity 70 years ago.

Gmünd, to­day a pil­grim­age for ded­i­cated Porsche fans, re­mains as re­mote and bu­colic as it was when the Porsches and Piëchs first ar­rived there in 1944. CP

Above: Ferry Porsche (cen­tre), his fa­ther Fer­di­nand Porsche (right) and Er­win Komenda with the 356 No.1 Road­ster, the first ve­hi­cle to bear the name PorscheLeft: 1948 Porsche Type 356/2 Coupé at the Porsche fac­tory in Gmünd, Carinthia; be­hind it the No.1 Road­ster

Be­low left: Porsche KG took over an old sawmill in the sum­mer of 1944 in or­der to be able to con­tinue workBe­low right: In Gmünd, the com­pany lived on small or­ders such as winches, ski lifts and re­pairs to old Wehrma­cht ve­hi­cles, un­til 1948 with the con­struc­tion of the first Porsche

Above: 1948, Porsche Type 356/2 (Gmünd) Coupé pro­duc­tion at Gmünd. The photo was taken in the main assem­bly work­shop Be­low left: Wool threads were glued to the car to test the aero­dy­nam­ics. In the back­ground is the build­ing with the of­fice of Fer­di­nand Porsche and the ad­join­ing gate­house, which are the only build­ings of the for­mer fac­tory site pre­served to­day

Be­low right: 1948 Porsche 356/2 Gmünd Coupé out­side the works, Gmünd, Carinthia

Be­low: Not ev­ery road test went with­out a hitch…

Above: The main assem­bly build­ing, which was di­vided into a gen­eral work­shop, an en­gine and trans­mis­sion fa­cil­ity and assem­bly spaceAbove right: Ferry Porsche sits in the car, while Fer­di­nand Piëch, the son of Ghis­laine Kaes (ei­ther Ed­win or Phillipp) and Michel Piëch pose for the fam­ily al­bum

Above: The small but ded­i­cated Gmünd staff take a well-earned break! They could have had lit­tle idea how suc­cess­ful the com­pany would be­come over the next 70 years…

Be­low left: 1948, 356/2 near Zell am See, Schüttgut, in the back­ground is the Im­bach­horn moun­tainBe­low right: Out on road test. Note how the de­sign of the trim on the nose changed…

Above: 1948, Porsche No.1 out on the road, with Op­er­a­tions Manager Otto Huslein at the wheel

Be­low left and right: These two pho­tos give a clear idea of how ru­ral the lo­ca­tion of the first ʻfac­to­ryʼ was. Far from ideal, the lo­ca­tion served Porsche well…

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