His­tory of Porsche in the US

It be­gan in a small work­shop in Aus­tria and evolved into one of the most iconic au­to­mo­tive brands in the world. But how did Porsche bring its brand to Amer­ica, now one of the com­pany’s most cru­cial mar­kets?

Total 911 - - Contents - Writ­ten by chris randall Pho­tog­ra­phy by­to­tal 911 and Porsche Ar­chive

Porsche’s re­la­tion­ship with North Amer­ica is as long as it is fas­ci­nat­ing. Find out the full story here

If you’ve ever been to New York then you’ll prob­a­bly know that Man­hat­tan’s Park Av­enue is one of the city’s swankier ad­dresses, and it also hap­pens to be one that plays a piv­otal role in the story of Porsche in Amer­ica. That story be­gins back in the au­tumn of 1950, when the leg­endary Max Hoffmann put a Porsche 356 on dis­play at his ex­ten­sive show­room at 430 Park Av­enue – a de­ci­sion that led to the coun­try be­com­ing Porsche’s most im­por­tant mar­ket. An Aus­trian ex-pat, Hoffmann knew that Euro­pean cars were just what post-war, car-hun­gry Amer­i­cans wanted and, hav­ing been en­cour­aged by a Swiss jour­nal­ist, Max Troesch, de­cided to add a Porsche fran­chise to his port­fo­lio. Ferry Porsche him­self was said to have been slightly less cer­tain, re­put­edly telling Hoffmann when they met at the 1950 Paris Mo­tor Show that he hoped he could sell at least five cars a year. Hoff­man’s re­ply?

“If I can’t sell five a week, I’m not in­ter­ested”. Giv­ing two 356s to racer Briggs Cun­ning­ham was an in­spired move, as pro­file-rais­ing race vic­to­ries soon fol­lowed, and although he im­ported just 32 cars in 1951, that num­ber was about to ex­pand be­yond all ex­pec­ta­tions, least of all Ferry Porsche’s.

By 1952, 21 per cent of to­tal Porsche sales were in the US (amount­ing to 283 cars), and two years later, 11 cars a week (30 per cent of pro­duc­tion) were be­ing sold. By 1955 it would be up to more than 50 per cent (1,514 cars), and in 1965, Amer­ica’s sales of Porsche cars stood at an amaz­ing 74.6 per­cent of pro­duc­tion. In­ci­den­tally, such was Porsche’s im­pact on the Amer­i­can con­scious­ness that 1953 saw a Porsche 1500 Su­per go on dis­play at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, and two years later the Porsche Club of Amer­ica was formed. But we’ve got slightly ahead of our­selves here: the in­ter­ven­ing years had also seen plenty of other de­vel­op­ments, not least a vi­tal ex­pan­sion to the West Coast, cour­tesy of an old friend of Hoffmann’s, and fel­low Aus­trian, Johnny von Neu­mann.

Al­ready run­ning his own busi­ness, Com­pe­ti­tion Mo­tors, based in North Hol­ly­wood, the two met up in New York in 1951, and it would be von Neu­mann’s first taste of the mar­que, one which quickly saw Cal­i­for­nia be­com­ing Porsche’s big­gest US mar­ket. But Hoffmann was far from fin­ished. A din­ner with Ferry Porsche in 1952 would re­put­edly lead to the cre­ation of the Porsche crest that we all know today: ac­cord­ing to the story, Hoffmann is said to have told Ferry that the com­pany should have a crest, so Ferry sketched one out on a nap­kin. The Aus­trian im­porter also recog­nised

“In 1965 Amer­ica’s sales of Porsche cars stood at an amaz­ing 74.6 per cent of pro­duc­tion”

the im­por­tance of pro­mot­ing the brand with mod­els that were unique to the US. It was that mar­ket­ing acu­men that led to the de­vel­op­ment of the 356 Speed­ster. Launched in 1954 at a cost of $3,000, it was soon at­tract­ing the at­ten­tions of Amer­ica’s celebri­ties, in­clud­ing ac­tor James Dean, who bought his from von Neu­mann’s West Coast deal­er­ship. Un­for­tu­nately, the 550 Spy­der that he bought next would end his life the fol­low­ing year, but we should per­haps be dwelling on more pos­i­tive news, and there was plenty of that to come. The fol­low­ing decade would see the be­gin­ning of Porsche’s rac­ing suc­cess on Amer­i­can soil, start­ing with a vic­tory in 1960 at the 12 Hours of Se­bring with the 718 RS.

By 1968 the Type 907-8 had won the 24 Hours of Day­tona, and in 1979 Paul New­man would bring a

935 Turbo home in sec­ond place at Le Mans, Porsche fol­low­ing this up with a 1-2-3 fin­ish at Day­tona in

1983. Tales of motorsport dom­i­nance have been told be­fore in the pages of To­tal 911, so we should re­turn to the mid­dle of the 1950s, a time when Porsche were be­gin­ning to ex­pe­ri­ence a de­gree of con­cern over the Amer­i­can op­er­a­tion.

Although sales were con­tin­u­ing to in­crease at an im­pres­sive rate, those con­cerns cen­tered on the abil­ity to suc­cess­fully con­trol stan­dards when it came to sales and the sup­port pro­vided to own­ers, as well as fu­ture ex­pan­sion. Those as­pects were con­sid­ered crit­i­cal if Porsche was to grow suc­cess­fully, and in 1959 it led to the for­ma­tion of the Porsche of Amer­ica Cor­po­ra­tion (POAC) in Tea­neck, New Jer­sey. Bet­ter able to over­see the en­tire op­er­a­tion on a cor­po­rate ba­sis, it was a timely move, as the Zuf­fen­hausen man­u­fac­turer was a just a few short years away from launch­ing its most fa­mous model. Although the 356 had been an un­doubted suc­cess – giv­ing the brand a foothold in a huge mar­ket – it was still viewed as a Euro­pean cu­rios­ity by some buy­ers, but the

911 was to change all that. Del­i­cately pro­por­tioned and ex­hibit­ing a depth of engi­neer­ing that was a world away from that of many homegrown mod­els, it im­proved on its pre­de­ces­sor in a whole host of ways. Com­pared to the 356 there was more space

(the 911 was now a gen­uine 2+2), im­proved han­dling, am­ple per­for­mance and it was eas­ier to main­tain, and Amer­i­can buy­ers took to it in their droves.

Let’s not for­get that the US mar­ket would also in­flu­ence the Ne­unelfer in ways that would prove piv­otal to its his­tory and de­vel­op­ment, and the first such model would arrive in 1967. The suc­cess of the 356 Cabri­o­let and Speed­ster proved there was a de­mand for open-top Porsches, but US leg­is­la­tors were threat­en­ing to out­law con­vert­ibles on safety

grounds. This con­cern led to the de­vel­op­ment of the Targa, which is still with us half a cen­tury later. Come 1974 and the launch of the G-se­ries, 911 buy­ers also had to con­tend with a new de­sign fea­ture – the im­pact bumper. They’d come about be­cause of a re­quire­ment that cars sur­vive a 5mph (8km/h) im­pact with­out suf­fer­ing body­work dam­age, and they’d re­main a fea­ture of the 911 right up un­til 1990 and the launch of the 964. And, as Porsche would dis­cover, those weren’t the only chal­lenges they faced when it came to sell­ing the Ne­unelfer in such an im­por­tant mar­ket.

While Euro­pean en­thu­si­asts were able to get their hands on the very best that Zuf­fen­hausen and Weis­sach could pro­duce, US buy­ers would be de­nied some of the finest 911s ever built. No­tably more strin­gent emis­sions leg­is­la­tion was of­ten to blame, mean­ing that many Rennsport mod­els never made the jour­ney State­side, and the 2.7 RS was the first ca­su­alty. The me­chan­i­cal fuel in­jec­tion dis­pensed fuel with too much aban­don for cat­alytic con­ver­tors, so the Amer­i­can 2.7 engine got Bosch K-jetronic in­jec­tion, milder cams and cast, rather than forged, pis­tons – it lost 35bhp and a wodge of torque in the process. The 993 RS and

996 RS didn’t make it across the pond ei­ther, with both emis­sions and crash reg­u­la­tions play­ing a part, but at least a ver­sion of the 964 RS did go on sale. Known as the RS Amer­ica, it wasn’t as fo­cused as the ROW model but was still stripped out, fea­tur­ing the M030 sus­pen­sion and com­ing with a much cheaper price tag than the Car­rera 2. The 930 Turbo didn’t es­cape the ire of leg­is­la­tors ei­ther: it was with­drawn in 1975 as tighter emis­sions rules be­gan to bite, and then re­turn­ing in 1985 armed with Le-jetronic in­jec­tion and a cat­alytic con­ver­tor. And, as we de­tailed in Is­sue 158, the awe­some 959 would prove another prob­lem child. Re­put­edly Porsche knew from the out­set that it wouldn’t be al­lowed, but tried to cir­cum­vent the rules by declar­ing them to be race cars, although nei­ther the ruse nor the lux­ury spec­i­fi­ca­tion fooled US of­fi­cials, and the eight cars that did arrive (the orig­i­nal deal was for 30) were promptly despatched back to Europe.

It’s also worth rewind­ing to 1975 and the 912E, a four-cylin­der model boast­ing a mod­est 86hp that was sold only in the US for just a year, a stop­gap be­tween the out­go­ing 914 and the soon-to-arrive 924. In­deed, the 914 – a joint ven­ture with Volk­swa­gen – had seen Porsche form a suc­cess­ful link with Volk­swa­gen of Amer­ica (VOA), but come 1984 that sit­u­a­tion was about to change. With the need to main­tain qual­ity within the or­gan­i­sa­tion para­mount, par­tic­u­larly when it came to mar­ket­ing, where there were con­cerns that the VOA net­work would be dis­tracted by the vol­ume needs of VW, the de­ci­sion was taken to form Porsche Cars North Amer­ica (PCNA).

Lo­cat­ing its new HQ in Reno, Ne­vada, that’s where it would stay un­til 1998, when another move took the busi­ness to At­lanta, Ge­or­gia. The com­pany was en­ter­ing a pe­riod of mas­sive growth, buoyed by the in­tro­duc­tion of the Boxster and huge­lyprof­itable Cayenne SUV, but by 2010 itchy feet led PCNA to start look­ing for a new HQ – one which re­flected their am­bi­tions for the US op­er­a­tion – and it would lead them to One Porsche Drive. Lo­cated at the ‘Aerotropo­lis At­lanta’ site in the south­ern metropoli­tan district, work on the new HQ be­gan in Novem­ber 2012, and it opened three years later to great ac­claim (for the con­struc­tion geeks among us, the main build­ing’s frame con­tained 27,000 cu­bic yards of con­crete and some 500 tons of steel).

The re­sult of a 100 mil­lion dol­lar in­vest­ment, the open­ing cer­e­mony was at­tended by lu­mi­nar­ies in­clud­ing then-ceo Matthias Müller and Dr

Wolf­gang Porsche, and the com­plex was a stun­ning tes­ta­ment to Porsche’s sta­tus in North Amer­ica. No mere of­fice build­ing, it would in­clude the first Porsche Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­tre in the US along­side a driv­ing sim­u­la­tor lab, ‘Clas­sic Cen­tre’, gallery and fine din­ing restau­rants. Along with a new Porsche Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­tre in Carson, Los An­ge­les and the Porsche Sport Driv­ing School in Alabama that had been set up in 1999, the Ger­man mar­que’s pres­ence in the US had been thor­oughly ce­mented. More than six decades have passed since the ‘funny lit­tle sports car’ had ar­rived to take on Amer­ica’s sports car in­dus­try, and the coun­try had shaped the 911 in ways that en­dure to this day, but it’s a story that de­serves to be re­mem­bered. Who knows what the fu­ture holds for the au­to­mo­bile, but we can be pretty sure that Porsche’s US op­er­a­tion will be sup­port­ing its loyal cus­tomers for decades to come.

“While Euro­pean en­thu­si­asts were able to get their hands on the very best that Zuf­fen­hausen could pro­duce, US buy­ers would be de­nied some of the finest 911s ever built”

clock­wise from TOP Former HQ in Reno, Ne­vada; 356 Amer­ica Road­ster was built to seize di­rect ap­peal among State­side driv­ers; Strin­gent US ex­haust reg­u­la­tions are ad­hered to at Zuf­fen­hausen; new PCNA HQ at One Porsche Drive, At­lanta; Early pic­ture from a Porsche Club of Amer­ica meet; Col­lec­tion of im­pact bumper cars sit bound for the States

Left GMC truck de­liv­ers new batch of Porsche im­ports BE­LOW 964 RS never made it State­side, cus­tomers in­stead of­fered this 964 RS Amer­ica

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