CALIFORNIA DREAMERS: PORSCHE AT THE PETERSEN
LA’s famed Petersen Museum celebrates seven decades of iconic road and race cars
IMAGINE BEING ASKED to distil seven decades and millions of cars from one of the world’s most storied, winningest marques into just 50 cars. It’s like asking a Fab Four fan to pick the top three Beatles tunes, or a stoner to choose just one chocolate bar from the glittering confectionery shelves at the 24-hour garage. Either could take days, and both would still be wracked with insecurity at their final selection afterwards.
But that’s what the curators of Los Angeles’ recently remodelled Petersen Automotive Museum tasked themselves with putting together – The Porsche Effect, a year-long exhibition showcasing the best of Porsche’s first 70 years.
“This exhibit is about how Porsche has created a timeless silhouette; this memorable appeal with such a large fan base,” says the Petersen museum’s Brittanie Kinch.
And when your eyes follow the gentle curves of the very earliest cars in the collection you can see exactly how. Looking at the 1939 Type 64 in particular is a strangely moving experience, the automotive equivalent of seeing Lennart Nilsson’s famous 1965 pictures of embryos for the very first time. In the silhouette, the window graphic and the way the bodywork curves seamlessly from flank to tail are clear signposts to the shape we know today as the 911.
The 911 in its various forms dominates the exhibition, but there are plenty of reminders that Porsche design and engineering has followed different paths, some of which – like the four-door 928 concept – turned out to be dead ends (albeit temporarily). And there’s a clear emphasis on the importance of Southern California’s shaping of the Porsche legend, from Steve McQueen’s 356 Speedster to Rob Dickinson’s own hotrodded 911 that inspired his Singer Vehicle Design business.
Inevitably, Porsche’s motorsport achievements also feature heavily, from the little 550 Spyder to the recently retired 919 Hybrid. What impresses isn’t merely the volume of victories but the variety, the ability of marque and driver to win at disparate disciplines – epitomised by Vic Elford standing on the podium’s top step at the 1968 24 Hours of Daytona in a 907 only days after coming home first on the Monte Carlo Rally in a 911.
Like the best family films, The Porsche Effect works on several levels. You could grab your popcorn and simply see it as just a bunch of cool cars and come away with a big smile and a camera packed with Instagram gems. Or you can dig deeper and find yourself blown away by the sophisticated engineering and desire to innovate at a company that’s occasionally – and unfairly – regarded as conservative because of its reluctance to give up on a rear-engined layout laid down over 70 years ago.
Many companies struggle to link a glittering past with a more prosaic present. But the fact that cars like the Type 64, RSR and 917 can sit cheek by jowl with a 991 Carrera GTS 911 without any one of them appearing out of place proves Porsche understands its heritage, and how it got here.
ABOVE Original engineering drawings and scale models also feature in the exhibition at the Petersen Museum. But, given the price of classic Porsche bits, you probably still can’t afford one
TWO Evolved from the 906 and built in 1966 using either a flat-six or flateight engine, the 910’s stand-out result was a top-four clean sweep at the Nürburgring 1000km. In the foreground: racing and road (‘strasse’) versions of the GT1