NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM
It’s a lock-in at the shrine of Porsche’s heritage: the company collection at Zuffenhausen
It’s a lock-in at the hallowed halls of Porsche’s collection
T’S EASY to get overwhelmed at the Porsche Museum. The public have left the building and we’re led from the foyer through a labyrinthine series of elevators and corridors, all finished in unadorned white, to a set of double doors. Our guide swipes her fob on the wall and there’s a momentary pause. The doors swing open and there right before us is a plain black Beetle. Behind it is a 1939 Type 64 body, and peeking through a far set of stairs are racing 911 RSRS and 936s. A Paris Dakar 911 and a race 944 to the left, the second 356 ever built to the right. For a moment, I’m a bit overloaded and just gawp, head swivelling in disbelief.
Photographer Jahn’s a regular here and he’s straight into it, but I need a moment. Our guide asks if we’re okay and then leaves. They genuinely have left us alone in here with these priceless cars. Kid, meet candy store. There’s a certain flow to the 80 cars on show, starting with the earliest and spiralling up three levels to the most recent, represented by the current production car range, the 918 Spyder hypercar and the 919 Le Mans winner.
My footsteps ring out on the white marble floor tiles as I walk to the front of the museum and look out. Daylight is fading at the picture windows and lights blink on in the apartment blocks of this eastern suburb of Stuttgart. Commuters head home on the dual carriageway. I’m watching them while sitting on the rear tyre of Alain Prost’s Mclaren MP4/2C F1 car, powered by Porsche. I look into the cockpit, keen to see what The Professor would see out of the car. Just one gauge, marked to 12,000rpm, a Personal steering wheel and a burnished gear lever at his right hand. It smells slightly funky, some biological top notes among the oil and rubber.
Start walking clockwise and you’ll tick back in time through Porsche’s competition cars. The 919 looks like some giant carbon sarcophagus, pure function, awesome in its purposeful ugliness. The RS Spyder is its antithesis, all primary colours and open cockpit. The brake dust from the 911 GT1 is still baked hard onto the louvres on its front wheel arches. It’s been there for 20 years since this car raced at Le Mans, deposited there by Bob Wollek on the big braking zones at Arnage and Mulsanne.
Underscoring Porsche’s competition success is a vast forest of trophies suspended on wires. There’s the dainty little opal headscarf for the Paris Dakar, the big bowl of the Mille Miglia and there in the centre is the trophy awarded to Le Mans 24 Hour winners.
Underscoring Porsche’s competition success is a vast forest of trophies suspended on wires
There are cars here that are like trick questions for Porsche fans
I feel compelled to touch it, this thing lifted by Carroll Shelby, Bruce Mclaren, Jacky Ickx, Derek Bell, Graham Hill and countless other legends of the sport. The engraved panel only runs to Mike Hawthorn’s win in 1955, but the names prior to that include Nuvolari, Veyron and Barnato.
Just opposite is a 956 mounted upside down, illustrating the fact that this car makes enough downforce at 321.4km/h to stick it to the ceiling. Theoretically. There’s Bjorn Waldegard’s Safari Rally 911 SC, complete with dings in the front bar that tell of some unfortunate creature meeting its maker. The casually knotted bungee holding the first aid kit in place on the parcel shelf is but one charmingly human aspect to these cars. Look inside the 1962 Typ 804, Porsche’s only fully in-house Formula 1 car, and you can see the light scratches on the gear lever caused by Dan Gurney’s wedding ring as he piloted the car about the pits.
The big-ticket racers like the 956, the 917 and the achingly beautiful 908 are all well documented. A more fascinating aspect of the museum is the weird and wonderful, the cars that never made production or were one-off gifts. The very first 911 Turbo was a present to Louise Piech for her 70th birthday. You have to stop for a moment to let that one sink in. This oneoff, narrow-body 911 Turbo, the archetypal scary road car of the 1970s was given to a 70-year-old woman as a birthday gift? Likewise one of only two eight-cylinder 914s ever built is on display, a gift to Ferry Porsche on his 60th. With 221kw at its elbow, this little thing, built in 1969, must have been seriously rapid, its output only being eclipsed by the introduction of the 3.3-litre turbo version of the 911.
There are cars here that are like trick questions for Porsche fans. The Porsche 968 Club Sport Cabriolet, for example. Or how about the 1981 911 Turbo 4x4
Cabriolet. Yep, this G-series is the first rear-engined Porsche with all-wheel drive as well as being the first 911 cabriolet. Finished in pearl white with pearl white leather, it used a shortened 928 prop shaft to bring torque to an adapted 911 Turbo diff on the front axle. This engineering study proved an evolutionary dead end, a pearl white elephant, but it’s utterly intriguing nevertheless.
There’s so much here to stop you in your tracks. I don’t know a great deal about Rolf Stommelen, but I know that in 1968, this unbelievably brave German gent strapped himself into a 909 Bergspyder hillclimbing car that weighed 384kg, thanks to its thin plastic shell, beryllium brake discs and aluminium frame, which appeared to have the crashworthiness of a bathtub. The tiny eight-cylinder 1981cc engine behind his head made 202kw for a power-to-weight figure of 526kw/tonne, better than something like a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport.
Behind the Bergspyder is the 917 PA Spyder, a giant white receptacle for a normally aspirated flat-16 engine, the driver propped ahead of it seemingly as an afterthought. Unsurprisingly, this one never made it beyond the test facility at Weissach. Running on a mezzanine above is the ugly mug’s ball, a series of five cars that were never going to win any beauty contests. The Porsche 915 Pininfarina Holzmodell is probably the most ungainly; a 1969 attempt to build a longwheelbase 911 sedan. Think of it as the Panamera’s great grandad.
Next to it is the rough-edged and strangely proportioned 924 Weltrekordwagen, an abortive attempt to set a world mark of 250km/h for 10,000 miles. The 984 Prototyp is the forerunner to the
ABOVE: THE 718 OF THE LATE ’50S AND EARLY ’60S DELIVERED A BEST OF 8TH AT LE MANS IN W-RS FORM (AS PICTURED) IN 1963, AND, IN VARIOUS INCARNATIONS, THREE TARGA FLORIOS