We drive back to Porsche’s be­gin­nings 70-years on

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Ev­ery date, ev­ery day, ev­ery year is sig­nif­i­cant to some­one or some­thing and no more so than birth­days or an­niver­saries. They are how we mark the pas­sage of time. A chance to re­flect and look back dur­ing the march for­ward. And so it is for Porsche this year. You can't have es­caped the Porsche at 70 party, but more than that, there is a spe­cific day and month that has been des­ig­nated as Porsche's ge­n­e­sis mo­ment: June 8, 1948. The date is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause this is the very day that the first Porsche was road reg­is­tered in the Aus­trian town of Gmünd and, as a mag­a­zine that's ded­i­cated to all things Porsche, we knew that on June 8, 2018, Gmünd was where we needed to be.

Of course we now as­so­ciate Porsche with Stuttgart and Stuttgart is where Pro­fes­sor Fer­di­nand Porsche based his de­sign con­sul­tancy be­fore and dur­ing WW2, and af­ter­wards from 1949. Gmünd was a blip, but a hugely im­por­tant one in the his­tory of our favourite mar­que. It's where Porsche re­lo­cated as Stuttgart be­came ever more tar­geted by the Al­lies, and the Ger­man war min­istry de­cided that Porsche and its em­ploy­ees needed to be out of harm’s way, to con­tinue serv­ing the war ef­fort. Cze­choslavakia had been mooted, but Porsche chose the re­mote Alpine vil­lage of Gmünd, which was not far from the fam­ily's coun­try re­treat at Zel am See in south­ern Aus­tria. So, in the Au­tumn of 1944, 200 skilled de­sign­ers and engi­neers found them­selves toil­ing in a con­verted wooden sawmill and wait­ing for the in­evitable Al­lied vic­tory, one that Pro­fes­sor Porsche, and son Ferry, had seen com­ing for some time.

When the vic­tors came it was the Amer­i­cans that made it to Gmünd first, although most of the Al­lies were in and out and all were in­ter­ested in making the most of plun­der­ing Porsche's war time con­tri­bu­tion and en­gi­neer­ing knowl­edge. Th­ese were, of course, more than dif­fi­cult times, not helped by Porsche fa­ther and son be­ing com­manded to go to France to help Re­nault pro­duce its own 'peo­ple’s car' and then be­ing im­pris­oned on flimsy charges in poor con­di­tions, which did lit­tle for Pro­fes­sor Porsche's ail­ing health or his en­thu­si­asm for Re­nault's pro­ject. Mean­while in Gmünd the Porsche work­force turned its hand to any­thing that would earn a liv­ing. Fix­ing up aban­doned Kubel­wa­gens be­ing an ob­vi­ous rev­enue stream...

” Both Fer­di­nand and Ferry made it back to Gmünd in 1946 and set about de­sign­ing and build­ing what­ever they could, that would be use­ful in their largely ru­ral en­vi­ron­ment: trac­tors, wa­ter and wind tur­bines, log­ging equip­ment, but of course cars were never far from their mind and a sports car built from VW com­po­nents had been a long held am­bi­tion. Porsche was

A sports car built from VW com­po­nents had long been an am­bi­tion

lucky, then, that the Bri­tish REME (Royal Elec­tri­cal and Me­chan­i­cal Engi­neers) had near mirac­u­lously man­aged to get the Volk­swa­gen fac­tory up and run­ning and, in 1946, built a stag­ger­ing 10,000 cars. A parts source was there­fore guar­an­teed and work be­gan on pro­ject num­ber 356 in “the sum­mer of 1947. Once again the syn­ergy be­tween Porsche and VW, which started with Porsche's de­sign for Hitler's 'peo­ple's car' vi­sion in the 1930s and con­tin­ues to this day, with Porsche un­der VW own­er­ship, was to prove more than an as­set and with­out VW'S early re­turn to pro­duc­tion, the mo­ment could have been lost.

Porsche started work­ing on the light­weight, alu­minium, space-framed road­ster in sum­mer 1947. The VW en­gine and transaxle lay­out was turned around to cre­ate one of the world's fist mid-en­gined de­signs and the smooth, if slightly bland, body­work was all en­velop­ing and aero­dy­nam­i­cally ef­fi­cient. With no means to mass pro­duce bodyshells, the alu­minium body was hand shaped and formed on a wooden buck, as would be the sub­se­quent pro­duc­tion 356 coupes, that would roll out of Gmünd.

But enough of the his­tory les­son right now, be­cause you join us en route to Gmünd in 2018 in what must surely be the clos­est mod­ern rel­a­tive to Porsche 356/001: A Boxster 718 com­plete with its 2-litre flat­four en­gine, al­beit tur­bocharged, rather than nat­u­rally as­pi­rated. If time travel were pos­si­ble, then this is a car that Pro­fes­sor Fer­di­nand Porsche would surely recog­nise as a di­rect de­scen­dant, right down to its ‘push me, pull me’ looks and front and rear luggage ca­pa­bil­ity. In­deed, he might just won­der why 70-years of progress hasn't de­liv­ered some­thing rather more rad­i­cal. In­deed, we had con­sid­ered making the jour­ney in a Porsche hy­brid of some de­scrip­tion, but you sense that even that would have been sniffed at, given that the Prof was mess­ing around with hy­brid and all-elec­tric cars be­fore the turn of the 20th cen­tury. The Mis­sion E (now named Tay­can), might have im­pressed, but would

With a parts source guar­an­teed work be­gan on pro­ject num­ber 356

have strug­gled with our near 800-mile jour­ney (hav­ing said that, Porsche is claim­ing an 80% charge in just 15 mins). Maybe for Porsche's 80th birthday we will re­turn sans fos­sil fuel.

For now, though, we're glad of the in­stant “en­ergy source and the good old in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine. It makes light work of tack­ling mul­ti­ple coun­tries, giv­ing a range of 300+ miles per tank, which you won­der if all-elec­tric power will ever match, de­spite what man­u­fac­tur­ers might claim. And this is my first time in a four-cylin­der turbo flat-four of the Boxster/cay­man va­ri­ety and I have to say that I'm quite taken with it. Some of my es­teemed col­leagues have likened it to sound­ing rather like a gen­er­a­tor – one that de­vel­ops vi­bra­tions, but not of the good va­ri­ety. For what it's worth, while it doesn't have the smooth­ness and sound­track of the flat-six, there is an off­beat throb to its power de­liv­ery that's still charis­matic com­pared to an in­line four and a cor­re­spond­ing off­beat ex­haust pulse, that is in no way of­fen­sive and sounds quite gruff. And, let’s not for­get the im­por­tant bit here: it's still a boxer en­gine, with all the low cen­tre of grav­ity han­dling benefits that come with it. 'Nuff said.

One thing it cer­tainly isn't lack­ing is power. Force feeding air via a turbo might be some­thing of a blunt in­stru­ment, but it's a great way of get­ting 300bhp from 2-litres. Let's not for­get the orig­i­nal 2.5-litre Boxster flat-six made lit­tle more than 200bhp and the most re­cent 2.7-litre, flat-six Boxster and Cay­mans had a peaky 275bhp, that strug­gled to cope with the tall gear­ing de­manded by eco and emis­sions de­mands. With a full turbo torque curve, such gear­ing is­sues are sim­ply blud­geoned aside. Not very purist, maybe, but very ef­fec­tive.

Power is also what you need on the Ger­man Au­to­bahn, par­tic­u­larly if you find your­self on the der­e­stricted sec­tions be­tween In­gol­stadt and Mu­nich at kick­ing out time, where the weapon of choice is an es­tate from ei­ther Audi, Mercedes or

Let’s not for­get the im­por­tant bit here: it’s still a boxer en­gine

Vw/skoda, painted a stealthy black/dark grey and trav­el­ling ab­so­lutely flat-out at be­tween 130–140mph. Con­voys of three or four at a time come blast­ing past, and while we've got the fire­power to join in, we're lack­ing the con­cen­tra­tion re­quired to main­tain such ve­loc­ity. You've got to love the speed-crazed free for all, though, or 'Freie Fahrt für frei Bürger' as they say in Ger­many! Trans­la­tion? 'Free driv­ing for free cit­i­zens.'

Gmünd is a long way, make no mis­take. Tucked away in a stun­ning val­ley in the south­ern Aus­trian prov­ince of Corinthea, it’s a stone's throw from Slove­nia and ac­cessed now by the A10 su­per high­way, with Salzburg 130kms to the north. It's an 11+ hour slog for us and the Boxster and when we ar­rive it's nearly dark and our ho­tel owner has to beg a nearby bar/bistro to keep the kitchen open for a toasted sandwich. For­tu­nately the beer is a lit­tle more forth­com­ing and we've cer­tainly earned a cou­ple of tall ones.

So here we are in Gmünd, where it all hap­pened, or the day be­fore it all hap­pened. Well, kind of. Fact is, Porsche 001 would have seen ac­tion on the sur­round­ing roads and the Gross­glock­ner Pass from late 1947 on­wards, but the fact that it was road reg­is­tered on June 8th is the sym­bolic line in the sand that lends it­self to a de­fin­i­tive date. It's cer­tainly where his­tory was made, some­thing that hasn't been lost on Gmünd as a town, with its long estab­lished, pri­vately owned Porsche mu­seum and Porsche Park. Even the orig­i­nal de­sign of­fice still ex­ists. The fol­low­ing day would doubt­less see the Porsche faith­ful de­scend on Gmünd to pay homage and to mark the oc­ca­sion? In­deed, there was al­ready an uber early, split

The fol­low­ing day would doubt­less see the Porsche faith­ful de­scend

wind­screen 356 Coupe at our ho­tel. Could it even be a Gmünd car? In the dark it was im­pos­si­ble to tell.

It's quiet, too quiet. Gmünd is bathed in early morn­ing light, as the sun climbs slowly above the sur­round­ing moun­tains. We break­fast out­side in the pure alpine air and strain for the sounds of flat-fours and sixes, but get as­saulted only by the high-pitched parp­ing of a cou­ple of lo­cal teenagers on mopeds. The 356 has gone. This can't be right, have we even got the right date, we pon­der? The mu­seum opens at 10am, that will be the place to head. Best get there a bit early to ensure a prime pho­to­graphic hot spot, so there's just time to wash the Boxster and get it look­ing its best for this day of days, its own birthday of sorts.

Ok, ok, you can see where this is go­ing can't you. I could spin the ten­sion out for an­other cou­ple of para­graphs, but re­ally what's the point. The fact is we've driven all this way for a birthday party that clearly isn't go­ing to hap­pen. We are the only party peo­ple in town. What's go­ing on, apart from clearly not a lot? Well, we know that Porsche is of­fi­cially hav­ing some­thing of a bash at the Porsche Mu­seum, where the great and the good will be, but while that's all very nice, and had we talked to the right peo­ple we prob­a­bly could have been there, it's rather miss­ing the point. Porsche 001, wasn't de­signed in Stuttgart, it wasn't built in Stuttgart. It was de­signed and built right here. No, we're clearly in the right place. It's ev­ery­one else that's got it wrong. Sure, Gmünd's his­toric cob­bled town square would have looked great with Porsches of all sorts parked up, and we could have got our­selves a few vox pops to add to the story, but ac­tu­ally, we've got the place to our­selves and that will do nicely, thank you.

We’ve driven all this way for a birthday party that isn’t go­ing to hap­pen

And be­sides, Gmünd hasn't for­got­ten. It cel­e­brates ev­ery day thanks to Hel­mut Pfeifhofer, who re­mem­bers Porsche chas­sis 001 zoom­ing around the lo­cale and whose fam­ily even helped Porsche move its in­dus­trial equip­ment into the wooden sheds that would be­come home in 1944. He never strayed from Gmünd (why would you, it’s sim­ply stun­ning) and opened his epony­mous pri­vate mu­seum as a trib­ute to Porsche in 1982.

Hel­mut is in res­i­dence, too, and while his English is as patchy as our Ger­man, he seems pleased to see us and gives us the run of the place. The two-storey barn build­ing mu­seum is the an­tithe­sis of the Stuttgart ed­i­fice, but it con­tains some cru­cial his­tor­i­cal arte­facts from Porsche's Gmünd pe­riod, from mun­dane wa­ter turbine gen­er­a­tor to a Gmünd built 356 Coupe, with its un­painted, hand formed alu­minium body as bare as the day it was cre­ated, and be­side it a cur­va­ceous struc­tural ash body buck. Most of the ex­hibits are con­tained in the up­per tim­ber beamed gallery, ac­cess to which from the out­side is via a ramp. Some of the ex­hibits are on loan from the Porsche Mu­seum, in­clud­ing one of our all time favourites, a 924 Car­rera GTS, plus a Car­rera GT, which re­vives mem­o­ries of a spine tin­gling V10 ad­ven­ture, tem­pered by rec­ol­lec­tions of its frankly moody clutch.

We re­quest a photo op­por­tu­nity out­side the re­main­ing orig­i­nal Porsche build­ing from the wartime oc­cu­pa­tion, which Hel­mut owns and has re­stored, and lies just a mile down the road. The tim­ber build­ing was Pro­fes­sor Porsche's de­sign of­fice and bears the leg­end: Porsche Kon­strukio­nen Ges.m.b.h, Werk Gmünd. It is again a re­minder that we're in the right place, even if the gi­ant tim­ber sheds in which the cars were built

Gmünd hasn’t for­got­ten. It cel­e­brates ev­ery day

are long gone. Again, it's hard not to feel that Porsche has missed a trick on this day of days. Why is Porsche 356/1 not here on the roads that it pounded and tested on? Ah, but imag­ine the me­dia bun­fight? “

In the town and just off the main square/strasse, lies the Porsche Park, a tran­quil trib­ute to the Pro­fes­sor, where a bronze bust of the great man re­sides. Gmünd it­self has clearly not changed one bit and ad­heres to the Aus­trian stereo­type of alpine beauty and charm mixed with the sort of ob­ses­sive tidy and clean thing, that we Brits will never get or as­pire to. So pleas­ant is it that we de­cide to have a spot of lunch in the mid­dle of town and imag­ine Porsche's engi­neers do­ing much the same 70-years ago, per­haps tak­ing a break from test­ing, or per­haps grab­bing a quick bite be­fore head­ing for the more chal­leng­ing ter­rain that is the Gross­glock­ner Pass, which is ex­actly where we're go­ing next.

The Gross­glock­ner High Alpine Road – to give it its full ti­tle – is a toll road and at first the 36 Eu­ros de­manded to pro­ceed seems a lit­tle steep, but after an ex­hil­a­rat­ing af­ter­noon of driv­ing and snap­ping, it's an ut­ter bar­gain. Split into roughly two panoramic routes, peak­ing at 2571 me­tres above sea level in the shadow of the Gross­glock­ner it­self, which at 3798 me­tres is Aus­tria's high­est moun­tain. Be­tween the end of the road and the moun­tain's peak is the Pasterze glacier. So high into the thin­ning air are we, the sky turns a deeper shade of blue.

Need­less to say the Boxster scythes through the ter­rain of manic ess-bends with mes­meris­ing speed and bru­tal ef­fi­ciency, thanks to grip, elec­tron­i­cally en­hanced sus­pen­sion and turbo punch. Even so, at this al­ti­tude there is a slight pause as the en­gine gets on it from low revs out of the tight­est, uphill cor­ners. You won­der, then, what 356/1 must have been like, with just

So high into the thin­ning air are we, the sky turns a deeper blue

35bhp at 4000rpm from its 1131cc flat-four, and pre­sum­ably even less than that at this sort of al­ti­tude. Sure, its 585kg kerb weight would have helped, but one thing is for sure, 70-years on and 356/1 would dis­solve in the wake of the mod­ern Boxster, hardly sur­pris­ing given that it has roughly 10-times as much power.

But it's not all about power, though. With its cen­trally lo­cated, flat-four en­gine, low cen­tre of grav­ity, weight and rel­a­tively so­phis­ti­cated sus­pen­sion, 356/1 boasted han­dling that was way beyond any­thing else that was avail­able in 1948. Some­thing that wasn't lost on those pi­o­neer­ing mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ists of the day, that were lucky enough to be in the right place to get be­hind the wheel, which in­cluded Bri­tain's The Mo­tor, whose Euro­pean cor­re­spon­dent, Max Troesch, who re­ported on the road­ster’s “re­ally re­mark­able road hold­ing, com­bined with a pleas­ant soft­ness of spring­ing and very light, ac­cu­rate steer­ing...” Won­der what Max would have made of 356/1's Boxster de­scen­dent? He cer­tainly couldn't fail to spot, or ap­pre­ci­ate, the tan­gi­ble Porsche DNA.

Un­like in Gmünd, there's no shortage of other Porschep­hiles en­joy­ing the Gross­glock­ner Pass to­day. Whether they re­alise the sig­nif­i­cance of the date, or the ter­rain, is any­one's guess, but the sus­pi­cion is that they're just here to en­joy the drive. And why not? Us? Well, it's been some­thing of a pil­grim­age, a call­ing even, to mark a mo­ment in time, that it­self was borne out of ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances and has led to some ex­tra­or­di­nary cars. Happy 70th, Porsche. PW

70-years on and the 356/1 would dis­solve in the wake of the Boxster

Left: Hard to know why Ben­nett de­serves such a big pic of his be­spec­ta­cled mug, but he can con­firm that the Boxster driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is pure Porsche, even with a cou­ple of cylin­ders miss­ing

Out­side Hel­mut Pfeifhofer’s Porsche Mu­seum in Gmünd. It’s well worth a visit

Thanks to Hel­mut Pfeifhofner, Porsche’s orig­i­nal de­sign of­fice is still stand­ing in Gmünd of­fer­ing a tan­gi­ble con­nec­tion with Porsche’s Gmünd ten­ure

As it was in 1944 (be­low) and lat­terly as Porsche’s own fa­cil­ity, post war (left) from 1946 to 1949, when Porsche moved back to Stuttgart

Boxster poses in front of the dis­tinc­tive arched en­trance to Gmünd’s cen­tre

Be­low left: MD of Gmünd Werks, Otto Huslein, at the wheel of 356/1. Same place, but 70-years in the past

Above: Mu­seum has orig­i­nal wooden buck, plus an ex­am­ple of a Gmünd built alu­minium bod­ied 356

Ben­nett in Gmünd’s at­trac­tive cen­tre. He’s clearly con­fused, won­der­ing where ev­ery­one else is on this sig­nif­i­cant date

The mu­seum also fea­tures ex­hibits on loan from Porsche’s Stuttgart mu­seum

Gmünd-built 356s test­ing on the Gross­glock­ner Pass

Above left: A sim­ple bust of Pro­fes­sor Fer­di­nand Porsche in Gmünd’s peace­ful Porsche Park. Above: 356s un­der construction in Gmünd fac­tory/wood shed

Reach for the sky. At 2571 me­tres above sea level, the Gross­glock­ner Pass cer­tainly gets you a lot closer

The Boxster is dwarfed by the ter­rain and even its turbo en­gine feels a lit­tle out of puff at such al­ti­tude

Boxster on the road up to the Eidel­weiss Spritze. Note glacier in the back­ground

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