Karl Lud­vigsen tells the tale of the fas­ci­nat­ing coach­built Porsches

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words: Karl Lud­vigsen Photos: Lud­vigsen Col­lec­tion

The Swiss broth­ers Beut­ler stepped on the stage of Porsche-car his­tory at the be­gin­ning of the first act, when Gmünd-built 356s were be­ing sent to Switzer­land, some as com­pleted coupés and some as bare chas­sis. Im­porter Bern­hard Blank ar­ranged to have the chas­sis bod­ied as cabri­o­lets by panel-beater Fritz Beut­ler and de­signer Ernst Beut­ler at their work­shops on Gwattstrasse in Thunʼs southerly Dür­re­nast dis­trict, not far from Thun Lake.

Al­though they did a beau­ti­ful job in 1947–48 on half a dozen 356 cabri­o­lets for Swiss cus­tomers, the Beutlers then left the Porsche stage, pre­fer­ring be­spoke coach­work for in­di­vid­ual cus­tomers to se­ries pro­duc­tion, no mat­ter how small. Rel­a­tively soon, how­ever, they re­sumed ac­tiv­ity that would lead to a re­newed role in the drama of Porsche devel­op­ment.

ʻWe did more four-seater than two-seater cars,ʼ Ernst Beut­ler later told Randy Leff­in­g­well. ʻOur clients al­ways asked: a coupé, nice shape, four places.ʼ As the Volk­swa­gen grew in pop­u­lar­ity dur­ing the 1950s it be­came a Beut­ler sta­ple. Bod­ies on the VW Bee­tle chas­sis were clev­erly crafted by the Swiss to give comfortable 2+2 seat­ing on the stan­dard wheel­base of 94.5 inches. Wolfs­burgʼs shield was a styling el­e­ment cen­tred on an or­na­men­tal oval at the nose that passed for a grille at first glance.

As early as 1953 a VW was Beut­ler-bod­ied as a hand­some coupé that eerily fore­shad­owed the pro­por­tions of the Kar­mann-ghia that was still two years in the fu­ture. By 1954 Beut­ler had evolved a four-pas­sen­ger for­mat that it ex­ploited for sev­eral years in both coupé and cabri­o­let for­mats. While at­trac­tive verg­ing on sporty, its style com­mu­ni­cated a lack of pre­ten­sion that ap­pealed to the Swiss char­ac­ter.

The coupéʼs cur­va­ceous green­house had C-shaped rear­quar­ter win­dows while its main body came ei­ther with or with­out a hint of hips above its rear wheel­houses. Lend­ing them­selves to a se­cond colour for the roof above their high belt­lines, Beut­ler bod­ies had an oval front mo­tif that could ei­ther be an air in­let for front-en­gined chas­sis or a dec­o­ra­tive de­sign fea­ture for rear-en­gined ma­chines.

When fit­ted to a Bee­tle plat­form the re­sult was a car of vast dis­tinc­tion com­pared to a gar­den-va­ri­ety VW, al­though at SFR14,950 cost­ing some triple a stan­dard Beetleʼs SFR5555. Trim was lux­u­ri­ous with leather seat­ing and up­graded in­stru­men­ta­tion and steer­ing wheel. In spite of some dif­fi­culty in get­ting plat­forms from VW, which wanted to pro­tect its Kar­mann-ghia, be­tween 1953 and 1956 Beut­ler built 12 Vw-based cars of this genre.

For per­for­mance to match a Beut­ler Beetleʼs looks a Porsche 1600 Su­per en­gine was avail­able as a SFR3600 op­tion, giv­ing a top speed of 102mph. Stop­ping to match was avail­able in the form of a 356A brak­ing sys­tem for SFR1200. Be­fore one knew it, one had the equiv­a­lent of a four-seater Porsche for a to­tal of SFR19,750, equiv­a­lent at the time to some $6170. With the ad­di­tion of ap­pro­pri­ate rear-deck grilles, in­stru­ments and badges the hum­ble VW be­came a ʻPorscheʼ with all the pres­tige that im­plied.

A face-lifted ʻBeut­ler-porscheʼ made its de­but at Geneva in March of 1957. ʻBeut­ler has reached a new pin­na­cle,ʼ re­ported Au­to­mo­bil Re­vue. ʻThis year ʼs ver­sion achieves an im­pres­sion of length by the sim­plest means, namely in­creases in front and rear over­hangs and the ex­e­cu­tion of both as hor­i­zon­tally as pos­si­ble. In this body­work, which has gained in pu­rity of form through many de­tail im­prove­ments, one notes very slen­der wind­screen posts and sub­stan­tial glass area. When Porsche-pow­eredʼ, it con­tin­ued, ʻthese cars achieve an at­trac­tive blend of live­li­ness and spa­cious­ness.ʼ

The Beutlers used some four dozen par­tial forms against which they ham­mered the body skins to shape, butt-weld­ing them to­gether to form the com­plete body. For ma­te­rial they used an al­loy called Aluman, which com­ple­mented alu­minum with 1.1 per cent man­ganese by weight to en­hance its stiff­ness. They found that the shap­ing process made the skin even stronger.

The Aluman pan­els were 1.2mm thick, apart from the 1.5mm used for the doors, sides and rocker pan­els. Car­ry­ing them were steel tubu­lar struc­tures that also contributed to the

body-shap­ing and form­ing process. Typ­i­cally two months were needed to com­plete a body be­fore send­ing it to Lothar Lauen­stein, whose paint shop was next door to the Beut­ler work­shop. Of the new de­sign in­tro­duced in 1957, priced at SFR20,390, five were pro­duced.

A new Ger­man plat­form of in­ter­est to Beut­ler was in­tro­duced in 1958. This was the Auto Union 1000, an up­pow­ered ver­sion of the In­gol­stadt-built two-stroke DKW. At Geneva in March of 1959 the broth­ers launched a body for this model that re­tained the usual green­house while break­ing with the pre­vi­ously bul­bous lower-body lines to of­fer a much sharper front-end ap­pear­ance and hints of tail fins with ver­ti­cal rear lamps.

Seen at Thun dur­ing its cre­ation, this much fresher Beut­ler look ap­pealed strongly to a tall Stuttgart-based 22year-old whose fam­ily name had be­come that of a Ger­man state: Carl, Duke of Würt­tem­berg. In 1975 he would be­come head of the House of Würt­tem­berg – since 1952 of­fi­cially part of the uni­fied state of Baden-würt­tem­berg, home to Porsche – when his el­der brother re­nounced his right of suc­ces­sion.

Duke Car­lʼs in­ter­est in a cabri­o­let ver­sion of this new style co­in­cided with in­creased in­volve­ment in the Beut­lersʼ ac­tiv­i­ties by Zuf­fen­hausen. Since their first com­bined ac­tiv­i­ties in 1947–48, Ferry Porsche and Er­win Komenda had kept in touch with the broth­ers. Now, a decade later, they thought it was time to see if there was merit for these four­pas­sen­ger mod­els as an ad­junct to the Porsche range. Dur­ing a visit to Thun in De­cem­ber 1958 they agreed on length­en­ing the stan­dard 356A chas­sis by 250mm, al­most 10 inches, bring­ing the wheel­base to 92.5 inches.

Early in 1959, re­lated Randy Leff­in­g­well, ʻEr­win Komenda re­turned to Thun. He brought with him some Porsche frame rails, an ex­ten­sion for the gearshift link­age and some mod­i­fied wiring. At Beut­ler work­ers made a sup­port to hold the car solidly in place with a hy­draulic-pump assem­bly to ac­cu­rately open up the length.ʼ They went to work on two chas­sis sent from Zuf­fen­hausen com­plete with en­gine, sus­pen­sion and steer­ing, plus the in­stru­ments.

These first two stretched Porsche chas­sis went un­der bod­ies of the new style. A Swiss busi­ness­man was ea­ger to take pos­ses­sion of his coupé, which was ready early in 1959. For his part Carl of Würt­tem­berg pro­vided a fac­tory-fresh 356A 1600 Nor­mal chas­sis, bought from a dealer in Reut­lin­gen, to the Swiss broth­ers for adaptation to a soft-top. Dur­ing the con­struc­tion process, said Ernst Beut­ler, ʻthe Duke came to sit in the car to check that he fit­ted in­side—be­cause he was very tall.ʼ In fact mod­i­fi­ca­tions to its roof line had to be made to ac­com­mo­date his frame.


Work went ahead quickly. A bill of SFR26,000 later, in May of 1959 Duke Carl had his cabri­o­let, metal­lic blue with a tan top and beige in­te­rior. Like its coupé sis­ter, it had ver­ti­cal tail lamps on muted fins that hinted of Bri­tainʼs Sun­beam Alpine. Both had Car­rera-style twin air-in­let grilles in the rear deck.

Un­der the head­line ʻA Four-seat Porscheʼ both cars were fea­tured in Au­to­mo­bil Re­vue of 27 Au­gust 1959. Re­cap­ping Beut­ler ʼs re­newed co-op­er­a­tion with Porsche, the pa­per de­scribed their length­ened wheel­base and ʻlux­u­ri­ous equip­mentʼ. At the front, it noted, lug­gage ca­pac­ity had grown thanks to the trunkʼs more-for­ward plac­ing and re­shap­ing of the fuel tank. Weight, it stated, was 2070lb.

Al­though this was an in­crease of some 200lb over a stan­dard Porsche, in spite of its much more elab­o­rate de­sign its alu­minum skin al­lowed it to com­pare favourably with the 2025lb of Porscheʼs own ef­fort at a four-seater, its Type 530.

Only one cloud dark­ened the skies of the re­freshed Porsche-beut­ler re­la­tion­ship: Komenda did­nʼt like the de­sign. Af­ter the good re­cep­tion the new look had re­ceived, this was dis­ap­point­ing. But the Porsche peo­ple had only al­lowed their chas­sis to be used un­der the 1959-style bod­ies be­cause those two cars were al­ready near­ing com­ple­tion. ʻWe dis­cussed the front, the bumpers, the styling,ʼ Ernst Beut­ler re­called. ʻThey said I had to change the “mouth”, to have an­other front and also the back, styled to in­te­grate some orig­i­nal Porsche parts.ʼ

With these changes, the Porsche men ex­plained, Beut­ler could keep the orig­i­nal fac­tory war­ranty and be sure of get­ting the var­i­ous com­po­nents it needed to build the cars. This was framed as an of­fer the Swiss could­nʼt refuse if they wanted to keep on build­ing ʻPorschesʼ. The pos­si­bil­ity was ex­plored of sell­ing four-seater cars through the Porsche net­work.

This pos­si­bil­ity was not de­nied to Porscheʼs sup­plier of Spy­der bod­ies, Wendler Karosseriebau Gmbh in nearby Reut­lin­gen. Soon enough its in­ter­pre­ta­tion drove into the Werk I court­yard. Wendler stayed close to the 356A, us­ing its front end and wind­screen. Stretch­ing the frame some 300mm ahead of the rear wheels, it built a notch­back green­house with more an­gu­lar quar­ter-win­dows. Ver­ti­cal Mercedes-benz tail lamps capped the ex­tended rear fend­ers of a pro­to­type that re­mained ex­actly that.

Draw­ings of the new Komenda-in­flu­enced Beut­ler de­sign were shown to clients at the March 1959 Geneva Sa­lon. Based on 356B chas­sis the first two Porsche-look Beutlers left Thun in Novem­ber of 1959 for Jack­sonville, Florida where they had been or­dered by a freshly minted Porsche dis­trib­u­tor for the south­east. The new mod­elʼs styling and its car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity ap­pealed to the wife of Hu­bert Brundage, founder of Florida VW dis­trib­u­tor Brundage Mo­tors and, from Septem­ber 1959, as BRUMOS, a Porsche dis­trib­u­tor as well. She kept one, said re­searcher Marco Marinello, while the other was sold.

The Komenda-in­flu­enced Beut­ler-porsche made its for­mal bow at Geneva in March of 1960. ʻRu­mours about devel­op­ment work by Porsche on a car in a larg­erdis­place­ment cat­e­gory,ʼ said Au­to­mo­bil Re­vue, ʻhave height­ened in­ter­est even more in a length­ened four-seat ver­sion de­vel­oped by the Beut­ler broth­ers in Thun.ʼ

Ad­ver­tised by Beut­ler as ʻA gen­uine four-seater on the speedy Porsche chas­sis,ʼ the new model did in­deed


re­sem­ble a stretched ver­sion of the new Type 356B Porsche. While the green­house was clas­sic Beut­ler, with its slim pil­lars and gen­er­ous glaz­ing, it rested atop a body that had been Porschefied. At the rear Porsche tail lamps were next to minifin fender ex­ten­sions while the nose, vis­ually much longer than the orig­i­nal, ended in a Swiss in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the 356B with side lamps and air in­lets in­te­grated.

Head­lamps were ver­ti­cal in­stead of slop­ing in Vw/porsche style, adding to what one observer called the new ver­sionʼs ʻe­lon­gated char­ac­ter ʼ. While the 356B bumpers and their over­rid­ers looked nat­u­ral enough at the rear, the ef­fect at the front can only be de­scribed as jar­ring, pro­trud­ing as they did well for­ward of the body­work. Pric­ing was a shock as well, the 1600 Nor­mal ver­sion cost­ing SFR25,900 and the Su­per priced at SFR26,900 – no­table in­creases from the prices of pre­vi­ous Porsche-pow­ered Beutlers.

ʻWhether these VW and Porsche ver­sions, some­thing spe­cial for en­thu­si­asts, have the same driv­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of the orig­i­nals re­mains an open ques­tion,ʼ Au­to­mo­bil Re­vue opined. Al­though famed for its road tests, the pa­per never as­sessed one. No longer el­e­gant and not yet sporty, the Porsche-look Beut­ler was an ac­quired taste. Two more were com­pleted in May and Novem­ber of 1960 with a fi­nal car leav­ing Thun in Novem­ber 1961 to bring to five the num­ber of this ver­sion made. The last one, made on a pre-pro­duc­tion T6 plat­form, graced Beut­ler ʼs Geneva stand in March of 1962.

ʻTheir noses are dif­fer­ent,ʼ said Beut­ler-porsche owner Henry Walker, Jr. ʻThe coupés be­gan with a higher, blunt nose, with Beut­ler ap­par­ently try­ing to in­crease space in the front lug­gage com­part­ment, then be­came lower and more like a 356. The last two also have a no­tice­able crease from below their head­lights to the front wheel well.ʼ Sur­vival rate of the rear-en­gined Beutlers is im­pres­sively high.

De­mand was demon­stra­bly less than in­tense for these fi­nal Porsche-ised Beutlers. The idea of sell­ing them through Porscheʼs net­work proved in­fea­si­ble when set against the Beut­lersʼ tra­di­tional di­rect-sell­ing prac­tice, which left no mar­gin for mid­dle­men. Nor were Thunʼs pro­duc­tion meth­ods geared to the out­put pace that would be needed to sat­isfy even a mi­nus­cule slice of Porscheʼs global mar­kets.

Like other be­spoke coach­builders, Beut­ler suf­fered from the in­tro­duc­tion of mono­coque auto bod­ies that lacked the sep­a­rate frames on which they built so many bod­ies. Al­though car­ry­ing on, the com­pany never wholly re­gained the spe­cial af­fec­tion that the Swiss granted to its Vw-based cre­ations. It re­mained in busi­ness un­til 1987, when Beut­ler was fi­nally shut­tered. Al­though only en­joy­ing a walk-on part, Beut­ler ʼs role in the Porsche drama was no­table. CP

Below left: The green­house pil­lars of this 1959-style Beut­ler-bod­ied VW were de­light­fully thin. But the car ʼs de­sign lacked ap­peal to Er­win Komenda, who wanted a more Porsche-like look

Above left: On the Volk­swa­gen plat­form Beut­ler also of­fered power by Porsche as an op­tion. This hand­some 1957 coupé was an ex­am­ple as shown by its wheel discs and hood badge

Above right: Bear­ing a 1960 reg­is­tra­tion, this Beut­ler soft­top built on a stretched Porsche chas­sis was a hand­some cre­ation with its prom­i­nent tail lamps and rear-deck lug­gage rack

Below right: That de­signer Ernst Beut­ler had flair was shown by this 1959 ad­ver­tise­ment. But if they wanted the sup­port of­fered by Porsche the broth­ers had to con­form to Stuttgartʼs ideas

Above: The Beut­ler broth­ers de­served high marks for this pretty coupé on the Volk­swa­gen plat­form in 1953. It an­tic­i­pated the sim­i­lar Vw-based Kar­man­nGhia by two years

Below left: The six cabri­o­lets built by the Beut­ler broth­ers on Gmünd-made chas­sis in 1947–48 were ex­cep­tion­ally pretty. But that was their only Porsche-based work for the time be­ing

Below right: Re­spond­ing to cus­tomer de­mand, Beut­ler in­tro­duced this roomier twodoor on the VW chas­sis in 1954. It was stan­dard­ised for a small se­ries of sim­i­lar coupés

Below: Shown at Geneva in 1962, one of the last of the Beutlers was built on a stretched Porsche 356 chas­sis. It com­pleted a set of seven cars based on Porsche run­ning gear

Above: First shown in two ex­am­ples at Geneva in March, 1960, the Porsche­in­flu­enced Beutlers on the 356B chas­sis flaunted the two-tone liv­ery that suited their styling

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