DELWYN MALLETT

IT MAY BE 70 YEARS SINCE PORSCHE BE­GAN BUILD­ING SPORTS CARS, BUT THIS YEAR ALSO MARKS 80 YEARS OF THE VW FAC­TORY, WHERE THE STORY RE­ALLY BE­GINS…

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here canʼt be a Porsche en­thu­si­ast any­where in the world who has failed to no­tice that the com­pany is cel­e­brat­ing the 70th an­niver­sary of the cre­ation of the first car to carry the fam­ily name. How­ever, not all will have spot­ted, or even know, that itʼs also the 80th an­niver­sary of the lay­ing of the foun­da­tion stone of the fac­tory that would, a decade later, en­sure that a cash-strapped Porsche would sur­vive the im­me­di­ate post-war years and ul­ti­mately pros­per.

The cer­e­mo­nial cor­ner­stone of the Volk­swa­gen fac­tory was laid by Adolf Hitler on the 26th of May 1938, As­cen­sion Day and a Ger­man na­tional holiday. Ten years and one month later, us­ing Volk­swa­gen me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents the first Porsche rolled out of the Gmünd wood­sheds, where it had been hand built by Porscheʼs ar­ti­sans.

The cor­ner­stone cer­e­mony was a pro­pa­ganda ex­trav­a­ganza dis­play­ing all of the pomp and cir­cum­stance typ­i­cal of the mas­sive spec­tac­u­lars or­gan­ised by the Nazi party – draped with gi­gan­tic swastika-be­decked red ban­ners and po­liced by hun­dreds of SS troops in their su­per-cool but sin­is­ter black Hugo Boss uni­forms. There were three Volk­swa­gens on dis­play that day: a stan­dard sa­loon, a full-length sun­roof sa­loon and a con­vert­ible.

Af­ter a speech in which Hitler an­nounced, much to Pro­fes­sor Porscheʼs sur­prise and dis­may, that the new ʻVolk­swa­genʼ would in fact be called the ʻKdf-wa­genʼ, ( Kraft durch Freude Wa­gen or ʻStrength Through Joy Car ʼ), Ferry Porsche, driv­ing the cabri­o­let, chauf­feured a happy Hitler back to his spe­cial train wait­ing at the Faller­sleben rail­way sta­tion. Pro­fes­sor Porsche sat in the back and Ferry re­called in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy that he and his fa­ther were the only of­fi­cials at the cer­e­mony that were not in uni­form.

The fac­tory was lo­cated on the Mit­te­land­kanal in lower Sax­ony and had been se­lected as a site by Dr Bodo Laf­fer­entz, as­sis­tant to Robert Ley, the vir­u­lently an­tisemitic drunken head of the Deutsche Ar­beit­is­front (DAF or Ger­man Labour Front). Laf­fer­entz used a small air­craft to search for a suit­able site, fi­nally set­tling on a twenty-square-mile par­cel of land split be­tween the es­tates of Count von Schu­len­berg and Herr von Wense. In typ­i­cal Nazi fash­ion the land was ap­pro­pri­ated and de­risory com­pen­sa­tion paid to the own­ers. The land pinched from von Schu­len­berg in­cluded the Wolfs­burg cas­tle that even­tu­ally gave its name to the fac­tory, but ini­tially it was re­ferred to as the Faller­sleben fac­tory af­ter the nearby town.

The fac­tory was de­signed by Aus­trian-born ar­chi­tect Peter Koller, with Hitler ʼs favourite ar­chi­tect Al­bert Speer as a con­sul­tant. Koller also planned the ad­ja­cent new town of Wolfs­burg, built to house the work­ers and their fam­i­lies.

Due to a last minute switch of labour to the western de­fences, Hitler had to call on his Ital­ian dic­ta­tor buddy, Mus­solini, to ship in a 7000-strong top-up labour force. The rate of work was un­be­liev­ably fast: from cor­ner stone cer­e­mony to com­ple­tion took a mere 18-months.

The fac­tory was­nʼt just big, at a mile-long it was mas­sive, and at the time the worldʼs largest au­to­mo­bile fac­tory un­der a sin­gle roof. The first year ʼs pro­duc­tion tar­get was 400,000 cars, to be pro­duced on a two-shift rota sys­tem – 10,000 work­ers on the first shift and 7500 on the sec­ond. Ex­pan­sion was planned for 30,000 work­ers and pro­duc­tion of be­tween 800,000 and 1,000,000 Kdfs a year. A stag­ger­ing ob­jec­tive when one con­sid­ers that at that time there were only 1.1 mil­lion cars on Ger­manyʼs roads. (In­ci­den­tally, 1958 was the first year in which more than 400,000 Bee­tles left the fac­tory, 1965 the first year to break a mil­lion.)

The fac­tory was put on a war foot­ing be­fore Bee­tle pro­duc­tion got un­der way, even­tu­ally pro­duc­ing over 50,000

as well as re­pair­ing air­craft and build­ing V1 fly­ing bombs. In com­mon with most other in­dus­tries in Ger­many, the VW fac­tory made ex­ten­sive use of slave labour.

It was purely chance that al­lowed the Volk­swa­gen fac­tory to sur­vive the hostilities in a con­di­tion – just – that al­lowed post-war pro­duc­tion to recom­mence. De­spite Amer­i­can bombs de­stroy­ing up to 80 per cent of the con­struc­tion halls, by some mir­a­cle the enor­mous power-gen­er­at­ing tur­bine halls were un­scathed. If they had been de­stroyed the fac­tory would prob­a­bly have been de­mol­ished.

Amer­i­can troops ar­rived at the Stadt des Kdf-wa­gens in March 1945, which was the sec­ond favourable hand that fate dealt. If it had been in the Rus­sian zone the fac­tory would have been picked bare and the spoils shipped back to the moth­er­land. And the third piece of good for­tune was that the Amer­i­cans handed the fac­tory over to the British who put in a baby sit­ter in the form of Ma­jor Ivan Hirst of the British Royal Elec­tri­cal and Me­chan­i­cal En­gi­neers (REME) to look af­ter the site. De­spite the dev­as­ta­tion, Hirst thought that it would help lo­cal moral to keep its un­em­ployed and de­feated men busy by get­ting the plant run­ning again. Quickly knocking to­gether a Bee­tle from ex­ist­ing parts he pre­sented it to the Army who placed an or­der for 20,000! More than 20mil­lion would fol­low.

Be­fore the war, Porsche had agreed a roy­alty for each Volk­swa­gen sold but that deal had, of course, evap­o­rated along with the dream of a Thou­sand Year Re­ich. How­ever, in 1948 Ferry ne­go­ti­ated a new deal with Heinz Nord­hoff, the new head of VW, which guar­an­teed Porsche con­tin­ued de­sign col­lab­o­ra­tion with the fac­tory, plus the sup­ply of me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents for the 356. Porsche was safe, the rest is his­tory – and you are driv­ing it. CP

“FERRY NE­GO­TI­ATED A NEW DEAL…”

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