Among many riddles Karl Ludvigsen had to solve in his updating of his seminal work Excellence Was Expected was the true identity of the makers of the bodies for the Abarthbuilt Carrera GTL, not to mention the number of cars produced…
n 1960, when theabarth-bodied Porsche Carrera came to life, I was the editor of Car and Driver at Number One Park Avenue, New York. I received a brief report and photos of the newmodel frommy British friend and colleague Edward Eves. We published his information that the bodies were beingmade toabarthʼs design bymilan coachbuilder Zagato. When I wrotemy history of Porsche I said the same thing. This gotme in a lot of trouble.
As researchers dug into the story of these exotic cars, the Zagato attribution looked more and more fragile. For example, Zagato denied having anything to do with them — kind of a clue there. Other coachbuilders started to be mentioned. It looked like I had some work to do for updated versions of Excellence Was Expected.
Itʼs time for the back story. Porscheʼs motivation for improving its Carrera for the 1960 season wasnʼt to gain better racing performance in its 1600cc GT class. The MG Twin-cam had proved less than a menace. But competition between Lotus Elites and Alfa Romeo Giuliettas in the 1300cc GT class was so intense that they were closing in on the Carreraʼs lap times. To avoid the embarrassment of being overtaken by these small fry, Porsche moved to enhance its Carrera for 1960.
The FIAʼS Gt-class rules allowed a different body as long as the carʼs weight remained above the homologated figure — an invitingly low 1712 pounds. In the summer of 1959 Porsche asked two suppliers for bids on the manufacture of 20 special lightweight bodies for the 356B chassis: Wendler, the nearby maker of Spyder bodies, and prime suspect Zagato.
As so often happens in Italy, news of a new project spread quickly. During the rest of 1959, past and present friends of Porsche got in touch to inquire about this body-building opportunity. Among them was Turinʼs Karl ʻCarloʼ Abarth. In 1958 and ʼ59 Abarth and his aide Renzo Avidano were successfully building and selling small-displacement Fiat-based rear-engine sports-racers that were, indeed, bodied by Milanʼs Zagato.
Dirk-michael Conradtʼs research tells us that Abarth journeyed to Frankfurt for its auto show in September of 1959. At the Frankfurter Hof hotel he met on the 18th with the top men of Porsche: Ferry Porsche, sales chief Walter Schmidt and technical boss Klaus von Rücker.
For one million lire each, said Abarth, he would body 20 Carreras — this price to include his creation of the wooden pattern for the shape. Further orders of the bodies, which were to be ʻas light as possibleʼ, would cost 800,000 lire apiece. Porsche would send Abarth a chassis drawing right away and by 1st October 1959 would have a chassis ready to send to Turin, albeit with a non-running engine.
The cautious Ferry agreed in principle but asked that Abarth start by building one such body as a sample. October 21st was proposed as a deadline for Abarth to inform Porsche about the kind of body he would build and for Schmidtʼs department to confirm its sales objective and likely pricing.
Porsche named the experienced Franz Xaver Reimspiess as its liaison man for the project. He travelled to Turin to meet with Abarth on October 6th and 7th to go over project details. Reimspiess set out Porscheʼs requirements for the design, such as oil-tank location and engine-bay ventilation. Staying in Turin from the 5th to the 9th, Reimspiess also called on stylist/builder Nuccio Bertone and Carlo Dusio, son of Piero Dusio for whose Cisitalia company Porsche had designed sports and racing cars after the war. Abarth would not be Porscheʼs only option.
Although Porsche initially had thoughts of contributing to the design, this went by the boards after Carlo Abarth engaged respected designer Franco Scaglione to prepare suggestions for the body. Scaglione was a well-known stylist-engineer of sportscar bodies who had shown a special knack for aerodynamics. Reimspiess saw his first efforts during his visit. Reported the Porsche engineer, ʻAbarth will have the bodies made at Zagato, where of course he will closely observe the execution of the work.ʼ Abarth also raised the idea that after this series was built for Porsche he might carry on the building and selling of such cars on his own account.
Franco Scaglione and Abarth were successful in achieving one of their main goals: a sharp reduction in the Porsche Carreraʼs frontal area. They slashed 5.2 inches from its height, reducing it to 47.2 inches, and cut the width down by 4.7
inches to 61.0. This had the effect of reducing the frontal area by about 15 per cent.
Scaglioneʼs shape was also successful in the drag department, having a Cd of 0.365 with the engine-cooling flap closed and 0.376 with it open, usefully below the standard 356B body with its drag coefficient of 0.398. These figures may well have been taken with Plexiglas fairings in place over the headlamps, as planned by Scaglione. A 1988 test in Porscheʼs new wind tunnel gave a Cd of 0.414 for a car without such fairings and marred by unsightly nose protuberances for horns.
The Carreraʼs Italian cure achieved a reasonable if not striking weight loss. Its body was made entirely of aluminium. Its structure was beefed up in order to increase the overall strength of the chassis, yet the first car weighed only about 1760 pounds. This made it some 100 pounds lighter than the Reutter GT and a safe 50 pounds heavier than the homologated minimum allowed for its class.
But who was actually making the bodies? This was a turbulent period for Abarth, who in fact was just then severing his relationships with Milanʼs Zagato and sourcing his bodies from small and less-experienced Turin-based companies. Instead of Zagato, as planned, he changed to just such a company to make the prototype. Historian Peter Vack attributes the first body, and perhaps more than one, to nearby coachbuilder Viarenzo & Filliponi.
Carlo Abarth wasnʼt eager to disclose that he had changed body sources. When the car was first revealed at Abarthʼs factory in Italy, Ted Eves was told that Zagato was its coachbuilder. However Zagato later confirmed to researcher Donald Peter Cain that it had not, after all, been involved in the Carrera GTL project. Abarth may not have wanted Porsche to know that he was using a different — and doubtless cheaper — source for his bodies. Such a revelation could have led to a downward readjustment of the price he was being paid for the work.
Franz Xaver Reimspiess visited Abarth again between 25th and 29th January to assess the outlook for deliveries of completed cars. The outlook, he reported, was ʻnot rosyʼ. Porsche could expect two cars in February, one in March, five in April and six more in both May and June to complete the score ordered. Nonetheless he was impressed by what he had seen of Italyʼs body-building skills, saying that ʻit is unbelievable what
capabilities the Italian metal specialists possess.ʼ
Seats were among things that needed changing when the first Carrera GTL— as the new car was officially named — arrived in Zuffenhausen at the end of February 1960. This was much later than been hoped, Abarth having spoken at one point of having a rough car to look at as early as the end of the previous October. His change to a smaller company to make the ʻAbarthʼ prototype added to the considerable delay.
Late-winter rain found the first car leaking profusely on delivery. There was next to no headroom, even for the shorter Porsche men. This was remedied by relocation of the seat tracks and changes in the seat cushioning and the back angle to add several inches of headroom. Porsche also found that the front-wheel openings were trimmed so tightly that steering lock was limited, especially when a wheel moved upward on jounce. In spite of the instructions given by Reimspiess the mounting of the oil tank was unsatisfactory, its cooling inadequate.
Some of these faults were caught on the second Turin-built car, which was bought by Carrera ace Paul Ernst Strähle. It was raced by him and Herbert Linge in the Targa Florio in early May. ʻStraight from Abarth to Porsche,ʼ said Strähle, ʻfrom Porsche to Strähle, from Strähle to Sicily. We start. It goes. After eight hours, ten minutes, ten seconds we are finished. Carrera from new car at the factory the same week finishes sixth in Targa, first in class.ʼ With an uprated engine and Antonio Pucci co-driving Strähle would duplicate that performance in the following yearʼs Targa.
The rear of both the prototype and Strähleʼs Abarth were changed visibly before that 1960 Targa start. The engine-room cover was shot full of louvres, with extra sets at the upper corners above the carburettors and two new rows down the centre. This need for more cooling-air area suggested that the GTL, with its short, stumpy tail, was afflicted by the same malaise as the similarly-built America Roadster of eight years earlier: an excessive amount of recirculation of warm air from the underside of the car to the cooling-blower inlet.
Another change to the first GTL was the removal of its window regulators. These were replaced by lighter retaining straps. The jacking points that had protruded from the body sides of the first two cars were faired in instead. This required additional reinforcement of the square jacking tube.
With problems like these resolved, the run of production cars was bodied for Abarth by the Turin workshop of Rocco Motto. Mottoʼs flexible facility was staffed by ʻ45 men and three power
or third gear it feels like youʼre getting a punch in the chest. Further thereʼs the impression, not objectively documented but subjectively present, that this car holds the road somewhat better than the normal Carrera, perhaps because of its lower centre of gravity.ʼ Powered by a Type 692/3a engine, the car tried by reached 60mph from rest in 8.7 seconds and 100mph in just under 21 seconds—the best Carrera performance yet.
Starting with Strähle, during 1960 private owners took delivery of their GTLS. The silver racers were priced at DM25,000 in Germany, a premium of DM3500 over the Reutter-bodied Carrera. Americans paid $6300. The number of chassis provided to Abarth by Porsche was 20, making that the total population of Abarth-porsches. Kept by the factory for works entries, cars #1013 and #1018 differed in their more extended oil-tank fillers. Bodies varied as well in such details as side-window curvature, positioning of licence-plate lamps and design of the taillamps.
Earlier stories about the Abarth Carreras enumerated 21 such cars as evidenced by the official Kardex cards of the production series. Research by Marco Martinello disclosed that serial number 1021, supposedly the 21st Abarth, was actually awarded by the works to a 356A cabriolet specially built and equipped for the father of an engineer then working at Porsche. It married a ʻBʼ drivetrain and Super 90 engine to an ʻAʼ body whose appearance he preferred.
Rocco Motto built an unofficial ʻ21st GTLʼ on a fire-damaged 356B chassis for a French Porsche dealer, who took part in several races with it in 1963. It remains in circulation, further to confuse – as if it were necessary – the Abarth Carrera story.
There could have been even more Abarth Carreras. In September of 1962, at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, Huschke von Hanstein huddled with none other than Carlo Abarth to discuss a brainwave. Huschke said that he was thinking of taking the bodies off his 1.6-litre Carreras and putting them on the new 2.0-litre Carrera 2 chassis. ʻTo be sure he did not find this solution very elegant,ʼ Huschke reported Abarthʼs reaction.
Carlo Abarth told the Porsche racing chief that heʼd be glad to build new bodies to the same pattern for Porsche. He would require, however, an order for at least 25 bodies to make the project economical, even if he didnʼt expect to make much money, he told Huschke: ʻBy mentioning his name the Porsche-carrera-abarths have brought him so much worldwide publicity that he has no need whatsoever to make a profitʼ on the new Porsche job.ʼ
This contact was followed up in October by Porsche with the view of having the 25 bodies completed by 25th June 1963, the latest date at which they felt they could be assured of selling the cars. By the end of 1962, however, the idea was dropped. Instead, craftsmen back home at Porsche were assigned the job of making a new light body for the Carrera 2. Its shape would be the responsibility of Ferdinand ʻButziʼ Porsche. It would open a new era in styling at Zuffenhausen. CP