ABARTH PORSCHES

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…

Classic Porsche - - News - Words: Karl Lud­vigsen Pho­tos: Lud­vigsen and Porsche Archiv

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

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