IN THE DRIVING SEAT
Recaro and Porsche share more than seventy years of sports car manufacturing history. In this article, we look back at the origins of this special relationship...
Recaro’s close relationship with Porsche.
Little more than fifty-seven years ago, the starting signal was given. It was 3rd December 1963, and Recaro Gmbh began producing automotive seats in Stuttgart. At the same time, the company’s predecessor, Stuttgarter Karosseriewerk Reutter und Co. Gmbh, was sold to Porsche, which was gearing up for the launch of the 911. From building prototypes for the first Volkswagens to creating bodies and frames for the 356, many milestones linked Reutter and Porsche, but even today, Recaro remains closely linked to our favourite manufacturer.
As early as 1906, Wilhelm Reutter understood clearly where mobility was heading. Rather than continuing with work on horse-drawn carriages, he wanted to build automobile bodies. He quickly formed his own company, developing relationships with chassis and engine manufacturers before swiftly winning their business. He turned many of his early ideas into a reality, including his patented Reutter-reformkarosserie, an advanced vehicle body style featuring a folding roof. It was the constructional precursor to what we now know and love as the cabriolet.
Reutter’s solid, quality craftsmanship — combined with innovative foresight — was highly successful. Indeed, by the 1920s, all major German car makers were customers. Daimler, Benz, Wanderer, BMW, Opel, Adler and Horch relied upon Reutter’s expertise. Before long, Ferdinand Porsche also came calling with a request for Reutter to build car bodies. One of these early collaborations was the prototype for a streamlined 3.25litre eight-cylinder drop-top in 1930. Though it failed to reach series production, the unique vehicle (afforded the Type 8 designation) was used for many years by Herr Porsche as a cherished company car.
In the late 1930s, the collaboration between Reutter
and Porsche intensified when the latter settled into Zuffenhausen. Behind the gates of the then new Reutter plant and under a veil of secrecy, prototypes for the Volkswagen People’s Car emerged. The general public, it was planned, would get a first look at the distinctively styled vehicles at a highly anticipated cornerstone laying ceremony hosted by Adolf Hitler at the new Volkswagen factory in Fallersleben. For the occasion, held on 26th May 1938, Reutter prepared two ‘Kdf-wagen’ prototypes (a hard-top and a cabriolet) presented to gathered media by Ferdinand Porsche. Forty more prototypes followed for testing purposes, including those exhibited at the 1939 International Motor Show in Berlin, an event attracting a record-breaking 825k visitors before the outbreak of war and the VW factory’s subsequent shift in focus to producing mainly military vehicles.
Fast-forward to October 1949, and Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche issued Reutter a spoken-yet-firm order for the production of five-hundred bodies and frames for his new creation, the 356. Additionally, Reutter was asked to supply the seats, all of the interior trim and to install the vehicle’s electrical and heating systems. As if that wasn’t enough, Porsche also entrusted Reutter with conducting the final inspection of each finished vehicle. An array of options was included from the very start of 356 production so that, even in 1950, Porsche customers could choose between eight different exterior paint colours and eleven contrasting seat finishes, including seven textiles and four leatherette coverings. Impressive outings for the 356 in endurance racing competitions, not least a class win at the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans, led to strong sales, ensuring that as early as 1956, the 10,000th 356 body left the Reutter production line. In the same year, the company celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.
Despite many observers considering the 356 to be a niche product, the plucky Porsche became a worldwide hit and played a major role in Reutter’s success story.
The original run of five-hundred cars ended up totalling more than 76,000 units by the time the 912 was brought in to replace the 356 in 1965. Most examples of the earlier car were built by Reutter, with twin body plates exhibiting Karosserie and the Reutter word mark, one on the A-pillar and one visible between wheel arch and door.
RECARO HAS SUPPLIED SEATS FOR ALMOST EVERY VARIATION OF THE 911, AS WELL AS THE 914 AND TRANSAXLE MODELS
In November 1961, Porsche awarded Reutter a development contract to design coupe and cabriolet versions of a new car body. A joint team of Reutter and Porsche engineers set to work on a prototype intended to form the basis of the latter’s new flagship offering. Born in 1962 as the T8 and swiftly renamed 901, the new car was nicknamed Stormvogel (Stormbird). The corresponding prototypes were all built by Reutter’s dedicated design department and, though not yet ready for series production, the 901 marked its world debut at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1963. Peugeot bosses kicked up a stink about naming conventions, resulting in the
901 being rebranded as the 911 after the French firm successfully claimed ownership of three-digit car names with a zero in the middle. Not long after the six-cylinder sports machine was revealed to the world, however, Reutter shareholders voted to sell the company’s car body plant to Porsche. After fifty-eight years, the history of Stuttgarter Karosseriewerk Reutter und Co. Gmbh looked as though it had come to an abrupt end.
CLOSER TO HOME
Porsche acquired the Reutter factory and all 950 members of staff, not to mention the massive pool of technical knowledge they possessed. The Reutter story doesn’t end there, though — a new company was established in the form of Recaro (a portmanteau of Reutter and Carosserie), with some 250 former Reutter employees starting work at the new firm’s headquarters on Stuttgart’s Augustenstrasse, where automotive seats and their fittings were manufactured under the new firm’s now instantly recognisable name. Recliners quickly became a popular product, and an agreement was swiftly put in place with Porsche, ensuring Recaro would supply all seats for the sports car maker’s output for the whole of the following decade. As history proves, the close partnership between Porsche and Recaro has endured to the present day — Recaro has supplied seats for almost every variation of the 911, along with cabin furniture for the 914 and Porsche’s transaxle range of cars.
In 1969, the Reutter family sold Recaro due to financial problems, but the company went from strength to strength under its new owners, expanding into aircraft seats as well as those specific to motorsport applications. The company was sold again in 1983, before restructuring in 1997 saw Recaro return to independence, only for its automotive arm to be sold to North American commercial safety product development conglomerate, Johnson Controls (using the Recaro name as licensee), in 2011. Further restructuring in 2013 saw a welcome return of Recaro’s headquarters to Stuttgart, and revived fortunes attracted a new owner (automotive seating development company, Adient), which stepped in to take their reins in 2016. Since that time, Recaro has entered the massively popular world of esports, launching the successful Recaro Gaming Seats brand in 2019. It is, however, the company’s early work and its close association with Porsche which will forever be its calling card.