On the occasion of Porsche’s 70th sports car anniversary, Mr. Cumberford rolls down memory lane and calls out three of his favorites.
L AST SUMMER I was talking with a friend who possesses one of the finest design minds I’ve ever encountered. Although he has never worked on cars, he said something that I realized summed up Porsche’s operational philosophy perfectly: “The best way to do a new project is to use as much existing and off-the-shelf stuff as possible.” Cast your mind back to 1948 and Porsche’s humble beginnings as a car manufacturer, and you envision that hardy band in the Gmund sawmill doing just that. Quite literally making jewels out of junk, they rounded up off-the-shelf bits from military Kübelwagens and pieces they could get from an Austrian Volkswagen dealer to make VW hot rods.
Sophisticated hot rods to be sure, but reworked economy cars all the same. They were in essence doing what the returned G.I.s in California were doing with old Fords, saving the best bits and transforming both appearance and performance—the key difference being the Porsche engineers had designed their economy car source themselves.
There’s a mantra I’ve always liked, usually attributed to American Quakers and used widely during the Depression Era: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. The glorious Porsche 356 embodies some bad features that stayed to the end, so in effect Porsche made do with what it had available in the beginning and completely wore out the concept of using VW parts, but made it do for a long time until the 911 completely replaced the 356. Remember, the 911’s initial design was quite weak, and early models were simply bad cars, so Ferry Porsche rightly removed Hans Tomala, who had run the 911 development program. Porsche AG was too poor at the time, though, to tool up a complete alternative to what it had already spent most of its capital getting ready. So it had to make do with the 911, and as half a century of respected success has shown, it did so in spades. The last part of my favorite saying, “or do without,” applies to Porsche as well. For a full 50 years, the company did without radiators, water pumps, pipes, hoses, clamps, and other hardware miscellany in its cooling systems, and it benefited greatly from doing so.