Porsche: 60 Years of Speed & Style in North America
Presented by Porsche Cars North America &
New Country Porsche of Clifton Park and Porsche of Greenwich
ON EXHIBIT THROUGH MAY 2012!
Porsche cars have had a long and storied history. The company’s founder, Dr. Ing. Ferdinand Porsche, led a successful design consultancy in Stuttgart, Germany, before World War II. He’d previously worked at Austro-Daimler, designed and developed racing cars at Auto-Union, and he designed the first Volkswagen. As a performance carmaker, Porsche AG has been unique since its inception. The Porsche formula for a lightweight, aerodynamic car, with a platform frame, powered by an air-cooled, horizontally-opposed, rear-mounted engine, began in 1938/39 with the Berlin-Rome Type 64 racecar.
In 1948, Porsche’s son, Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche, (also Dr. Ferdinand Porsche), built a Volkswagen-based “special” roadster that received acclaim after a Swiss magazine published a favorable road test. The first Porsche series production car, a coupe designed by Erwin Komenda, was known as the 356, because it was Job 356 in the design studio’s production. Sleek, streamlined, and innovative, the tiny two-seater used a strong platform frame and a modified VW 1,131-cc, air-cooled four-cylinder engine mounted behind the rear axle. Its suspension was independent all around with torsion bars, front trailing links and rear swing axles. Despite its cable brakes and an 85 mph top speed limitation, it handled extremely well. Porsche 356s were soon successfully campaigned by a growing cadre of enthusiastic owners.
The Porsche Design Studios returned to Germany in 1950. Car production increased with the bodies initially being made by Reutters. Porsche’s financial success was supplemented by a royalty received on each Volkswagen built, and from licensing a Porsche synchromesh transmission system initially developed for the Cisitalia GP racecar. Porsche also owned Allgaier, a company that built a range of versatile, diesel-powered farm tractors. The elder Porsche died early in 1951, but not before he saw his cars beginning to challenge the world’s best.
Ferry Porsche understood that in lieu of large advertising budgets, racing was the crucible in which to prove Porsche’s superiority and capture world attention. A single Porsche qualified for the 1,100-cc Class at the Le Mans 24-Hour race in 1951, won in its first appearance there and finished 20th overall. Enthusiastic GIs brought a few Porsches home from Germany. On these shores, imported by Max Hoffman, an Austrian expatriate friend of the Porsche family, the low, streamlined little cars attracted considerable interest. The 1,000th Porsche was sold in 1951, and Porsche would repeat its Le Mans class-winning feat the following year.
But Ferry Porsche soon realized that modified production cars were not sufficient to win major races. Earlier, modified privateer Gmünd coupes, a series of 50 alloy-bodied cars built by Porsche in Austria, and the Glockler-Porsche racecars (built by Frankfurt VW distributor Walter Glockler and his workshop chief, Hermann Ramelow), proved Porsche design principles could be very competitive in small-displacement classes. Project 550, a purpose-built racing coupe designed for the lowest possible aerodynamic drag, began in 1952. In the early 1950s, Porsche victories at Le Mans, in Mexico’s La Carrera Panamericana, and countless other venues established the small Stuttgart, Germany-based automaker as a “Giant Killer.”
Increasingly sophisticated Porsche racecars challenged and won against the world’s best, and Porsche production cars developed a loyal following worldwide. The 356 models morphed into the wildly successful 911s. Porsche always took competition seriously, and the company marshaled its best engineers, led by Dr. Ferdinand Piech, to ensure the cars would be as advanced as any in the world. Legendary racecars like Porsche’s vaunted, technically sophisticated, all-conquering 917s were virtually unmatched in their era. Today, Porsche is a full-line manufacturer with a range of 911, Cayman and Boxster sports cars, Cayenne sports utility vehicles and the Panamera sedan. Six decades of popularity in America have helped establish Porsche firmly on the top tier of performance automakers.