Saturday, 14 December 2013

Porsche’s history and heritage

Dieter Landenberger is manager of Porsche's archives and a man who probably knows more about Porsche's history and heritage than the Porsche family themselves. Porsche has a museum but the 80 cars there are just the tip of a 500-strong iceberg. All of which have to be stored somewhere. It's not far from the museum, just another industrial building in an industrial corner of an industrial city. It used to house a production line, but will soon store an entire back catalogue of automotive greatness. Big shiny trucks arrive, doors are opened, glimpses of cars appear and ramps are lowered. A man jumps on to a bright red Porsche tractor of considerable vintage and concours condition. There's a typically agricultural noise accompanied by a localised and particularly noxious fog cloud. When it clears, the tractor is revealed to be towing a totally see-through Cayenne Hybrid out from the transporter's interior.

It looks properly battle scarred, all peeling bonnet badge, shagged upholstery and rotting composite panels. Dieter looks it over sympathetically and says: "It would be a shame to over-restore this car, we want to keep the authenticity of these cars alive. That, for us, is a big challenge." Most of these cars are in less than pristine condition. The majority smell musty inside, dust is evident, they look like they've lived a bit. Or at least been in storage for a while. They jar with the polished floor and fresh paint that's been daubed around here. But this facility is evidence of how seriously Porsche takes its back catalogue. This is a relatively recent phenomenon. The firm only started keeping the first and last cars from each production run a few years back. It's now making up for lost time by going on the open market and buying important cars back. It recently got hold of a 993 Cabrio. 

Not long ago, they found a car they'd completely forgotten about, a Porsche 924 made entirely of body filler. Not really, but that's what it looks like. Equipped with a 250-litre fuel tank, lightweight panels, a massive turbo and a primitive low-drag body it was intended to break speed and distance records, but Mercedes did something similar first, so Porsche hid this curiosity under an old blanket, behind a huge crate. There are other one-offs, too. The prototype 965, designed to fit between the 911 and the 959. There's a 968 Club Sport Cabrio, a ragtop 928, a latticework concept designed to test longevity and the Studie C88.

This last isn't really a Porsche at all, but the result of a competition the Chinese government held to design a car. "It only has one child seat because of the country's policy on children", Landenberger says, "and when we presented it, Dr Weideking [former CEO] learned his speech in Mandarin. But at the end it didn't help. The Chinese government said thank you very much and took the ideas for free, and if you look at Chinese cars now, you can see many details of our C88 in them." There's some lovely personal stuff, too. The Porsche family order all their cars in the same forest-green shade, because it links to their love of hunting. There's the first ever 911 Turbo. It's unbadged with sports tartan trim down the flanks and was a birthday present for Louise Piëch in 1974.

Speaking of the Turbo, there's even a disguised version of the forthcoming 991 Turbo parked down the quiet end of the warehouse. Porsche is keeping this place secret. That's a great shame as these cars are as interesting as anything you'll see in the museum; they're just surrounded by slightly inferior architecture. This will change as Porsche intends to cycle these cars out to the museum, overseas shows, even rallies and races.

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