Pure Joy: 356/2-045

Out of the mud grows the lotus...

June 29, 2012

Also from Issue 203

  • 2006 Carrera S vs. 2006 Cayman S
  • 2014 918 Spyder
  • 1976 911 Turbo Carrera
  • 2011 911 GT3R
  • 1967 911S
  • 1982 924 Carrera GTR
  • 1988 911 Club Sport
  • Smart Buy: 1975-76 914 2.0
  • Interview: Al Unser Jr.
  • Interview: Alan Johnson
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One of the earliest statements of purpose ever released by Por­sche was published in 1950. Its subject was the design goal of fledgling Porsche’s sports cars: “Alle erwahnten Vor­zuge machen das Fahren mit diesem Sport­wagen stets zur reinsten Freude.” This translates as, “All the good qualities which have been mentioned make travel in this sports car a pure joy all the time.”

A pure joy all the time.

Let that sink in a moment.

All day and all night, we’re bombarded by advertising jabber about shinier shines, whiter than white teeth, kibble that tastes better than prime rib. Slogans of such blindingly evocative mindlessness that we tune them out completely, every last one. We don’t even hear them! And that may be a bit of a shame. Be­cause lost among all these instinctively rejected tag lines, there just may be a sainted one or two that aren’t total pig-wash. In fact, maybe here and there, one of them can teach us something valuable about the product it describes.

Come back now to “a pure joy all the time.” Ridiculous, of course. Isn’t it? Bear with me while I think this through.

Since I owned my first very old, very tired Porsche in 1962, and leading straight forward to the very old, not quite as tired Porsche in my garage today, I can say that the experience of owning my Porsches has made “travel in this sports car a pure joy all the time.” I’ve owned two sailboats and can guarantee you neither was anything like pure joy all the time.

Occasionally, of course, my Porsches wouldn’t start, suffered flat tires, failed a clutch (twice in 50 years). Not pure joy, those moments, but they are the fare in­herent in automobile ownership. The rest of the time, I can say that owning and driving my Porsches has been “a pure joy all the time.” No bull.

And that’s a little amazing. Yes, there is a degree of hyperbole in “pure” joy “all” the time — but not much. Every moment I drive my Porsche, I’m aware of driving a very special car that gives me a very special degree of involvement — joy — unlike any other non-racing car I know. If I’m stuck in traffic on the 405 freeway, it may only be potential joy. But it’s there.

Yet right from the very start, when Dr. Porsche was designing his first production cars in 1949 and 1950 in a tiny Gmünd, Austria sawmill after the catastrophic German defeat in 1945, this earliest statement of purpose remains perfectly descriptive of Porsche cars in 2012.

Porsche’s vision was so unequivocal that it applied to the first 52 documented pre-production Austrian Porsches. It de­fined my first Porsche in 1962, and my present Porsche despite its being 36 years old. Just as it does the 2012 991. Visually, mechanically, and dynamically, the new “911” is instantly recognizable as the direct descendant of the fragile, handsome, preposterously rare 1950 coupe you see in these pictures. The joy is in the blood.

Joy as a business plan
Amidst the postwar devastation in Ger- many and Austria, nothing could have been more revolutionary than designing and building an elite, small-displacement sports car. It was an utterly radical under- taking, and Professor Ferdinand Porsche was just the man for the job. He had built everything from the earliest electric cars in the first decade of the 20th century to the hairiest rear-engined Grand Prix cars in the 1930s to the scariest main battle tanks of World War II.

In 1949, of course, the mighty pre-war grand-touring engines were long gone. Yet Dr. Porsche’s own humble KdF-Wagen — the “Strength-through-Joy Car,” or Volks­wagen Bug to you — suggested attractive possibilities. At the beginning of the war in 1939, a Berlin-Rome race car, the Type 60K10, loosely following the KdF formula had shown great potential. Porsche could apply this same aft-engine layout again, using an optimized version of the KdF engine. Or better still, he could use the lighter, magnesium-case military Kübel­wagen jeep version of the Volks­wagen flat four. In combination with a new, sleekly aerodynamic and feather-light aluminum coupe body, well, he would put his friend and aerodynamic coach-building wizard Erwin Komenda to work on it.

Komenda was a genius. If you doubt it, just look at the new 991. If you like the long, uninterrupted sweep of the 991’s fen­der line and the way the low coupe’s roofline radiuses downward in a smooth arc to intersect the rear fender line, you can thank Erwin Komenda. Over 60 years ago, working in a 500-square-foot Austrian sawmill, he knew you’d love it.

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