Northern Light

The Carrera Abarth GTL of Carl-Gunnar Hammarlund, a Porsche rich in Scanidnavian racing history.

356B Abarth Carrera 1
October 29, 2010

You may have never heard of Carl-Gunnar Hammarlund, a quiet Swede nicknamed “CeGe.” He was well-known for hosting a long-running (1956-1970) program on Swedish Public Radio about cars and driving safety, a subject taken quite seriously in Scandinavia. But he was known for something else, too: speed.

To say Hammarlund was successful as a racer would be an understatement. Consider his record in 1961 and 1962, as noted by Swedish racing enthusiast and historian Tomas Karlson: Eleven GT starts, eleven wins, and two Swedish national GT championships. His weapon for all those wins: this rare 356B Carrera Abarth GTL.

Though Hammarlund drove for Swedish VW/Porsche importer ScaniaBilar in his spare time, his main job was to run the public relations office at the Swedish arm of British Petroleum, according to Swedish automotive magazine Racing. He first wet his competitive feet in 1949, hillclimbing at Alby with a home-built, American-style midget with Ford V8-60 power; he posted top time. He then entered trials and rallies as part of Scania’s Volkswagen team. It was at this point that he met a rather talented mechanic named Willy Dolling.

“Because of my knowledge of VW and Porsche motors, I was asked by CeGe in April of 1953 if I could prepare and maintain his racing cars,” says Dolling, now 80 years old and retired in Stockholm.

356B Abarth Carrera 2

With the help of Dolling, Hammarlund and Erik Petterssen co-drove a brand-new, Dolling-prepared 356 Carrera coupe to an overall win in the 1954 International Swedish Rally, also known as the Rally to the Midnight Sun. Hammarlund and his Porsches were quickly established as the favorites, no matter where they appeared.

“Between 1954 and 1959, CeGe competed in 28 races throughout Europe,” recalls Dolling. “Of these, he won 26, came second in one, and fourth in another. In 1959, a Scandinavian Grand Touring championship was created with seven races per year. CeGe won every one of these races every year up to and including 1962.”

Hammarlund’s talents were not limited to Porsches. He co-drove a Ferrari 375MM with Allan Borgefors to a good placing in the 1000km 1956 Swedish Grand Prix for sports cars, right behind the factory entries. He also had several rides in a Maserati 450S. Even so, some of his most memorable successes came in Porsches. He won the GT class with his 356 Carrera at West Germany’s Avus Ring on September 16, 1956, the same day Porsche factory driver Richard von Frankenberg survived his famous crash in the “Mickey Maus” RS 1500 Spyder, which saw von Frankenberg leave the track at the top of the high banking. Hammarlund also claimed a GT win at 1958’s Grand Prix of Sweden, a few years before he moved on to greater success with the Abarth Carrera GTL.

Most of those most familiar with the Carrera Abarth GTLs agree no two were exactly alike. That’s not so surprising for a small run of aluminum-bodied cars hand-hammered over a wooden buck in Italy. Just 20 or 21 examples were built, beginning with chassis 1001 and ending with 1021. Some say the final chassis (1021) was a reconstruction of 1019 after the latter was wrecked, while others suggest the VIN was assigned to another car. Either way, though, the model remains one of Porsche’s rarest production-based racers.

356B Abarth Carrera 3

Though the GTL was built on a standard 82.7-inch 356B steel floorpan, it had considerable aluminum interior reinforcement. Porsche asked Wendler, fabricator of the 550 Spyder’s body and then still making RS61 bodies for Porsche, to bid on a lightweight shell for the car. It also asked Zagato for a bid, and the Italian firm’s was preferred. Political considerations meant someone else would actually build the cars, as the Turinese shop was producing bodies for some of Porsche’s competitors.

The body design is generally credited to Zagato employee and former Bertone designer Franco Scaglione. The first prototype may have actually been built by the shop of Viarenzo & Filliponi, notes Porsche historian Karl Ludvigsen, sourcing Abarth expert Peter Vack. Others suggest that another small Turin shop, that of Rocco Motto, actually built the first three bodies before the work shifted to Viarenzo & Filliponi. While Abarth and Zagato badges are found on most — but not all — GTLs, Motto’s “CaMo” emblem did not appear on any of them.

The slippery two-seat aluminum bodies were more than five inches lower and about 4.7 inches narrower than a standard 356B coupe, allowing a 16-percent smaller frontal area and a bit less aerodynamic drag thanks to features like near-flush door handles and no bumpers. The car’s low roofline dictated shorter drivers — or rather uncomfortable taller ones.

The first Abarth Carrera GTL weighed just 1,762 pounds, 50 more than the FIA-imposed GT class homologation minimum. Later cars were a bit heavier. Even so, the GTL was 90 pounds lighter than the 356B Carrera GT and nearly 300 pounds lighter than a standard 356B. As with the GT, the GTL benefitted from the use of plastic side and rear windows and a bare-bones interior. Several were clearly intended for road and rally use, being delivered with relatively full interiors and lightweight carpeting. The seats were simple, thinly-upholstered shells and the door windows from GTL chassis number 1002 on were raised with leather straps, which was standard 356 GT weight-saving fare.

356B Abarth Carrera 4

The GTLs proved extremely successful, their 692/3A four-cam engines of 1587 cc producing some 135 horses at 7400 rpm with 44-mm Solex PJJ-4 carburetors and open exhaust — enough to propel the cars to nearly 140 mph. A Häusermann A-12 single dry-disc clutch transferred the engine’s power to a fully-synchronized four-speed Type 741 transaxle. A few late cars got 2.0-liter engines, and with some 160 horsepower they were potent.

“It is little wonder drivers adored the Abarth Carrera,” wrote the late Porsche scribe Jerry Sloniger. “It was rugged, versatile. And it won.” Even so, Porsche was not ready to continue its dealings with the Italians. Ongoing quality-control issues were one problem, but a bigger one for the Abarth Porsche was the imminent — and far more advanced — 904, the first of the mid-engined “plastic Porsches.”

If you’re lucky enough to spot more than one Abarth Carrera in a paddock, pore over the details — because there’s a good chance you’ll find a few discrepancies. Some of the well-known differences include the jack-receiver location, taillight and rear reflector placement, covered or uncovered headlamps, front hoods with and without fuel-filler access holes, and faired-in lower driving/fog lamps.

None of these detail differences distract from a basic truth, however: The Carrera Abarth GTL was one of Porsche’s most beautiful race cars. Take, for example, chassis 1008 — one of the early cars. Its unadorned body represents the simpler end of Abarths, while its lesser known history is among the more interesting.

356B Abarth Carrera 5

Scania placed its order for a GTL upon the new Porsche’s debut. When 1008 arrived, it was registered to Tekn. Dr. S. Arvidsson Automobil AK in Stockholm, Sweden and assigned license plate EJY 630. The new coupe, reported Racing magazine, made its first public appearance at a sports car show in Stockholm on March 25, 1961. The plan was for Hammarlund to race 1008 in the Swedish Championship for GT cars up to two liters.

Its first outing came on May 1 at Skarpnäck, a World War II military airfield just outside Stockholm used for racing between 1948 and 1970. Recorded Racing, “Behind the wheel he was fast and very precise, but not a spectator’s favorite. While most of the other Porsche drivers were sliding about, Hammarlund simply drove away from them without any fuss. He always had his car in perfect trim, thanks to his mechanic Willy Dolling.”

Today, Dolling is quite modest in relating his role: “My goal and ambition was to always to ensure the motors were running at their best. The preparation work on the Abarth before a competition wasn’t too difficult, as I had lots of experience from working on many Porsche 356s.” Under Dolling’s supervision, the flat four, front suspension, and transmission were disassembled, inspected, and carefully reassembled for each race. He also paid close attention to the car’s handling.

“During a test we found that, during acceleration, the nose lifted slightly and the front wheels lost traction a little,” recalls Dolling. “With around 10 kilograms (22 pounds) added in the nose, it went faster and was more nimble in and out of curves. I’d like to claim the Abarth was then the fastest (1.6 GT) car in Europe.” Racing magazine seemed to agree with Dolling. “At road circuits in Sweden and Finland, no one could touch him,” it wrote.

356B Abarth Carrera 6

So does Tomas Karlson: “Hammarlund just blew the others away at Helsinki on May 13, 1963. A second Abarth Carrera (believed to be 1005) showed up in the championship, but it couldn’t touch him.” Hammarlund was protested at Helsinki to no avail, and his success continued to be dogged by controversy. At Skrea on August 5, his car was protested after practice for being underweight. A trip to the scales proved otherwise. Hammarlund easily won the race, taking a second consecutive Swedish GT title. But he wasn’t happy.

“He was so disgusted of the whole thing that he quit racing at the end of

the year,” relates Karlson. “He had won almost every race he started during his career, no matter what type of Porsche he drove, so the protests were a bit strange.” Dolling points to another possible factor: Hammarlund was offered an upper management position at Swedish BP, which may have contributed to his retirement from racing.

After lying dormant for a year, GTL 1008 was sold to Swedish auto collector and occasional racer Richard Cederlund. An amateur, he competed in local club events half-a-dozen times in 1964 with some success. Former Stockholm Sportvagnsklubb official Björn Bellander writes in his history of the group that Cederlund “…kept his cars for his children, but they were not interested.” After a divorce, his collection was sold.

356B Abarth Carrera 7

1008 entered the consciousness of California restorer and vintage racer Steve Tillack in 1992, not long after he learned that the vast car collection of fugitive Swedish real estate financier Hans Thulin was being liquidated. While negotiating with Thulin’s creditor banks, Tillack was tipped off about another private collection. He had been looking for a GTL and had compiled a list of the known surviving chassis and where they were located.

“None of those in the States were for sale,” he recalls. “But then, by chance, I learned one of two cars in Sweden might be available.” A magazine ad described the car: “8th of 19, engine #92001, silver/black, 12,000 original km, two owners from new, Swedish World Championship car, factory sponsored. Museum stored for many years, still near show quality.”

Tillack contacted the Stockholm-based broker to learn more, and his contemporaneous notes summarized his findings: “Reputed works car used by factory and Swedish agent ScaniaBilar. Driven by CG Hammarlund, won numerous Swedish championships and Finnish GP, maintained by same mechanic from new. Represented as perfect original, 95 percent original paint, never crashed.” As their correspondence continued, Tillack received a large number of faxed documents and photographs, including several showing the car in street trim, wearing hubcaps. He promptly flew over to see the car.

Tillack made a total of three trips to Sweden, sometimes accompanied by Los Angeles Porsche expert Werner Schoch. He says a bizarre bidding war ensued, as two other bidders were interested. “The bank that held the title put us up in different hotels and spoke to us individually by telephone. I soon learned the other bidders were located across the Norrstrom River from my hotel — and we could all see one another’s rooms! I was able to make contact with them and, as we all were unhappy with the bid-by-phone arrangement, we agreed to meet the bank’s representative face-to-face. He was quite shocked when we all entered the room and sat down.”

Eventually, Tillack proved the successful bidder. Ocean shipment was arranged, with the car leaving Stockholm on April 7, 1992. Tillack met the containerized Porsche at the docks in Oakland, California on June 15. Once the car was in his Redondo Beach shop, it received a thorough inspection, which revealed worn-out shocks and front kingpin bushings.

Cosmetically, says Tillack, 1008 is close to original. He has only replaced some minor items such as taillight lenses, and he installed a new clutch. A close examination reveals interesting details. For example, there’s no evidence that the car was ever equipped with a roll-bar — an interesting omission considering Hammarlund’s concern for automotive safety.

CeGe raced in a different time, though. Tillack has resisted the urge to install a roll bar. Though the car has run a number of vintage races since its arrival in the U.S., he seems committed to maintaining 1008 as it was rather than how today’s sensibilities expect it to be.

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