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.
Between the Porsches, Komenda, and a few others, the ideas and designs were all in place, but securing the necessary materials and components…it was like creating a knife out of sand. Wood body bucks had been formed in the sawmill by master craftsman Frederick Weber, but no aluminum stock was available anywhere in Austria or Germany for hammering out the new body panels. The only apparent solution was to smuggle sheet aluminum stock in from Switzerland, and it was poor-quality aluminum at that. With no alternative, smuggle they did.
Even drivetrains were extremely difficult to arrange. The old KdF works, which existed thanks to Professor Porsche’s design genius, was now cranking out VWs as fast as possible and could afford to sell few drivetrains separately. On the plus side, Germany had an abundance of disused military Kübelwagens. In the end, Porsche KG would use at least four different engines in its aluminum 356s, sourcing them from KdF Beetles, Kübelwagens, Schwimmwagens, and industrial applications.
Porsche would buy one here and one there. It pulled the 1100-cc flat fours with various mileages and then modified and recommissioned them with Solex VFJ 26 carburetors furnished without accelerator pumps. The resulting “Porsche” four’s out- put was elevated from the original, tepid 25 bhp to a rorty 40. It was a slaphappy way of doing business, but just five years after total surrender, it would have to do.
Other fiddley hardware and fixtures proved just as great a headache. These included the designed-in KdF “Trafficator” semaphore turn signals, little illuminated arms that popped out either side of the body to indicate a right or left turn, and countless other front and rear light fixtures. These were obtained in dribs and drabs, strictly as they became available from various suppliers.
Supply was intermittent and wholly unpredictable. As a result, among the 52 Gmünd 356s built, a huge variety of furnishings was applied, and in the Gmünd restoration lexicon, the word “correct” is only occasionally correct. The builders at Porsche installed whatever was available. Such pragmatism gives Gmünd Porsches a refreshing, valiant spontaneity vastly different from the lockstep, get-it-right orthodoxy in most car restoration.
By virtue of being 45th of 52 Gmünd 356/2s (eleven additional Gmünd bodies were built later for competition), our exquisite featured car is, dare we say it, a “late-model” Gmünd. A word of caution: The popular name for these little Porsches can be deceiving. As a member of the last series of street Gmünds built, 045’s assembly took place at the Tatra coachbuilding facility in Vienna. This was nothing unusual, as more than half of these aluminum cars would be finished outside Gmünd.
This too was born of necessity. According to Porsche historian Phil Carney, only three people in Gmünd had the necessary talent to build the aluminum bodies at the time: Master craftsman Fredrick Weber and two assistants, Meister Automaten Seebacher and Max Schlosser. With too many orders to complete in a timely fashion, the third 356 was quickly subcontracted to Beutler in Switzerland to be made into a cabriolet. Porsche consigned Vienna firms Keibl, Tatra, and Kastenhofer to build aluminum 356s, as well. Porsche Salzburg, the VW distributor for Austria, handled final assembly for many of these subcontracted aluminum cars, installing interiors, transmissions, and engines.
Like 16 other Gmünds, 045 was delivered to Scania Vabis, the Swedish truck division of Saab in Sodertalje, which was a distributor for both VW and Porsche. The date of delivery was July 18, 1950. Its vital statistics were and remain chassis 045, engine 043, and body 035.
The car vanished into the Scandinavian and Northern European commercial stream, rewarding a succession of owners with “pure joy all the time.” It was not to be heard from again for decades.
Thrill of the chase
As calendar pages scroll, the Porsche name evolves from exotic obscurity to mainstream presence as a world championship-winning legend. In the same passage of time, the company’s early history becomes increasingly obscure and arcane. Growing ranks of marque enthusiasts and speculators, particularly in the U.S., see investment-grade treasure in Porsche’s past and begin to collect the earliest cars.
By 1980, one of the first to fully appreciate the attractions of the Gmünd coupes is Californian Jim Barrington, who assembles a collection of three. Then he develops close ties with a German businessman who has shown himself to be singularly adept at sniffing out Gmünds hidden in haystacks and under toadstools in Austria, Switzerland, and Scandinavia.
Now came word of the existence of 356/2-045, and shortly later, discovered in Norway, 356/2-032. 045 was promising: Its chassis was a little rough, but it had a good, running engine. 032 was fairly clean but had no doors. Both had their original upholstery, which was a major plus. Barrington would give each new paint, and try to find new doors for 032. The cars could be reconditioned relatively easily.
Barrington bought both, bringing his collection to five, the most Gmünds anywhere in the world. He was far ahead of other Porsche investors in recognizing the future worth — and sheer clout — of the Gmünd coupes. Their rarity is beyond debate. Estimates suggest that just 23 of the original 52 cars have survived. Of the known cars, eight are in the U.S. while the rest reside in Europe. Chassis 356/2-003 is the oldest cabriolet and 356/2-004 is the oldest coupe in existence. Most have been heavily cannibalized or severely victimized by electrolysis between the steel frame and aluminum body. Many of the 23 known survivors exist only in remnants.
Barrington knew what he was doing. But even for the canniest investment strategists, markets go up and markets go down. A few years later, with the unfolding of the Enron debacle, Barrington sustained losses that encouraged the sale of 045. In 2000, he found a buyer in Neil Huffman. The latter had amassed a singular collection containing one example of every 356 model up to 1965, with 045 being the crown jewel.
But the world keeps turning.
When it was made known in 2009 that Huffman’s collection was in an estate sale, Kevin Watts and Cam Ingram of Road Scholars in Raleigh, North Carolina didn’t waste time. They had become more and more interested in Porsche’s earliest aluminum cars while helping Ingram’s parents acquire 356/2-017 from another American Porsche collector, Dr. Bill Jackson. The car was particularly interesting because it is one of the few surviving 356/2s that was totally built and finished in Gmünd.
The pair drove to Louisville, Kentucky to begin the arduous task of inspecting the entire collection. They looked at all the cars, checked all the numbers, and spent a week on due diligence, by then becoming acquainted with the Huffman family. The night before their blind bid was due, Watts reopened the FedEx mailer and increased their bid by a significant amount.
The gamble paid off, and the chase was over. Only the Scholars knew the truth, however: The entire Huffman Collection had been bought solely to obtain 045! The rest of the 356s were sold off and Road Scholars focused on the singular 356/2.
At first, things were encouraging. A lot of the crucial items — the gas tank, door frames, door panels, seats, all the original gauges and steering wheel — were just fine. But the closer they looked, the darker things got. When Barrington had the car resprayed in the medium blue it now carried, he’d said that, in 1990s dollars, it wouldn’t be a $10,000 paint job, but it wouldn’t be an Earl Scheib, either.
Alas, no. It was far, far worse.
The not-$10,000 painter, failing to take into full account that the Gmünd body was aluminum, not steel, applied a rotary grinder with such abandon that he “baked” the aluminum, grinding far too much material away as he did. As Ingram’s restoration team stripped away the blue paint, they found, to their horror, that the aluminum was so thin that, when rolled into the sun, light came right through it.
A disaster. Only the roof, dashboard, firewall, and engine lid could be saved. All other sections of the body were completely unusable. Oy.
Not restored. New.
Suddenly, the magnitude of the job had tripled and quadrupled. Cam Ingram was not restoring a Gmünd coupe; he and his team were doing in his shop what Erwin Komenda and Frederick Weber and the others in 1950s Austria had done. He was building a brand-new Porsche 356/2.
And just as suddenly, the timeframe of the project changed dramatically. What had originally been a conventional, straightforward, typically meticulous restoration at 40 hours a week became a full-bore body fabrication, fitting, and finishing — a job that would consume 60 hours a week for two solid years. Why so? What did it matter how quickly the work was done?
Because of the client.
Upon landing the Gmünd, Watts and Ingram had spread the word among clients to see if anyone was interested in the car. Several were, but the magnitude of this restoration/immaculate conception was a bit of a concern. One of the more exotic replies, however, came not from America but from Germany. Rolf Sprenger, who had run Porsche’s Sonderwünsche (Special Wishes) Department and handled unique customer orders for Porsche staff and elite clientele, was expressing interest.
Together with American Prescott Kelly, a close confidant, Sprenger traveled to Raleigh to inspect the Gmünd — on behalf of Hans-Peter Porsche! After a deal was struck, Sprenger surprised Ingram and Watts by asking to see their restoration shop. After a tour, Sprenger made a phone call from the parking lot and spoke in his native tongue for quite some time. He then informed Ingram and Watts that Mr. Porsche would like them to restore 045!
It was immensely flattering that a member of the Porsche family was insisting their team restore 045 — but they knew what it would mean. From now on, they would put in long, long hours. It was 2009, and the agreed goal was to show the car in two years at the Pebble Beach Concours. The Scholars would have to reconstruct the car from the ground up. It meant 60-hour weeks — two solid years of them.
A little help from friends
Road Scholars had some assets that the old Porsche designers in 1950 would’ve loved to have, among them laser scanning. Before much of anything could be done reconstructing 045’s fourteen discreet body sections, the Scholars had to formalize all of its dimensions and forms.
To do this, 2,000 hours were spent on international travel and research studying other Gmünds. Eight cars were studied, including Tatra-built aluminum-bodied 356s. Two bodies, one of them the Ingrams’ 017 and one Gmünd chassis, were laser-scanned. The process gathered multitudes of data points, from which a steel buck was generated for forming body segments.
One by one, coachbuilder Hans Sahling began to form the complete chassis and aluminum body parts. Meanwhile, Alan Hogan and Tom Wyrick would rebuild the drivetrain and other mechanical systems into perfect running order. Countless hours were spent repairing the original engine’s degraded magnesium cooling fins. All the while, parts manager Brandon Terretti tore his brains out trying to track down obscure lighting fixtures like the correct SWF-brand “frog’s eye” taillight lenses and other such fiddley trinkets no one had seen or suspected in 60 years.
Months passed, 60-hour week by 60- hour week. Assembly advanced.
Building the body took longer than initially anticipated — the Porsche shapes and original construction methods being extremely difficult to replicate. The complete aluminum skin was fully assembled using temporary fasteners twice before finally being gas-welded and metal-finished. There would be no surprises when painter Jason Stoutamire began to apply the correct, single-stage paint.
The original lead-based factory primer was perfectly replicated. The blue that the car had long worn was not correct, but the original red was found in completely unoxidized form underneath the hood hinges and behind the door striker plates, allowing a perfect match. This confirmed factory records for 045.
Three coats of paint were applied without a clear coat. The finish was sanded, then buffed. Further maintaining authenticity, the undercoating was applied with a paint brush. The hammer marks from mating the body to the frame were left undisguised, just as in the original, and the uneven rivet pattern was also replicated. To (sort of) impede electrolysis between the steel chassis and aluminum body, a simple strip of herringbone cotton, exactly replicated from the original material used at Tatra in 1950, was mounted between the two surfaces to separate them.
After a marathon search for the aluminum trim strips for the car’s bumpers, Ingram’s team finally extruded their own pieces. The same solution proved necessary with the part they spent the longest time trying to find, the rear license-plate light. The problem was that they had nothing from which to replicate it. Then Jerry Seinfeld, who owns one of the most original Gmünd coupes, a car once raced by Otto Mathé, loaned them his license-plate light for replication. Given the rarity and preciousness of these hallowed objects, it was an extraordinary act of good faith. Upon receipt, machinist Billy Woodruff created an exact copy. But for patina, the end result is indistinguishable from the original.
In 1950, Gmünds still used cable brakes, and Ingram is the first to say, “they’re scary as hell.” They must be adjusted winter and summer to keep their action calibrated for different expansion and contraction fac- tors. The car had incorrect shock absorbers, but fortunately, correct new old stock early KdF dampers were found fairly easily. As it turns out, Europeans are particularly good about hoarding NOS equipment. Original date-stamped and riveted 1950 VW wheels were also found easily on Craigslist in, of all places, Florida.
Another troublesome matter was the Trafficator. Somewhere along the way, it had been replaced with an incorrect 1960s version. Now a rare, genuine 1940s KdF unit had to be found. Another long slog through the ’Net turned one up.
All the while, Dan Wickett of Hot Rod Construction was cranking out countless custom-made details such as window seals, each of them born perfect. Ingram brought Wickett in halfway through the project, and says that he proved to be indispensable when it came to the finishing touches on 045. That’s little surprise since Wickett is well known in the world of conceptual hot-rods, having won his share of awards at the highest levels of the genre.
After two years of 60-hour weeks, the team rolled the Porsche onto a truck and told it to bring a trophy home from Pebble Beach, or don’t come home at all.
Postwar Sports Cars, Closed
There has probably never been a sports car at the Pebble Beach Concours that deserved the title “postwar” more profoundly than this Gmünd coupe. All cars have expressions, some of them smiling, some of them stern, some of them just confused. But this winsome little coupe has an utterly determined face. It’s the look of a Survivor, and no wonder. It bounced back from one of the most tragic wars in human history…just barely.
Gmünd coupe number 045 had powerful competition in its class at the Pebble Beach Concours last year. There was a freshly restored Ford Daytona Coupe (one of six), a beautiful Zagato-bodied Alfa, the Peterson Museum’s one-off Bosley race car, and the one and only Paris Auto Show Jaguar E-Type.
No one could guarantee that this determined little car would be accepted on an equal footing with such glamorous classmates. After all, as a marque, Porsche had no real standing at Pebble Beach. There could be no denying 045’s modest lineage, either. It was a later, more sporting reflection of the lowly KdF People’s Car. And it derived its power from a plausibly unpopular Wehrmacht military powertrain, one that had certainly not been designed to make a better world…
After the awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon, Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, who had come to Pebble Beach to show his own Austro-Daimler in a different class, phoned his brother back in Germany. Hans-Peter, to his frustration, had been ill and unable to make the trip to California for 045’s long-awaited debut. The conversation went something like this:
“Well, congratulations, brother,” said Dr. Wolfgang Porsche.
“Congratulations — you were first!”
“That’s wonderful. And what were you, Wolfgang?”
Hans-Peter Porsche’s 045 had taken first place in the Postwar Sports Cars, Closed category at the world’s premier concours d’elegance. The judges could not deny the world-changing importance of this little car, which opened the road for rear-engined cars, both on the street and in racing, for decades to come. For performance cars, it was in the most profound sense, archetypal.
The newly elite 045 was trucked back across the country to North Carolina. Now the Road Scholars gave the priceless 356/2 a full shakedown. At last, it was commissioned as a “driver.” Hans-Peter Porsche, like others in his storied family, believes firmly that Porsches are to be driven.
To be sure, 356/2-045 is one of the rarest, most painstakingly restored “drivers” in the world, and by all reports its new owner is delighted. Who wouldn’t be? The car is as fresh and feisty as it was that July 18th in 1950 when it was first shipped to Sweden. And it pleases Ingram no end to point out that, during 045’s two-year resurrection, its new German owner never once felt a need to visit Road Scholars and check up on the shop’s methods or progress. But there was no need, for “pure joy all the time” is alive and well in North Carolina.