The desire to restore cars that have been lost to the elements and the value that the company places on its past is seen by the Porsche faithful as a part of the brand’s legacy. Nowhere is this legacy more evident than at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, Germany. This magnificent facility offers a true structural reflection of the brand’s vivid nature, insight into the philosophy that echoes a challenge to the automotive norm, and exhibits the DNA that speaks of an enduring and winning legacy. As one can expect, investment into the brand’s collection of classic and historic machines is significant.
Enter #57. Most enthusiasts will likely agree that all 911s are special in some way. There are particular examples, however, that merit extra attention. There is something about a first. The first day of school, a first date, a first love, a first kiss…a first born. Imagine the ecstatic emotion that resonated through the corridors of Zuffenhausen when it was announced that Porsche was to be reacquainted with one of its first 911 sports cars.
Alexander Klein, the manager of the Classic Car Collection at the Porsche Museum, was alerted of the find by German television station RTL2. The station had been filming a docusoap centered on a barn find of exotic vehicles on a farm in Brandenburg, Germany. The film crew notified Klein after unearthing two early 911s in the back of the barn.
The two experts from Porsche were greeted by a pair of 911s blanketed in thick layers of dust and chicken droppings. It was an abysmal sight. A gold 1968 911L and the 901, minus both front fenders and large sections of the body eaten away by rust, had languished at the back of a former farm for many years. An equally dismal sight confronted the museum workers when they ventured inside the car: #57’s cabin showed the same long tale of neglect. Elements that once resembled an interior were reduced to faded cloth fragments and dust.
As expected, a visual inspection of the 901’s mechanical properties confirmed the braking system and engine were in a seized (albeit complete) state. The discovery of the vehicle’s body plate confirmed the authenticity of the car. It was an original 901. The find was real.
We have all read about incredible prices being paid for vehicles owned by celebrities and limited edition must-haves that fetch astonishing prices at auctions and complete collections. For Porsche, this was no different. Number 57 was a part of the company’s history and a long-sought-after gem that would add further value to the brand’s collection of over 550 vehicles. But before an offer could be made, it was agreed that a detailed inspection should be done.
A series of independent appraisals of the 901 were carried out, and a value of €107,000 ($131,420 USD) was established. Porsche found this number to be acceptable, and the company purchased the car for that amount. Porsche also bought the gold 911L for €14,500 ($17,809 USD), which it will keep in unrestored condition.
Initial inspections revealed a great deal about #57. For example, it was established that although the engine and transmission were of the correct type, they were not original. The team also concluded that most of the vehicle’s components were beyond use, as heavy corrosion had rendered them beyond practical restoration use, including both front and rear axles. In some instances, entire sections of the car had corroded away, leaving little for the team to work with. Werner’s team, however, was undeterred.
Life After Death
Thus began a painstakingly slow process in which each component of the car was removed and itemized. Despite the appalling state of most of the parts, they were still identifiable. The pieces were then dispatched to the Porsche supplier network for verification and replacement. The next important step in the process was to see precisely how much rust was under #57’s paint.
To ascertain this Porsche’s true state, the team needed to strip it down to the bare metal. Deciding against the potentially damaging process of grinding and filling, Porsche chose to place the bodyshell in a chemical bath to strip off both the paint and any corroded metal.
There had previously been some doubt that the 901’s body would even be restorable. Werner and other experts assumed that more than half of the body had been destroyed. After the car’s bare metal was visible, however, it was clear that #57 was still reasonably solid and in fixable shape.
Even so, 12 months of hard work remained ahead for Werner and his crew. But unlike most restoration projects, the team at Zuffenhausen could draw from a wealth of resources and expertise from across the brand’s in-house and supplier networks. Good use was also made of a 1965 donor 911, as it was a key source of period-correct materials that added to the authenticity of restoration.
Once the bodywork was complete, #57 was finished in its classic original color, Signal Red (code 6407). The process by which the paint was applied, however, was entirely modern. To achieve the new finish, the entire bodyshell was dipped in a cathodic bath—which is the same rust-proofing process used on brand-new Porsches—and then coated in modern water-based paint. The result is nothing short of stunningly beautiful.
With the body complete, it was time for Werner’s crew to finish the engine and transmission. The most significant challenge the 2.0-liter flat six posed during the engine teardown stage was freeing up the various pieces that were frozen in place by corrosion. Finding some replacement parts also proved to be difficult. Even Porsche Classic was missing a few parts required for the rebuild, so it relied on the valuable skill set of its restoration team to rework existing components.
Piecemeal Coming Together Nicely?
Much of the interior could be replicated using off-the-shelf materials and the hands of a skilled upholster. To restore #57 to a near-to-new state, however, the devil was always going to be in the details. The perforated roof lining in early Porsche 911s, for example, was an important part of the interior’s aesthetic. As such, the original square-shaped tooling to produce this pattern—something thought to be as rare as hen’s teeth—was sourced to replicate the roof lining to the exact standard of the period.
“Many of the features only included in the very first models have been preserved in the car,” he relates with a broad smile. One example is the leather sleeve around the shift lever, which was only installed during the 901 era. The experienced Porsche Museum experts were also presented with a number of puzzles during their investigations. For instance, it was only after extensive research that the two square pipes under the seat adjustment system could be identified as a seat raising mechanism that was available from the factory on request.