Out of the Shadows

Once owned by Ferdinand Piëch and Hans Mezger, Alois Ruf’s 901 prototype is the oldest known 911 in the world.

Photo: Out of the Shadows 1
September 14, 2023

After vanishing from public view some five decades ago, another extremely important Porsche has reappeared, to the delight of 911 enthusiasts the world over. The machine is Porsche 901 prototype 13 326, owned and restored by Alois Ruf, of the superlative high-performance sports cars from Pfaffenhausen. Ruf Automobile GmbH used to source bodies-in-white directly from Porsche, but today it builds its own lightweight cars, using its self-developed carbon fiber monocoque.

Car 13 326 is one of only ten Type 901 prototypes constructed between late 1962 and 1964. The 911 was originally called the 901 until French carmaker Peugeot claimed it owned the rights to car model names with a zero as the middle digit in late 1964. Two additional coupes were constructed, to be the basis of the new 902/912, along with a single convertible built but not completed in 1965.

Ruf’s restored coupe, nicknamed “Quickblau” (Quick Blue) by the factory, debuted at Villa D’Este in May and enjoyed its first American viewing at the Pebble Beach Concours in August, helping Porsche celebrate its 75th Anniversary. We learned of this car’s existence in 2021 while chasing rumors that another long-missing factory prototype had resurfaced. Alois Ruf is an acknowledged expert on prototype and early pre-production 901s, having restored at least half a dozen to date.

Photo: Out of the Shadows 2

The Porsche 901’s genesis is well-known. By 1960, the company’s first series-built production car, the much-loved 356, was growing long in the tooth, Porsche needed a larger, more powerful product to compete in the growing sports car market. Ferdinand “Butzi” Porsche and a small team of engineers and designers laid down a longer-wheelbased unibody with a wider stance, capable of carrying four adult passengers in comfort plus a decent amount of luggage. It would weigh considerably more, which mandated a more powerful engine. Performance would have to equal or surpass that of Porsche’s then top-of-the-line but very complex four-cam 356 Carrera 2 but be more reasonably priced and easier to maintain. The project was initially coded-numbered Type 754. It would properly be called a “Semi-notchback”.

Like the 356, the Type 754 T7 would have its engine in the tail, with a four-speed transaxle driving the rear wheels. As Tobias Aichele discusses in his “Porsche 911 Engine History and Development”, the first engine proposal—designated the Type 745—was a 2.0-liter flat-six with pushrods, cooled by an axial fan above each cylinder bank. Testing began November 1st, 1960, but it showed this engine and its output to be disappointing.

Engine displacement was increased to 2.2 liters to gain power, but more problems emerged. This engine was put aside as unfeasible and a Carrera 2 unit fitted in its place. Performance improved, but the dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder was deemed too complicated and costly for large-scale production. Another shortcoming was that it couldn’t be enlarged.

Photo: Out of the Shadows 3

With the Volkswagen-inspired engine now abandoned, racing engineer Hans Mezger was brought in and tasked with laying out something better. His Type 901 engine design emerged as a dry-sumped, light-alloy, boxer six of 1,991 cc with a single overhead camshaft on each bank of cylinder heads. The cams were spun by a pair of timing chains from the crankshaft. There were two valves per cylinder, and a single multi-bladed fan driven by a V-belt from the crank, with the alternator shaft serving as the fan’s mounting point. The Biral cylinder design (cast-iron bores with cast-alloy jackets) readily lent itself to displacement increases.

Butzi Porsche and his team drew up a fresh design, a 2+2 fastback coupe as desired by Ferry Porsche. It was designated the Type 901, and the most successful sports car the world has ever known was born. The wheelbase was set at 87.05 inches, with front and rear tracks substantially greater than those of the 356. The target curb weight was set at 2,381 pounds. The 901 also gave up some aerodynamic efficiency, testing at 0.38 Cd versus the more compact 356, which measured 0.29.

Prototypes, as such, are intended to test out a wide range of concepts, always with an eye on ease and cost of manufacture and installation. Parts were designed, often hand-crafted, and tested. If they worked, great; if not, something else was tried. Every one of these cars was unique, as the engineers worked their way toward delivering a final, pre-production vehicle. Then each had to be rigorously tested under the most extreme conditions, so the factory could learn what needed to be strengthened or improved. From the start, the factory made use of existing parts when possible, but running changes became the norm.

Photo: Out of the Shadows 4

The 901 prototypes were all based on “replacement” chassis with numbers beginning with the number 13, writes Aichele, the first of which was 13 321. “These forerunners were numbered sequentially only up to the 10th car”. Number 13 352, the eleventh car, was completed out of order. The numbering sequence changed with the twelfth one, which carried the first production serial number, 300 001.

Over the years, these prototypes became the subject of extensive research and conjecture. There are no true “matching-numbers” examples; all were fitted with a variety of engines during their test regimes. What happened to them after their roles had been fulfilled? How many survive? Ruf and his engineer Rafael Riethmueller provided us with many of the answers.

Work on 13 321 began in 1962. Painted white and called “Sturmvogel” (Petrel), it was initially fitted with a Super 90 engine (later swapped out for a proper six-cylinder 901 unit). Its main visual feature was its engine lid, which had two rows of five horizontal louvers at its upper edge rather than the single wide 13-bar aluminum grille that was finally selected for production. “Sturmvogel” was used in wind tunnel testing, presentations and later for carburetion and brake tests. It was reportedly destroyed in 1965.

Photo: Out of the Shadows 5

The second prototype, 13 322, was built in 1963 and also began as white. Its Reutter-built body was disguised with dull olive-gray wax, a pair of large fins on its rear quarters, a front lid with a fake air scoop, partially-covered rear quarter windows, and masking over the rear light assemblies and bumpers. A false center bar divided the rear window and it had another variation of the engine cover vents as used on 321. Named the “Fledermaus” (Bat), it was used for testing the rear seat layout, heating system, carburetors, and exhaust. Its whereabouts is unknown.

Number three, 13 323, was finished in 1963 and named “Blaumeise” (Bluetit), after a small bird. The dark blue body shell was fabricated by Heinz Fuchs of Rutesheim. He had worked at Porsche in the mid-1960s before getting deeply involved in manufacturing Formula Vees. The color was later changed to red. This car had a pair of engine lid grilles and a louvered muffler skirt. This prototype’s location also is unknown.

Next came 13 324, named “Zitronenfalter” (Yellow Butterfly). Both the floorpan and body were built by Porsche in 1963, as the company had since taken ownership of Reutter. Originally intended as a display car, it was used as an engine test vehicle. At one point, it is rumored to have had an experimental 2.2-liter 911S engine fitted. Its fate is unknown.

Photo: Out of the Shadows 6

Number five was 13 325, built by Karmann and completed in 1963. It too was yellow and used as a show car at Frankfurt in 1963, then as a demonstrator, and finally as a carburetor test vehicle. It was unnamed. In July 1965, after completing a lengthy demonstration tour, it was used in a crash test and scrapped.

The 901 featured on these pages, 13 326, was the sixth numerically, and we’ll examine it more closely in a moment.

Number seven, or 13 327, is a Signal Red 901 constructed in 1963. Named “Barbarossa” (Red Beard), it was dedicated to wind tunnel testing, development of an experimental, forward-sliding sunroof, window and door sizes, heating/ventilation systems, and fuel tank configuration. Like 13 325, it included a painted dashboard, an instrument pod with two large hand-painted gauges, a 356C steering wheel and column, and the ignition switch on the right. This car was owned for a while by Christophorus editor Richard von Frankenburg and then sold to someone in Italy before being acquired by American Paul Resnick, who in 1984 offered it for sale. It was expertly restored in the 1990s by Dennis Frick and is frequently exhibited by its long-time owner, Pennsylvania collector Don Meluzio.

Photo: Out of the Shadows 7

Cars 13 328 and 13 329 became test chassis for the new four-cylinder 902/912. Number 13 360 is the Cabriolet prototype that was a precursor to the first Targa model. As noted above, 13 352, the eleventh car, along with numbers 12 (chassis number 300 001) and 13 (chassis number 300 002, were completed in late 1964. Both were Signal Red and used for endurance testing. Then “Quickblau” came out of the shadows.

“Quickblau” was built at Karmann in August 1963, and then finished by Porsche. It made its first appearance that October at the Earls Court Motor Show, but unknown to attendees the “engine” in its rump was a wood mock-up with an experimental 16-bladed fan. The fake engine was also in the car when it was shown in Sweden, Berlin, and Geneva. It was the first 901 to be fitted with the five-gauge instrument pod with a large tach and speedometer beneath a curved brow which became standard on production 911s. Alois Ruf tells us that Butzi Porsche wanted the instruments to look at the driver, not the other way around.

Butzi had commissioned designer Otto Soeding to create the new panel. Soeding was given just three weeks to produce a new gauge cluster in time for the 901 to be shown at the IAA in March, 1963. A BMW-influenced steering wheel with four spokes, a mahogany rim, and a central horn button was fitted to “Quickblau” and then become a production part manufactured by VDM (Vereinigte Deutsche Metallwerke AG). The dashboard of 13 326 was trimmed with matte-finished wood veneer, the first 901 to offer that attractive feature.

Photo: Out of the Shadows 8

The interior included a pair of front standard seats with adjustable backrests. The upholstery was Roser leather with hounds-tooth cloth seat inserts, and the cabin was carpeted in velour. Bumper guards were added to the show car, and these too became standard. Several other details were added later, such as a grab-handle mounted on the passenger-side A-pillar (but not on the door) as requested by Ferry Porsche’s nephew and engineer Ferdinand Piëch (also found on 13 327), but this item would not be included on the production cars.

From late September through early October 1964, “Quickblau” was used for testing at Hockenheimring. In September 1965, with 911 production well underway, Piëch took possession of 13 326 and drove it as his company vehicle.

Piëch later sold “Quickblau” to Porsche engineer Hans Mezger on December 30th, 1965. A small series of color photos taken by Mezger while vacationing across Europe with his family shows his wife Helga, daughter Daniela, and son Oliver all posed with the Porsche, which was adorned with an oval “D” international driving sticker and one reading “Zuoz”, denoting the exclusive Swiss boarding school Piëch had once attended.

Photo: Out of the Shadows 9

By the time Mezger sold the car in late 1967, it had accrued 63,381 km (39,383 miles). The next owner was a bus manufacturer and pre-war race car designer Walter Vetter. After a track accident in 1968, Vetter sold the damaged 901 without an engine to Alois Ruf Senior, father of this car’s current owner. The elder Ruf, deeming the 901 too fast for his then-19-year-old son, installed a four-cylinder 912 engine. Over the next two years, Alois Junior updated the car’s appearance to that of the new 911S, and painted it Metallic Blue. At some point, he relates, a customer wanted to buy the car, but damaged it during a test drive. The Rufs put it aside for what became a 50-year rest.

Alois Jr. began “Quickblau’s” restoration in 2020. The shell was stripped, and repairs commenced. Many OEM sheet metal parts didn’t fit properly, he says, requiring a lot of cutting and trimming. Numerous unexplained holes were found in the doors and window framing. The front and rear aprons do not roll under smoothly; rather, they have a thin lip extending below the curved sheet metal.

Its earliest engines, numbers 09 and then 154 had been replaced with another, most likely 900 156. When Ruf began searching for a correct engine 20 years ago, he stumbled over 900022, stored away in the basement of a local technical college. Porsche had donated it to the school for instructional use. The school contacted Ruf, who very happily brought it home for an overhaul.

Other details of “Quickblau” included hinged front quarter vent windows made of Plexiglas. Those became real glass when the 901 entered production. The rear quarter windows are fixed, while the production cars used hinged, latching units. The door lock buttons were of a different shape; the dashboard ventilation control is a slider versus a rotary control on the production model. The window cranks came from the 356 parts bin, while the inside door release is a lever on the bottom of the armrest rather than the pushbutton used on production cars. There is no provision for a dashboard speaker. The shape and attachment of the sun visors differs from those of later cars. The tach reads to just 7,000 rpm (the production 901 reads to 8,000), and the clock face differs from production versions.

The fuel filler lid on 13 326 is somewhat squared off rather than round, as on 13 327, and that shape was adopted for the production cars. It was operated via a pull-knob in the driver’s A-pillar, just above the upper hinge. 13 327 also uses this design. The early, 1964-built production cars had a simple wire loop beneath the driver’s side knee-pad.

The “Porsche” engine lid badging is taken from the 356. The front lid of 13 326 is counter-balanced by torsion bars and the engine cover by coil springs, while some other prototypes also used this combination; pneumatic struts were adopted for the production cars. While the small, 8.0-gallon gas tank of 13 327 comprised several welded-up sections, 13 326’s larger tank appears to be like the production version. The windshield-washing fluid tank is largely exposed in the carpeted trunk, secured by a rubber strap and clip. The air filter housing on 13 326 appears identical to that of the dummy engine in 1964.

Long thought lost, 13 326 now takes pride of place as the oldest known surviving 901. Will further chapters be written someday?

Also from Issue 304

  • 718 Spyder RS Drive
  • Sportec Ferdinand 964
  • Petersen Museum Porsche Exhibit
  • Market Update: 912 & 914
  • 971.2 Panamera GTS Drive
  • The 962’s Last Hurrah
  • Porsche Audio Systems
Connect with Excellence:   Facebook icon Twitter icon Instagram icon