Motorsports History: 125 Years of the Automobile

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This was Porsche's 1983 entry in the Paris-Dakar Rally, the four-wheel drive 911 SC also known as the Type 953. Many consider it one of Porsche's loudest race cars, and it was my ride for Sunday. Photo courtesy Randy Leffingwell
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Peter Falk at the wheel of the 953. It rode on tall bias-ply off-road tires meant for desert racing -- in 1983. It jumped, skipped, and changed lanes at its own whim. I'd have loved to drive it. And I'm glad I didn't. Photo by Randy Leffingwell
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German police blocked our side of the autobahn and stopped the other. Following a 220-mile-per-hour Le Mans winner on public roads was a surreal experience. Photo by Randy Leffingwell
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From left: Rally hero Walter Röhrl, mechanic/racer Herbert Linge, mechanic/engineer and now historic collection manager Klaus Bischof, and racer Hans Herrmann. Photo by Randy Leffingwell
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Here, at the beginning of the parade, we passed under the Porsche Museum. Photo by Randy Leffingwell
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Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood won Le Mans in 1969 in this 917. Herrmann drove it in the parade. Photo by Randy Leffingwell
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Heading towards the Mercedes-Benz Museum still on the Autobahn. We rounded a corner and came to a halt as thousands of spectators had crowded the road to take pictures. Photo by Randy Leffingwell
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One of three Type 64s assembled in 1939 for a planned race from Berlin to Rome. The race never happened and the cars remained with Porsche till after WWII. Only two survive. Photo by Randy Leffingwell

Renowned author and photographer and Excellence contributor Randy Leffingwell was asked by Porsche to research and write the official book of its motorsports history. Join him along the way.

May 8, 2011:

There is nothing quite like trying to keep up with Hans Herrmann and Jacky Ickx through traffic. This is especially true when Herrmann is in a 917K and Ickx is driving his 1976 Le Mans-winning 936 Spyder. On the Autobahn. Into a tunnel.

It was easy for me. I was just holding the route card for my driver, former racing director Peter Falk, who was driving the 1983 Paris-Dakar 4-wheel drive 911SC Type 953 that he helped invent.

Our excuse was a huge celebration of 125 Years of the Automobile in the German province of Baden-Württemberg, home of Porsche, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz. Each of these manufacturers pulled treasures from their museums to make a total of 125 cars that drove a 17.5-kilometer route from the Porsche Museum to the Mercedes-Benz Museum to the center of Stuttgart and the city hall. Porsche alone contributed 50 cars. The parade started at 11 AM and the pace alternately stalled and sprinted, some of the cars reaching speeds above 200 km/h (125 mph) on three separate autobahn stretches. Through the city, crowds closed in on the cars, narrowing roadways to single lanes lined with women, men, children, and thousands of cameras. When progress stopped, people recognized Herrmann in the 917 and Ickx in his 936 and ran out to get autographs.

The list of cars Porsche pulled out — and the list of drivers who came to drive their own history — was incredible. Herbert Linge; Paul Ernst Strähle, Jr; Derek Bell; Walter Röhrl; Marc Lieb; and several others. Dr. Wolfgang Porsche drove 356 Number 1, and the parade included an impressive collection of historic automobiles spanning from a privately owned Type 64 from 1939 up to the most recent Porsche Trans-Siberia Rally Cayenne, 14 race cars in all.

We haven’t heard crowd estimates but it’s easy to imagine as many as 25,000 people lined the parade route and another 10- to 15,000 came to City Hall square to see the cars and greet the heroes.

Follow Leffingwell’s Porsche Motorsport History blog and Of Note series for updates.

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