In a time of economic hardship, Porsche’s new €100m Stuttgart museum is a defiant display of classic road and race cars as well as rare exotica
Anytime you find yourself feeling sorry for Porsche in these difficult trading conditions, just remind yourself that this company is so rich that it has all but bought VW, the largest car manufacturer on the continent, and, perhaps more implausibly still, it’s just spent €100 million building a museum.
The results are predictably epic in proportion, appearance and position. Located literally across the road from the Zuffenhausen factory, it is a massive glass and concrete riot of crazy angles, all 35,000 tonnes and 5600 square metres of it supported on just three presumably highly-reinforced legs. This is a huge building which could have been given many floors but is in fact a maze of walkways, galleries and, in places, with ceilings so high you could mistake it for a post-modern cathedral.
And were this an architecture magazine and I an architect, I could fill the rest of this article with quotes from its Italian/German creator about how it seamlessly fuses both traditional and futuristic aspects to complement perfectly both the history of Porsche and its forward-thinking approach.
But I’m not. A museum is simply a building – it’s what it contains that’s important.
In this case, it’s a small number of Porsches. Go there expecting some Schlumpf-scale car park and you’re going to be disappointed. Porsche actually has 400 cars stored in various locations in and around Stuttgart, and making sure that no more than 20 per cent of them are on view at any time ensures that you’re unlikely to see the same cars on two consecutive visits.
It’s also more than a museum. Indeed the first thing you see once you’re past the small foyer is the workshop where Porsche will undertake any work you wish, from servicing your 944 to rebuilding your 917, of which more in a minute. They can also build exhibits there and have knocked up a new spaceframe for a 917/30, just for display purposes.
But if you really want to behold the promised land, it lies at the top of an unfeasibly long escalator climbing up to the heavens.
At first it is impossible to know which way to turn your head for here are treasures beyond the imagination of a simple Porsche nut like me. The temptation is to head straight for the racing machinery, but to do that you’d have to walk past cars so rare that even their existence will be unknown to all bar the most avid of Porsche cognoscenti. Here is the 1959 Type 754 study of the car that would become the 911, there you’ll find a four-door 928, built for Ferry Porsche for his 75th birthday. What about a long-wheelbase 911S from 1970 designed as more family-orientated transport, or the prototype 924, Porsche’s first front-engined, water-cooled car?
Then there are the concepts, like the funky 1989 Panamericana two-seater, which was reputedly heading for production until Porsche’s finances took a turn for the worse, or the gorgeous 1992 Boxster study whose rapturous reception persuaded Porsche that it had found the formula required to ensure its survival. It took four years to turn it from concept to production, but there’s no doubt that this is the car which saved the company. No wonder it is regarded as one of the most important exhibits.
Other curios abound, not least the polished aluminium body of what appears to be a 1939 Porsche 64, the car generally accepted to be Porsche’s first road car. Three were made of which one survives, in private ownership in what Porsche describes somewhat mysteriously as ‘unoriginal condition’, so lacking a 64 of its own it had the body built over the past three years. It is the only replica in the building.
The museum includes cars that aren’t Porsches at all, such as the VW Beetle that Ferdinand Porsche designed for Hitler, a Porsche-designed 1922 Austro-Daimler Sascha racer and a 2-litre Mercedes Rennwagen he created in 1924.
But its curators know what most people will want to see, and they’ve not been shy about providing it. Seeing the collection of Porsche racing cars on show is one of the most mind-satiating experiences I can recall. To see a single Porsche 917 is a sight to behold – but here I counted no fewer than eight.
Nor were these any old 917s. Both Le Mans winners are there, as is the 917/20 ‘Pink Pig’ with its bodywork divided up into various cuts of pork. There’s Vic Elford’s long-tail 1971 Martini car, Mark Donohue’s awesome 1100bhp 917/30 and the classic short-tail, Gulf-liveried 917K, known affectionately as ‘the taxi’ because after it was retired from racing it earned its keep frightening the life out of VIP Porsche customers who were invited to take a ride around the track in it. Most astonishing, though, was the 917 PA Spyder complete with the mythical 880bhp, flat-16 motor in the back. This is the engine Porsche intended to use in Can-Am racing before realising that turbocharging the existing flat-12 provided a rather easier route to even more power.
I’ve worshipped these cars, collectively and individually, since childhood but the eighth 917 I didn’t even know existed. I find it down in the workshop, looking like it’s spent the past 30 years sitting in a barn which, for all I know, it has. It’s so short and stubby I mistake it at first for a 908, but when I count 12 cylinders and two turbos I am entirely flummoxed. It is, in fact, an unraced 917/30, the test-bed prototype from which the unbeatable Can-Am cars were developed. It appears to be derelict. The considerable task of the Porsche engineers in the workshop is to restore it to running order.
That all these car should work properly is very important to Porsche, which claims that all bar a few exhibits are ‘on the button’. Even so it’s easy to tell those that receive frequent exercise from those that really are museum pieces just by looking at the tyres: nice new Avons for those that get used regularly compared to fossilised Dunlops and Firestones for those that do not.
You could easily lose a day just poring over the 917s, but there are so many others equally deserving of your attention. All the old favourites are here: Rothmans-liveried 956 and 962 Group C cars, the fabulous blue and orange 1970 908/3 Targa Florio car, a 936/77 and older cars like a 904GTS, and a Carrera Panamerica 550. But it was the oddities that grabbed my attention. To my shame, I’d forgotten that Porsche had built a single racing 959, the 961, to run at Le Mans in 1986 until I stumbled across it in the museum. Around another corner was ‘Baby’, the 1.4-litre 935 built specially for Jacky Ickx and raced just twice, winning the support race for the 1977 German Grand Prix. I also spotted the 1968 909 Bergspyder hillclimb car. It’s 384kg weight makes it the lightest racing car I’ve heard of.
There are the Formula 1 cars, including both a Porsche-powered McLaren MP4/2B driven by Niki Lauda in 1985 and the 804, the only Porsche to win a GP, although the stillborn 1980 Indycar declined to make an appearance.
Looking through my notes, I see there are dozens of other important cars I’ve failed to mention, from the very first 356 – Porsche’s first production car – to the RS Spyder which has cleaned up its category in the American Le Mans Series for the past three years. There’s even the first Porsche to race at Le Mans, a 356 entered by a French team for the 1951 race, which despite boasting a mere 46bhp from its 1100cc engine still lapped at over 86mph to win its class and spent less time in the pits than any other car in Le Mans history.
There were some gaps that would need to be plugged before Porsche could say it had its complete racing history on show – I didn’t see any 907s or 910s. Were I churlish enough to offer some constructive criticism, it would be that there is very little interactive entertainment. There are some pods which look like Star Trek teleports that you can jump upon and hear the sound of a 917/30 come by, but otherwise you just stand and look. Which was fine by me.
Besides, I went before its official opening at the end of January while they were still adding the finishing touches. Certainly there will be exhibitions not just of cars but also memorabilia and photography. Over the years, Porsches are estimated to have won some 28,000 races and they have 2.5 million pictures and two kilometres of other archive material to illustrate them.
The Porsche museum is open now and entry costs eight euros. A better excuse for going to Stuttgart you will never find.