MAGINE BEING ASKED to distil seven decades and millions of cars from one of the world’s most storied, winningest marques into just 50 cars. It’s like asking a Fab Four fan to pick the top three Beatles tunes, or a stoner to choose just one chocolate bar from the glittering confectionery shelves at the 24-hour garage. Either could take days, and both would still be wracked with insecurity at their final selection afterwards.
But that’s what the curators of Los Angeles’ recently remodelled Petersen Automotive Museum tasked themselves with putting together – The Porsche Effect, a year-long exhibition showcasing the best of Porsche’s first 70 years.
“This exhibit is about how Porsche has created a timeless silhouette; this memorable appeal with such a large fan base,” says the Petersen museum’s Brittanie Kinch.
And when your eyes follow the gentle curves of the very earliest cars in the collection you can see exactly how. Looking at the 1939 Type 64 in particular is a strangely moving experience, the automotive equivalent of seeing Lennart Nilsson’s famous 1965 pictures of embryos for the very first time. In the silhouette, the window graphic and the way the bodywork curves seamlessly from flank to tail are clear signposts to the shape we know today as the 911.
'PROJECT GOLD' EXPLAINED: THE 993 TURBO PORSCHE BUILT BRAND NEW IN 2018
ANYONE CAN RESTORE an old Porsche, but only Porsche can build a new one, and to celebrate the company’ 70th birthday, Porsche Classic created Project Gold, a brand new, one-off 993 Turbo built 20 years after production ended.
“The starting point was a new body shell left over from 993 production,” explained Alexander Fabig, the head of Porsche Classic, the company arm that deals with parts and restoration for pre-997 cars.
“We’ d seen what our colleagues at Porsche Exclusive had done with the 991 Turbo S Exclusive and we wondered how a car like the 993 Turbo Exclusive would have looked if Porsche had built one back in 1995,” he said.
Seven of Porsche Classic’ tiny 14-man crew spent 18 months working on Gold.
Modifications to the standard Turbo body included recreating the rear wing vents found on Turbo S cars and finishing the car in Golden Yellow.
The interior is trimmed in black leather with gold stitching, while the lightest internal components, all genuine parts available from Porsche Classic, were selected for the S-spec 3.6-litre twin-turbo flat-six, meaning it develops 450 horsepower (335kW) – 42bhp more than the standard 993 Turbo produced.
“When we restore a customer car we spend around 1500-2000 hours rebuilding it to factory original specification,” Fabig explained. “But with Project Gold there were probably an additional 1000 hours spent on the features that make it different.”
But couldn’ it have been more different? Comparisons with Singer Vehicle Design’ wilder creations are inevitable and some are bound to find Project Gold a little on the meek side, but Porsche stayed true to its brief of creating a periodappropriate machine.
“We have huge respect for the other companies out there. We discussed making more modifications to bring in more modern components, like a newer engine or more carbon fibre, but we decided not to do that. We wanted it to feel authentic, and what we have done better reflects what we do at Porsche Classic.”
On the surface this is simply a fun 70th anniversary present to itself, a showcase of what Porsche Classic can do and a reminder of how extensive its range of available parts is. But it’ also Porsche reaching out to comfort and reassure hardcore fans as it prepares to launch the electric Taycan and make another giant leap away from its air-cooled past.
Project Gold was auctioned at RM Sotheby’ Porsche 70th Anniversary Sale in the US in October and achieved a remarkable USD$3,415,000 (AUD$4.73 million). Proceeds went to the youth-focused Ferry Porsche Foundation.
The 911 in its various forms dominates the exhibition, but there are plenty of reminders that Porsche design and engineering has followed different paths, some of which – like the four-door 928 concept – turned out to be dead ends (albeit temporarily). And there’s a clear emphasis on the importance of Southern California’s shaping of the Porsche legend, from Steve McQueen’s 356 Speedster to Rob Dickinson’s own hotrodded 911 that inspired his Singer Vehicle Design business.
Inevitably, Porsche’s motorsport achievements also feature heavily, from the little 550 Spyder to the recently retired 919 Hybrid. What impresses isn’t merely the volume of victories but the variety, the ability of marque and driver to win at disparate disciplines – epitomised by Vic Elford standing on the podium’s top step at the 1968 24 Hours of Daytona in a 907 only days after coming home first on the Monte Carlo Rally in a 911.
Like the best family films, The Porsche Effect works on several levels. You could grab your popcorn and simply see it as just a bunch of cool cars and come away with a big smile and a camera packed with Instagram gems. Or you can dig deeper and find yourself blown away by the sophisticated engineering and desire to innovate at a company that’s occasionally – and unfairly – regarded as conservative because of its reluctance to give up on a rear-engined layout laid down over 70 years ago.
Many companies struggle to link a glittering past with a more prosaic present. But the fact that cars like the Type 64, RSR and 917 can sit cheek by jowl with a 991 Carrera GTS 911 without any one of them appearing out of place proves Porsche understands its heritage, and how it got here.