One for the Archives, by Wayne Batty
On a trip to Stuttgart back in 2012, I was afforded an opportunity to visit Porsche’s archive as well as its then ‘semi-secret’ new storage facility. Frank Jung holds the position now, but Dieter Landenberger headed up Porsche’s Historical Archives at the time. Achim Stejskal is still in charge of the Museum and is now head of Heritage as well.
Dieter Landenberger bubbles with excitement as we meet in the office complex above the entrance to the Porsche museum. Like a successful treasure seeker, he can’t wait to show me his trove. First stop is the library – intentionally visible from the museum’s entrance foyer – where upwards of 4,000 books on the Porsche brand and its cars are accessible to journalists and authors for research purposes. Such is the popularity of the marque that almost 50 new books are added each year. The room also houses rows of numbered red boxes. Number seven contains all the documentation – technical drawings and original letters from Ferdinand Porsche, amongst others, for Porsche commission number Typ 7, the W21 sedan designed for Wanderer in 1931. Box number 60 is set aside for Typ 60 – aka the Beetle – while 356 holds the docs for, you guessed it, the Porsche 356, and so on…
Above: Dieter Landenberger poses with a glamour item – the spare parts list for the Spyder RS60
Replacing box 356, Landenberger stealthily moves off towards the magazine section, pointing to bound annuals of Porsche’s internal customer publication Christophorus and ‘very important’ private club magazines like Excellence and Flat6. With the 1960’s set of Panorama still in hand, he adds ‘and behind that we have our clipping collection. Since the early-’60s, Porsche has collected paper clippings and it’s not too much different today’.
Then it’s back out into the corridor and into a windowless room, off-limits to the public, where Porsche stores its photographs, and a sense of humour, too. ‘Our photo archive has no windows, is humidity controlled and has a special AC. That’s why it’s so cool inside. And we have an argon gas fire extinguisher system. So if you hear this horn, you have 30 seconds to leave the room, otherwise you’ll get very tired.’ Not to mention completely unconscious!
I point to one of several scale models precariously perched on the filing cases. ‘Ja, we have another room filled with a thousand scale models, but these are actually for our blind visitors. Sometimes we do tours, they get white gloves and these models are perfect to learn about the shapes of the cars.’
Above: The unmistakable lines of the 956
Landenberger tells me there are one-and-a-half million negatives in the room, eight boxes of them from 1933 alone. ‘This is our daily business,’ he says, ‘for more than 10 years we’ve been digitizing. The actual scanning is easy, the problem is describing it in our database. The more information we have, the higher the chance of finding it. So we list camera angle, weather conditions, surroundings, model, year, engine and identify the people. Very often three drivers shared one race car, so you have to look at the helmet.’
And then I’m shown the positives, half-a-million of them, each one appropriately described and in its own protective envelope. ‘You want Monza ’87? There are maybe 300 photos just from that race. Group C era? Here’s a picture of the first wind tunnel test of the 956. We got this from chief aerodynamic engineer Norbert Singer. That’s how he discovered the ground effect.’
Above: Two of the many photographs of Singer’s ‘ground effect’ studies
In the middle of the room are reels and reels of old 8mm and 16mm film: it’s an historical racing buff’s dream. At the time of my visit, all told, Porsche had more than five million photographs in storage and about fifteen terabytes of digitized film.
Above: There are around 1700 hours of important Porsche films here – we’re going to need more pretzels!
Another wall is home to 40,000 items from sales brochures to price lists and every bit of marketing material in between. And still there’s more, as a set of wide but shallow drawers opens to expose a selection of the 3,000-odd Porsche race posters. Holding one of several copies of a Riverside Can-Am poster dated October 29, 1972, Landenberger concedes that with all the multiples on hand, Porsche ‘could destroy the collector’s market. Even the really old ones from the early-1950s are here.’
Other extremely valuable technical and legal documents, the oldest of which is dated 1885, repair manuals, parts lists and even rarer items for cars like the Type 904 are items that collectors would die for. I joke about security having to check my bag before leaving. ‘Yeah, definitely,’ says Landenberger, before hastily adding. ‘No, no, I trust you’.
With that, it’s time to meet the museum director...
Achim Stejskal is one of those immediately likeable characters who wears an assured smile, compliments easily and uses the phrase ‘more or less’ a lot. As we walk, he describes the new museum as ‘the living room of the Porsche brand, and everyone’s invited. The most important part is to be authentic, not to create some artificial stage sets. The real treasure is our cars,’ says Stejskal, before revealing that I’m to be ‘more or less the first private person to get a look at Porsche’s first proper storage facility for all those cars’.
Motioning to an immaculate 356, Stejskal asks ‘If it’s okay with you, we grab this car and go to the storage. It’s just a few kilometres away, so would you like to drive?’ Absolutely. A little apprehensively, Achim hands me the key to the museum’s 356 Speedster 1600 S. Fresh from participating in the 2012 Mille Miglia, it still has its rally regularity trip meter in place. Clambering aboard, I battle briefly with the seat slider and manhandle the mirrors.
Above: ‘If it’s okay with you, we grab this car and go to the storage.’
As expected, it needs a little prod on the throttle but starts at the second twist of the key. The engine’s cold, idling erratically like it’s about to stall, so with left foot firmly on the clutch and right toes on the brake, I use my splayed right heel to give the motor little bursts of encouragement. No synchro on any of the gears means even first is baulky. I give the dash-mounted handbrake a twist and push, and marvel at the exaggerated arc and extreme length of the clutch’s pedal travel as we edge smoothly away. Second gear puts up a fight but goes in with a firm shove. Third gear’s even trickier as the gate’s wider than expected and I end up grinding first. Achim’s joviality comes to my rescue and he laughs it off. It doesn’t happen again.
Red light. Even though I’m onto the middle pedal early, Achim looks concerned. Typically, for an older car, the brakes only bite late in the proceedings. Still, we stop before the line and wait for ages at the lights with the characteristic 1,600cc flat-four blub, blub, blubbing away. There’s loads to love about the 356’s cabin: the central rev counter, the three-spoke steering wheel with its slim, lacquered wooden rim, the perfect visibility and the elegantly delicate indicator stalk. Though clearly from another era, there is an undeniable connection with the most modern of Porsches. Just as with any current model, you drive this car with great joy. The subtle difference is you take your time with gearchanges, when indicating and even when turning the wheel. The two are separated more by the demands of the age than any fundamental differences in DNA.
Arriving at the 60-year-old storage hall, which in Achim’s words is ‘a kind of industrial cultural thing that Porsche has spent six months refurbishing’, I’m introduced to Alexander Klein, head of the facility and the man responsible for all cars and car movements at the Porsche museum. I take a quick look around and to be honest, beyond a few 991 Turbo prototypes, a row of 997s including a GT3 RS 4.0 and loads of first-gen Cayennes, there’s not much to see here. But then it’s early days and only the cars that are road-registered or easily transportable have been moved. The storage units total floor space is around 11000m2, enough for about 360 cars.
Above: Not much to see back then, apart from a 991 Turbo still wearing its pre-launch disguise, but the facility is heavily populated now.
‘Are there any cars, prototypes or one-offs missing from the heritage collection?’ I ask. Alexander fires first, ‘We are still seeking some cars, maybe with an interesting heritage with a celebrity as a pre-owner or whatever. But there are not too many gaps in the collection so these are really the cherries on the icing.’ Achim adds that an un-restored 901 or an original Typ 64 in good shape would be one of those cherries. The museum’s Typ 64 is a Porsche-built replica. Currently the company has more than 500 cars in the collection, almost all in running condition. ‘Last year  we took part in roughly 350 different driving events, but normally we don’t participate at the pure concours events because you know we have race cars that are there for driving not for showing off, so this is our philosophy. We are more or less the rough guys at these races,’ says Achim.
‘I bet you have an entire library of stories to tell about some of your cars,’ I say, hoping someone will take the bait. Again Alexander is quickest on the draw. ‘Our first total victory at Le Mans is quite unique.’ Achim interrupts. ‘Ja, Hans Herrmann told us that story a few days ago, saying he missed overall victory in 1969 by just 80 metres. He’s 84 years old, and so authentic, telling us, ‘you know I wanted to finish first [banging hands together for emphasis] and I hit the kerb so hard that the car left the street and lifted up into the air’, so it was almost a kind of suicide.’ Alexander recounts how Herrmann had promised his wife he’d leave motor racing should he win the 24-Hour. In 1970 he did, and promptly retired.
Above: Hans Herrmann and Herbert Linge celebrate a class victory at the Mille Miglia in 1954
Another great Herrmann story occurred when he and Herbert Linge, driving a 550 Spyder, passed under the barrier of a railway crossing during the Mille Miglia of ’54. ‘Apparently’, exclaims Stejskal, ‘he just smashed Linge on the head that he should go down and they passed underneath this barrier and ended up winning their class, placing sixth overall.’
On the way back, I opt for the passenger seat and just watch as a grinning Achim gives the old girl a fair go. I can’t help but smile, too.
Article by Wayne Batty