Where the
legend began


Words Delwyn Mallett
Photography Staud Studios

This is the oldest car ever to wear a Porsche badge and the sole survivor of its kind. Delwyn Mallett traces its extraordinary history

 

Some call this car the Volkswagen Typ 60 K10, but to most it’s the Porsche T64. As the first car to wear a Porsche badge, it will become the most significant Porsche-designed car to change hands in this millennium when it is offered by RM Sotheby’s at Monterey in August. And as the progenitor of the Porsche marque, for many it will be the most significant sale of the century so far.

Here’s a history lesson. In the last few days of 1930, Professor Ferdinand Porsche, recently unemployed at the age of 55, started his independent 12-man design bureau in a tiny rented office in Stuttgart, comprising a hand-picked group of almost exclusively Austrian engineers and designers, including his 21-year-old son, known as Ferry.

Another ex-pat Austrian was at that same moment manoeuvring the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, otherwise known as the Nazi Party, into a position of power within Germany. In 1933 Hitler was declared Chancellor. His ambitions knew no bounds and, apart from a long-term plan to dominate Europe, if not the world, he had resolved to demonstrate Germany’s technological superiority in all areas of activity – not least on the world’s motor racing circuits.

Prof Porsche had a contract with Wanderer, soon to be absorbed into the Auto Union conglomerate, to design a Grand Prix car for the 750kg formula and, in a meeting with Hitler, Porsche made the case for a share of the 500,000-Reichsmark state subsidy to develop a new racer already pledged to Mercedes. Porsche was persuasive and Hitler agreed to split the money between Auto Union and Mercedes. Hitler’s other pet automotive objective was, of course, a ‘people’s car’. Disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm from the German auto industry and obviously impressed by Porsche, he tasked the Professor with turning his idea into steel.

The Porsche KG design bureau’s body specialist was Erwin Komenda. On 27 April 1934, he settled at his drafting board and drew the first official outline plan of the proposed Volkswagen, the overall profile and mechanical layout of which would remain virtually unchanged for the next 69 years and which led to the creation of the Porsche brand.

That new job was allocated Porsche work number T60, but Porsche himself, always a racing enthusiast, from the outset had envisaged a sporting version of the Volkswagen. It was given project number 64, and it ticked along as the main design effort was put into developing the T60. Professor Porsche hoped that the state might invest in ‘his’ Type 64 sports car, but that dream evaporated when the whole Volkswagen project – the car and a proposed new purpose-built factory – came under the supervision of the Deutsche Arbeits Front (DAF), the labour wing of the Nazi Party. Meanwhile his beloved Volkswagen was renamed the KdF-Wagen, for Kraft durch Freude: the ‘Strength through Joy’ car. The DAF had no time for sports car fripperies, though that would change.

Having achieved Grand Prix domination with the Mercedes and Auto-Union ‘Silver Arrows’, Germany’s sights were then set on the world of sports car racing. In June 1937, SS Major Adolf Hühnlein, head of Germany’s organising body for motor sport – the Oberste Nationale Sportbehörde (ONS) – announced a long-distance propaganda race from Berlin to Rome, speeding down the new autobahn to Munich, traversing Austria via the Brenner pass into Italy, and another high-speed blast down Mussolini’s autostrada. Originally planned for early 1939, it was later rescheduled for September, conveniently coinciding with the launch of the KdF-Wagen. After the Professor’s T64 proposal was turned down, he initiated a self-funded project for a prospective sportwagen, which picked up the moniker F-Wagen, for Ferdinand – in other words, a future Porsche. Given work number T114, it featured a sophisticated mid-mounted water-cooled 1500cc V10 engine in a radically streamlined body.

 

‘With the announcement of the Berlin-Rome race, a racing version of the KdF became an urgent priority’

 

With the announcement of the Berlin-Rome race, the DAF had a change of heart and a racing version of the KdF became an urgent priority. Porsche’s team – Karl Rabe, Erwin Komenda, Franz Xaver Reimspeiss, Karl Fröhlich, and aerodynamicist and mathematical wizard Josef Mickl (most of whom would go on to work on the 356 and other Porsches up until the 1960s) – rapidly reappraised their various sports car designs and amalgamated them into the dormant T64 project. Because it was stipulated that the car had to be recognised as a Volkswagen, it was designated as a VW-60 K10, where ‘K’ stood for Karosserie (‘bodywork’), and ‘10’ for the tenth variant, although it was still usually referred to as the T64 by Porsche personnel.

Significantly, a wind-tunnel model of the T114 had been made and its windcheating shape was adopted for the 60 K10. The result was a textbook example of function following form – a slippery shell with frontal area reduced to a minimum and devoid of any disturbances to airflow, with even the wheels fully covered. A styling signature that has persisted since was the way in which the sloping front bonnet was set between extravagantly curved, raised wings.

In 1938 the Porsche bureau was approaching 200 employees and had moved to a purpose-built factory in the Stuttgart suburb of Zuffenhausen, where they were immediately engaged in building a small series of 44 pre-production Volkswagens bearing VW38 chassis numbers.

Three chassis and matching engines, numbered 38/41, 42 and 43, were set aside for the racers, with a fourth engine 38/46 as a spare. The Reutter bodyshop, across the road from the Porsche factory and already engaged in building the VW38s, was also commissioned to produce the lightweight aluminium bodies. (Later, in 1950, Reutter would build the first steel 356 bodies, continuing until 1963 and the advent of the 911, when it was bought by Porsche.) Surprisingly, the K10 was not given the ‘pretzel’ rear window treatment, such a distinctive feature of the early Beetle and which featured on the T114 wind tunnel model. The K10 did, however, incorporate the Beetle’s row of vertical slats ahead of the rear lid to let cooling air into the engine bay. Meanwhile, Porsche technicians tuned the engines by increasing the compression ratio, and fitting bigger valves and twin carburettors. This resulted in an increase of power from 23.5bhp to 32bhp at 3500rpm, at which a new higher rear axle ratio was calculated to give the tiny projectile a top speed of 152km/h (94.5mph). Porsche’s enduring weight-saving regime was applied, with engine ancillaries and other parts made from lightweight alloys, resulting in a car that weighed only 615kg – 65kg lighter than the standard KdF. The first Berlin-Rome car was finished on 19 August 1939, only a few weeks before the start date of the race – but the outbreak of war stopped play.

Only one T64 Rekordwagen had been completed by the outbreak of the war but Ferry Porsche pushed ahead to finish the other two – presumably optimistic that the war would be a short affair. The second car was finished in December 1939 and the third in June 1940. In fact, Germany competed in the last significant race of the era, a shortened Mille Miglia in April 1940 – won by a streamlined BMW. Strangely, neither of the two T64s then completed were entered. A decade passed before a Berlin-Rome streamliner would turn a wheel in competition.

By then a redundant racer, car number one was given to Bodo Lafferentz, a board member of the newly formed Volkswagenwerk, but it was soon involved in a crash and the damaged car returned to the Porsche factory. It’s not recorded whether Lafferentz was caught out by the tail-happy handling as so many overenthusiastic early Porsche 356 owners would be. It is thought that the body was scrapped but for reasons still unexplained the chassis, 38/41, later found its way under the body of car number three, the car sold later to Austrian racing driver Otto Mathé.Cars two and three remained the property of Porsche and were used extensively throughout the war as high-speed taxis for the Professor and Ferry, and as experimental development cars.

In 1944, as the Allied bombing of Germany’s industrial centres intensified, most of Porsche’s staff was relocated to the remote Austrian village of Gmünd and, when it became apparent that the war was lost, the Porsche clan gathered at the family estate 90 miles to the north, in Zell am See, to await the arrival of the Allied armies. Here the second of the Rekordwagens, stored at a local gliding school, was ‘liberated’ by American troops. The joyriders hacked off its roof and ran it repeatedly along the runway of the flying school until the engine seized and, as Ferry recalled in his biography, the wreck was discarded on a dung heap. Fortunately the Porsche family were allowed to keep the other K10 stored safely on their estate.

 

‘Only one T64 Rekordwagen had been completed by the outbreak of war, but Ferry Porsche pushed ahead to finish the other two’

 

The Gmünd Porsche team turned their hands to repairing abandoned and broken military Kübelwagens and Schwimmwagens until a contract from Cisitalia in Italy – and a momentous royalty agreement with the revived Volkswagen factory – in 1948 gave them enough confidence to start producing their own limited-production sports car. The work ledger had now reached the number that gave birth to the Porsche legend – 356 – yet plans for it were still titled ‘VW Two Seater Sports Car’ and, despite using VW mechanicals throughout, it embraced two distinctly different configurations. #356.001 was a mid-engined roadster on a tubular chassis, which in retrospect you could call Porsche’s first Spyder, while #356.002, built in parallel, was a coupé on a fabricated box chassis and quite clearly an evolution of the thinking that went into the T64 but with more user-friendly interior space.

Meanwhile, Ferry Porsche had continued to use the remaining 60 K10, converting it to hydraulic brakes, and in 1947 it was driven to the Pinin Farina carrozzeria in Turin for tidying. It’s possible that at that time the wider front horn grille was formed, replacing the original two small grilles – presumably they were too busy in Gmünd with 356 development to undertake the work. Around this time came perhaps the most significant moment in the history of 60 K10 chassis 38/41, body number 3. Ferry Porsche ordered seven individual letters, P-O-R-S-C-H-E, be attached to the car’s nose. In its new guise the car gained additional publicity for the new automotive marque when later in 1948 it appeared at a race-cum-parade in Innsbruck alongside the #001 roadster. It certainly caught the attention of Austrian hot-shoe Otto Mathé and when it was offered for sale in 1949 he snapped it up.

Born in 1907 in Zillertal in the Austrian Tyrol, Mathé grew up in Innsbruck. He started racing motorbikes at the age of 16 but in 1934 crashed heavily in a race in Graz and so badly damaged his right arm that it remained paralysed for the rest of his life. A talented engineer, Mathé started a petrol station and developed and successfully marketed a range of oil and fuel additives as well as designing and patenting a quick-release ski-boot binding.

With his useless right arm, a condition of the sale was that the T64 be converted to RHD so that he could change gear with his left hand (while pressing on the steering wheel with his chest!). Thus converted, the car was registered in Mathé’s name on 11 July 1949, at which time its Kärnten (Carinthia) numberplate, K 45 240, was replaced with a Tyrol number, the now well-known T 2222 (later transferred to his Gmünd coupé, now owned by US comic Jerry Seinfeld).

For the next decade Mathé successfully raced and hillclimbed the T64 – the car even appeared in an American press advertisement for Bardahl Oil in 1955. The then-future F1 World Champion Niki Lauda is quoted as saying that, as a child growing up in Austria, he worshipped Mathé and his one-armed racing exploits. Mathé eventually ‘retired’ his T64 in 1958 and it became a well-known but rarely seen jewel in his small collection of early Porsche cars.

He died in 1995, by which time his well-patinated collection of ex-racers and home-built specials had become highly prized. The T64 and his two Gmünd-built 356s found new owners, with the Berlin-Rome car passing to fellow Austrian, Porsche connoisseur and co-author of the definitive work on the 911 RS, Dr Thomas Gruber. Showing signs of wear and tear after nearly five decades of zipping across Europe in the hands of the Porsches and even rougher treatment when Mathé chucked it around the hills of Austria (substantial frontal damage was sustained in several events), in 1998 the car was placed by Gruber in the hands of Porsche restorer Michael Barbach, based in Kottingbrunn, Austria, for some remedial work and conversion back to left-hand drive.

It was at this stage that the secrets of its construction were finally revealed to the wider world. The body is entirely self-supporting and independent of the mechanical elements, and lifts off the VW chassis (making the wartime transfer of body three to chassis one an easy task).

The floor, unlike that of the VW, is integral with the body and, rather than a simple steel pressing, is composed of a light alloy sandwich in which the outer, aerodynamically efficient flat-floor skin is separated from an inner floor by a latticework of deep, perforated and triangulated alloy ribs along the lines of an aircraft fuselage of the era. A set of longitudinal beams parallel to the central tunnel adds stiffness to the frame. All were showing signs of corrosion and were faithfully refabricated. The seamless body, floor, and interior bulkheads were mainly riveted together – around 2000 in all!

The combination of the narrow cockpit, low roof and high floor makes for considerable intimacy between driver and passenger once you’ve struggled your way in. The passenger seat is staggered roughly a foot (30cm) abaft of the driver’s, providing extra shoulder room, and the deeply curved doors, lined simply with fabric, are left hollow for more elbow room. Despite its limited horsepower, lack of weight means performance is better than that of the very early steel-bodied 356.

After Gruber’s stewardship, the Porsche T64 passed into the collection of German billionaire businessman, philanthropist and art collector Stefan Schörghuber, who died in 2008 at the age of 47.

This is certainly by far the world’s most valuable Volkswagen, and there is much speculation that it may leave the upcoming Monterey auction as the most valuable of all Porsche creations, beating the current high price of £11,077,000 achieved by the ex-Jo Siffert 917K that starred with Steve McQueen in Le Mans. Whether that is the case or not, its place in history as one of the most significant cars ever made is not in doubt.