901 Problems: Porsche Finds, Restores An O.G. 911

The 1950s were indeed happy days for professor Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche‘s young sports car manufacturing concern. The good doctor and his father had managed to transform Germany’s “people’s compact” — designed by the senior Porsche for Volkswagen — into the lightweight, agile, venerable, and much-loved 356 “bathtub” Porsche that was winning races and Sunday drivers’ hearts. A process of continuous improvement resulted in a steady horsepower increase from the original 1948 model’s 40 to 130 in the highly strung four-cam, pushrod-actuated two-valve Carrera 2000GS engine of 1962-’63. Chassis tuning and brake upgrades kept the aging front trailing-arm and lateral torsion-bar suspension and rear swing-axle setup functional as well. But toward the end of the decade of poodle skirts and prosperity, customers were itching for more refined and spacious touring cars that made less racket and offered more creature comforts.

Hence, in the mid-’50s, the company started doodling designs for a larger Porsche. Long-serving body-design chief Erwin Komenda naturally took the first few swings at a four-seat 356. His designs were informed by two core beliefs: (1) strongly curved body panels are inherently stronger, and (2) humans were expanding, so a larger interior would prolong the design’s useful life. Stretching bathtub curvature over a longer, wider interior resulted in zaftig shapes. Ferry Porsche deemed them too bulbous (do you think he would he have OK’d today’s Panamera?) and hired Count Albrecht Goertz, father of the gorgeous BMW 507 roadster and an associate of renowned industrial designer Raymond Loewy. But Goertz’s time in America rendered him incapable of resisting flashy trends like quad headlamps and six round taillamps, so his design looked a bit like a shrunken fastback ’58 Impala. Ferry Porsche is said to have proclaimed it “a beautiful Goertz, but not a Porsche.”

Meanwhile, in 1957, Ferdinand Alexander “Butzi” Porsche, number-one son of the Professor, left his studies at the Ulm College of Design to join the family business. He began in the design department, training under Komenda. A few of his suggestions were incorporated into successive Goertz designs, but that design direction was ultimately halted. Having successfully penned some beautiful race cars during his short career, the young scion was officially assigned responsibility for the 356-successor project in August 1959.

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