The Heritage - Zuffenhausen

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera
Pilgrimage
Touring the German origins of an icon.

VIDEO

ZUFFENHAUSEN

THE HERITAGE

It’s a cold, wet, blustery winter day when we arrive at Porsche’s home in the Stuttgart suburb of Zuffenhausen, which seems somehow appropriate. After all, the German winter has long played a role in shaping Porsches, as has the company’s steadfast devotion to trial by motorsport. Factor in countless test miles on a highway system that ranges from superspeed autobahns to mountain switchbacks to urban gridlock, and Porsches face one helluva development program. No model has been influenced more by these rigors than the legendary 911, and we’re here to experience the process firsthand with the latest evolution, the Type 991.

But there’s another crucial influence at work long before an idea ever reaches Porsche’s drawing boards: the sense of history and heritage that seems to permeate every brick of this place. We can almost feel it peeking over our shoulder when the rasping flat-six engine pushes us through the gates of Werk 1, the original Factory 1, built in the ’30s when founder Ferdinand Porsche’s Volkswagen project outgrew the downtown Stuttgart design offices he established in 1931. The first VWs were made at Werk 1 and so, too, was the first car that could truly be called a Porsche, the 1939 Type 64, intended for the never-run Berlin–Rome road race.

Across the street as we exit is Werk 2, built after the company’s 1950 return from its postwar interval in Gmünd; as we turn right, the 911 growls past the flagship Porsche Zentrum dealership. Directly ahead on the other side of Porscheplatz is the amazing Porsche Museum, the stunning chrome and white architecture leaping upward like a latter-day cathedral.

Since its opening in 2009, the museum has become the must-see centerpiece of any Zuffenhausen pilgrimage. It’s at once a world-class car collection, a history exhibition, and a premier research library and archive, along with a conference center and the gourmet Restaurant Christophorus. From the ground floor lobby with its gift shop, casual cafés, and in-house restoration facility, one ascends through three levels of vehicles, some 80 of them at any given time. That they’re all pristine goes without saying; that most of them run, and on a regular basis, merits mention.

Exhibits from the earlier years include Ferdinand Porsche’s electric-drive designs from 1900 and his first Targa Florio class winner, the 1922 Austro-Daimler “Sascha.” The VW Type 1 is represented, as are the Gmünd cars, notably Type 356 “number one,” and there are competition cars galore: the 1986 Paris–Dakar-winning 959, the all-conquering 1200-hp 917/30 Can-Am car of 1973, the revolutionary 1947 Cisitalia 360 Grand Prix car that provided a critical design contract during the firm’s toughest period.

Of particular interest in our case is the quintessential Porsche, the 911 series, from the T7 prototype of 1959, looking disturbingly like a collision between a 356 coupe and a 912, through the air-cooled era, pioneering turbos, and modern water-cooled cars. It becomes evident as we progress through the exhibits that, although a great deal has changed, a surprising proportion of the fundamentals have not. The underlying principles of solid engineering and high quality never waver.

It could easily take an afternoon to wander the ramps and short stairways that lead to the top floor—there are no escalators after that initial ride from the lobby to the Type 64—and a full day wouldn’t be wasted. The escalator down, however, passes all the levels in one long descent, offering a striking panorama of the exhibition and a fantastic photo op.

In fact, the museum is one big photo op. The lighting is good, the cars aren’t jammed together, the backgrounds are largely uncluttered, and there are no rope barriers. Visitors are treated like civilized people, and you can shoot anything you wish, interiors usually included. Do ask first, though, before hopping inside (the guides are almost universally fluent in English), and bring a wide-angle zoom, along with a tripod and a flash.

Customers who signed up for the European Delivery option in Zuffenhausen will definitely want to come camera-equipped. Official hand-overs are made at Werk 2, but a museum tour is a part of the delivery package, and afterward, your guide likely won’t mind if you snap your new 911 parked in the forecourt at the main entrance. Or you can simply slip back after hours and drive it across the curb. Evening shots are prettier anyway, and for some reason, the curb there was left really, really low.

Get to bed early, though. It’s a three-hour drive to the Nürburgring, and you’ll want to be up front when the gate opens.

GALLERY

  • Streamlined all-aluminum Type 64 bodywork foreshadows Porsche traditions of innovations
  • Type 64 of 1939 was the first car ever to wear the name Porsche
  • Revolutionary 360 Cisitalia Grand Prix car featured mid-engined 1.5-liter twelve-cylinder and four-wheel drive
  • The first Type 356 made in 1948 during the companys stay in Gmund Austria