Porsche Pioneers: Join Me For A Visit To The DP Motorsport Headquarters In Germany
Watermarked photos by Robb Pritchard, unmarked photos courtesy of DP Motorsport
A couple of months ago we ran a story about Ekkehard Zimmermann’s gorgeous “Red Evolution” lightweight 964, but that car is only of the more recent ones in a very long line of wild creations that have come out of his workshop. His company, DP Motorsport, might not be the most instantly recognizable name outside of the world of high-perf Porsches, but his reputation must surely proceed him to many fans of ‘70s motorsport: Zimmermann was the man behind the bodywork of the iconic Kremer K-cars of the ‘70s and early ‘80s—and a lot, lot more.
Always keen to get the full story, I went to visit the workshop in a little village not too far from Cologne, Germany to get the rundown of the history of this special company.
The town of Overath is a rather unassuming little place, and in the quiet streets there’s no hint of the legendary Porsches that have been coming out of Zimmermann’s workshop for over 40 years. Even the display room is understated, and the wall around the car park means you can’t really see much from the road. If you park and get up close though, peering through the window, you will see a few wonderful things that hint at the history of DP. The first thing you’ll notice is the bright red “944,” though it’s not your typical fastback. Check the photos out for yourself. Some Porsche purists might be appalled at the 944 Cargo, but I love it! Where’s the sacrilege in cutting up a little four-banger Porsche to make something this unique?
After taking a few dozen photos of the Cargo, Patrick Zimmermann guides me into the back room where the shelves are stacked with a veritable library of magazines and books on Porsche, most containing references to his father’s work. He offers me a seat, and I can’t help but wonder if the well-worn desk I’m looking at was the same one where the first K-cars were designed—the cars that I had Matchbox and Tamiya models of as a kid.
As he sets a pair of coffees down on said desk, Patrick explains that even from a young age his father’s passion was always centered around designing cars. His first job was in a local paper mill, but in the evenings he built his own car from scratch based on a shortened VW Beetle chassis. Once it was finished it was the local police who first took an interest in it, pulling him over simply because they were curious about it.
Some thought it was the new Ferrari Dino, but looking at the photos Patrick brings up on the laptop, it has more of an open-top 914 look about it. Or maybe a modified 550 Spyder. Whatever it conjures up, it was this car, named “Dingo” after Ekkehard’s beloved dog, that began his lifetime of Porsche tuning.
In the late 1960s, Ekkehard came across a job advert for a designer at the nearby Ford factory but with no work experience or professional qualifications to speak the interview wasn’t going too well, so all Ekkehard could do was invite the guy out to into the parking lot to show him his Dingo. The contract was signed as soon as they were back inside.
Working at Ford at that time meant he was involved with the first Capri, but this was just the day job—it was what he did in his spare time that defined his legacy in the making. He began making lightweight fiberglass body panels for local Formula V race cars as well as aftermarket panels for Porsche owners who wanted a slightly more aggressive look to their 911s. And that is what brought him to the attention of brothers Erwin and Manfred, who are better known in Porsche circles by their surname: Kremer. They asked Ekkehard to make some sketches of some ideas for a Group 4 race car, and so outrageous was the result that the only reaction they could muster at the time was: “This is possible?”
The K1, with its outrageously-oversized rear wing and ground-hugging front splitter must have been a racing Porsche enthusiast’s wet dream come true, but actually it was pretty much the tamest car Ekkehard designed around the platform. The K2 that followed, with its slant-nose front and fully enveloping bodywork was based on Porsche’s own 935 Martini car, but Porsche didn’t sell works cars to privateer teams until they developed their replacements (and even then, things were not always the same), so Ekkehard and the Kremers decided to make their own. It was the beginning of a collaboration that would claim the ultimate sports car racing prize: overall victory at Le Mans. Klaus Ludwig, accompanied for a few laps by the drug-smuggling Whittington brothers, took the win in 1979 with the Kremer K3.
The K4—shown in its Jaegermeister livery here—might not have looked all that outwardly different from the K3, but underneath it featured a full space-frame chassis and the design saw a lot of success in the American IMSA series.
As the ‘80s chugged along the Group C era came to the forefront of sports car racing, but it would be a little while before Porsche made their new 956 available to privateers so Kremer once again filled the gap by taking an older 936 chassis and getting Ekkehard to design the bodywork. The CK5 might not have been the prettiest machine to grace a race track, but it was effective: clocked at over 200mph in 1982, it was seriously fast, and it ran as high as 3rd overall during its début at the 1982 24 Hours of Le Mans. Against the modern works efforts it never really stood a sporting chance though, and so its results don’t really give this car the credit it perhaps deserves.
With new technology beginning to trickle its way from Formula 1 into sports car racing designs, aerodynamic design began to move away from a man with a pen and paper and an eye for Porsche curves toward computer simulations, CAD programs, and wind tunnels, so once more Ekkehard shifted his career focus away from his day job and set about designing aftermarket cosmetic and performance upgrades for street legal Porsches.
The first slant-nosed road car was an Ekkehard design, one which Porsche saw the public’s interest in. Soon after, the factory made their own version. Ekkehard’s creations were much more aggressive than the factory options however, and they borrowed from the later Kremer designs to produce a look that was in keeping with the era: pure ‘80s excess! Who doesn’t like a wide-bodied, slant-nosed cabriolet with a huge wing? It’s just too cool for coke jokes.
911s weren’t the only model to be graced by Ekkehard’s attention though, as the 928 meant to replace the model was also redesigned with a unique body kit and was nicknamed “the shark.” But my personal favorite creation from this period is what he did with the 944 mentioned. While working at Ford, Ekkehard’s main interest lay in estate cars (station wagons) and he thought the 944 would lend itself nicely to that body style. So, he took an angle grinder to a nearly-new 944, mounted a VW Passat roof he’d found in a scrapyard on top, and then looked at it from different angles for a few days until he started some preliminary sketches.
With every design his ethos was to complement the lines of the cars he was working on, and even with such a fundamental redesign of the rear end the 944 Cargo still looks as though Porsche had made it themselves.
Only eight Cargos were produced, and most found their way to Sweden as a loophole in the law meant that with the extra space it could be taxed as a van rather than a sports car! The red one that sits in the showroom was never sold, and despite being thirty years old it is still in perfect condition. The rear door, cut right through the light cluster, still opens and closes as well as any modern car—a few centimeters from contact, a sensor activates a motor to pull it snuggly shut. I couldn’t help opening and closing it a couple of times just to enjoy this ahead-of-its-time feature. Pure quality.
The end of the ‘80s saw a significant economic slow-down in Germany, and as the outlay for a new Porsche was so high in relative and absolute terms, Ekkehard turned away from builds like the Cargo and began concentrating on making lightweight aftermarket products for the 993, 996, and then the 997, products that are still part of the DP catalogue today.
His son Patrick has been in charge of the operation since 2002, and he was the one giving me the tour of the place during my recent visit. He also graciously allowed me an exclusive wander around the workshop with my camera. I’ve been to many Porsche shops that have memorabilia on the walls, but the difference with DP is that all of the posters feature cars that Ekkehard designed in the space they adorn.
Despite how aesthetically stunning DP’s creations are, everything in the back room is surprisingly and refreshingly low-tech. All the parts are handmade, and everything from the body kits to the interior trim pieces come from moulds rather than 3D printers or other automated processes.
In one of the bays a K3 replica sat nearing completion. Actually it might technically be classed as an original, seeing as DP made the originals some 40 years ago! For this example, an accident-damaged 930 shell was cut down to the bare minimum and what was left was reinforced for the G-force effects it will soon endure with the new kit attached. It’s quite fascinating to see a few lines of bare metal under the huge arches and wings. Once completed, it will go to its new home in the Far East.
All models have a parts catalogue dedicated to them, but as Porsche interest continues its seemingly meteoric rise in popularity, it’s the lower-end models that are now seeing a lot of new customers. An original Boxster is a beautiful car in its own right, and although it’s not a 911 it’s an incredibly cheap proposition for a base car to do something a bit special with. As a Boxster owner myself, I took a special interest in Ekkehard’s wife’s car, the “dp86.” A front splitter that resembles a GT3’s, lights off a later-model 987, 18” wheels, and a more masculine rear bumper make it a stunning little car. Even more so considering that Ekkehard made it some 15 years ago! Parked next to mine, the difference is astounding.
Also in the workshop was an example of a “dp935” based on a special car they built for a special circuit. It is the only authentic road version of the Nürburgring special; in the late ’90s, German racer Jürgen Alzen asked Ekkehard to make a downforce-oriented Porsche for the VLN series which races solely on the infamous Nordschleife circuit. Alzen won the championship with it in 1998, but a client wanted a road-legal version. It is now on its way to its new home in America.
And just back from the Techno Classica in Essen was their latest creation; a back-dated Speedster. A wide body kit on an F-body always works, but with the tiny windscreen raked back, harking to the 356 Speedsters from the ‘50s, this car holds one’s attention just that much longer. The design was a client’s idea, but it was DP Motorsport that made it a reality, and now a lucky owner is driving his dream Porsche. Clients of DP have been saying that for forty years, whether on or off the track.