The Porsche Museum’s Mind-blowing Le Mans Exhibition
Photography by Andrey Smazhilo for Petrolicious
Splendid. If I were asked to describe one of the many places that I visited during my German holidays with just one word, “splendid” would most certainly be it. It is not just the cars there, which are certainly colourful and beautiful. “There’s something in the air,” as Modern Talking used to sing, that makes it so special. The place is located in the Zuffenhausen district of Stuttgart, the Porsche’s hometown, and it would be quite surprising if the museum was anywhere else.
This year was special to Porsche because they finally returned to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s most famous endurance race. The point was not just to participate, because there are Porsches run by privateers in the Grand Touring category, but also to steal the Le Mans crown from Audi by winning in the most prestigious prototype category, LMP1. However, as we already know, only one car run by Porsche in this class, #14 Porsche 919 Hybrid, was able to finish, coming eleventh overall.
Obviously, it will take some time for Porsche to recover their form after such a long absence. Nevertheless, a special exhibition called ’24 Hours for Eternity’, which pays homage to the famous race and displays Porsche’s racing heritage to public, is mind-blowing. The museum was transformed into a racetrack with each car telling its story.
Racing itself has a very important meaning for most manufacturers. It is the fastest way to develop a car because new technologies are explored, and then production can be improved. For Porsche, racing has become a tradition since 1951 when an aluminium-bodied 1100cc Porsche 356 SL was entered in 24 Hours of Le Mans by a factory team where it immediately took a win in its class. However, no matter how hard they tried, overall victory at Le Mans eluded Porsche.
In 1969, the long-tail Porsche 908 driven by Mr. Hans Herrmann was the closest one to an overall victory, but unfortunately the brakes gave up on the last lap and he lost to Mr. Jacky Ickx by less than a mere one hundred meters, and who knows what might have happened with Porsche’s racing program if not for Mr. Ferdinand Piech. He was convinced that Porsche could win at Le Mans so he personally guaranteed the success of the 917 project to Dr. Ferry Porsche. And what a success it was! For two years in a row, 1970 and 1971, Porsche finally took overall victories at Le Mans until the regulations reduced maximum capacity of the engine to 3000cc in 1972.
Another big success came in 1974 when a 2.1-litre Martini Racing Porsche 911 RSR Turbo came second overall at Le Mans, and exactly at that moment, everyone understood that turbochargers were the future. The next year Porsche introduced the 911 Turbo to the public and it was an instant success. The car was fast, agile, and mostly comfortable. The Turbo that proudly stands in the museum has a narrow chassis that makes it so unique. Ms. Louise Piech, Dr. Ferry Porsche’s sister, received this car in September 1974 as a gift for her 70th birthday. One more special thing about this vehicle apart from the different body is the gorgeous combined red leather and plaid interior, which looks very hospitable.
Porsche 935s and 936s have dominated the racetracks and different championships since their appearance in 1976. The 935, being a GT car, not a prototype, was actively raced by privateers. The Kremer-Porsche 935 K3 even managed to win at Le Mans in 1979, and it was a complete shock for everyone because never before had a Grand Tourer taken an overall win. Later models, like the 956 and 962 are also presented at the museum. Theoretically, the downforce created by its body would make it possible for it to be driven upside down at speeds above 321.4 km per hour, which is almost 200 mph! Oh, and one last interesting fact about the 956. This car still holds the lap record of 6 minutes and 11.13 seconds around the Nordschleife of the Nurburgring, set in 1983 by Mr. Stefan Bellof.
Apart from the racecars, there are also many road cars in the museum, beginning with the very first open-top Porsche 356 and ending with current range of Porsche vehicles. There is also a 959 quietly standing in the crowd of other cars and waiting to be noticed by someone’s curious eye. But as I said at the start, there is something in the air here that makes this place so special. This year it must be the aroma of the French countryside and race fuel lingering from Le Mans, still emanating from these racers that might make you wish you were born half a century earlier.