Uhhh, where are we?

On getting lost in Stuttgart to find something with no signs

In something very unusual for a Porsche meeting, we got rather lost. We  know Stuttgart pretty well, and we know the Porsche facilities even better. But here we were stumped. Our driver stopped, asked questions, turned around. People he asked, people who lived and worked in the area, had no idea what he was talking about. I was, rather stupidly it seems, looking for Porsche signs.

We ended up driving into a fenced-off area that looks like any other. Inside it was a warehouse that didn’t seem particularly different either. Nice car parked out front though. I lifted my camera to take photos. Nope, sorry, no photos here. But I’m outside I said, not inside. Oh inside is kind of okay if we say so, they respond. You just can’t take any photos of the exterior or the environs. That’s something different.

Then we were led to a large warehouse where we were met by two guys who began speaking to us. Welcome, they said. You can take photos when we say, they said. Don’t touch anything covered, they said, not even the covers. They said a lot, they talked about history and process and development. It was pretty hard to concentrate on them though. As the gate opened they continued talking, it’s all kind of a blur after that.

If you remember the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where they look in and see a whole room of treasure that extends further than you can see, this was kind of like that but way way cooler. One of the first things you see is a dirty, multicolored 959. Actually it is a prototype of the 959 meant specifically for testing aerodynamics. All over it are handwritten measurements, comments and hand-applied clay and putty used as they go through testing phases. Behind it? A really weird-looking black 918 Spyder that is actually part  997. The rear body panels are off and the patinaed exhaust pipes stick straight up into the air. Plus there’s a big box and what looks like a dome antenna towards the rear.

The whole warehouse doesn’t really have a name, people that go there tend to call it the garage but for the Stuttgart boys and girls it was just “the garage.” Walking through you see all sorts of things. There are classic racecars and old roadcars, there’s a police car tucked away, an ambulance, a couple vans including an Opel truck and a VW Kombi that looks suspiciously serious. Normally here but just moved to the museum was something fun, a Mercedes-Benz G Wagen. It was a support vehicle for the 959 Paris Dakar race team. It has a Porsche engine, and it was so beefed up it was apparently classified as a racecar itself. It and several 911 and 959 Rally cars were moved from the garage to the Porsche Museum in support of the launch of the new Cayenne. What was still in the garage is what they call the first Porsche offroad vehicle. Pulling off the cover with a flourish, they presented the Type 597. Named the Jagdwagen or the hunting car, it was developed in 1953 to answer a request from the German Army. There was a pre-production run of a full 71 units, but it never went past that. It went past a lot though, a look at the side sills show you the vehicle was meant to be able to wade. It began with the air-cooled flat four cylinder used in the 356 at 1.5 liters then 1.6. It turned out to be a bit too complicated to bring into full production.

The facility is fluid, things are regularly coming and going. For much of the historic cars, what’s not in the museum or on tour will be here. Engineering test beds end up here after they’re finished, and it is very interesting to see slightly different relatively ordinary cars that were actually the test beds for things like the PDK dual clutch system and the triple folding tops for cabriolets. There’s a bright yellow 968 CS that is apparently pretty special to their hearts, and has been in service for around twenty years as a testbed for various engineering ideas, including the testing of the PDK for 911s because the rear gave enough space for it. They point out that they were using a car far older than the transmission itself for testing. “This is typical for Porsche,” they proudly said, “doing something not in the most expensive way but in the most efficient way.” There’s even a motorcycle tucked in behind some cars, and if you look carefully you will notice something. It’s got a Porsche engine in it, and they told us it was a project of one of the engineers. There’s a history to this though. Ferry Porsche actually loved tooling around on his BMW bike.

The bike isn’t the only brainchild of the Porsche engineers. Quite a few of the particularly desirable modern cars got their start from a group of engineers who got together over coffee (or beer) and thought stuff up. There is actually a conference room built that overlooks the whole area, and it must be a wonderfully inspiring place to hold meetings. There was particularly rare car they showed us, a 911 Club Coupe in green with a tan interior. Only thirteen were ever made, they produced it for the 60th anniversary of Porsche clubs and only Porsche club members were allowed to buy. Or try and buy, really. The color scheme is a nod to the favorite palette of the Porsche family, and there are a few personal cars in the garage that were privately owned by the family. The Brewster Green is only available by special order, in case you want to feel like family.

We could go on walking and talking and looking, but not always taking photos, forever in this place. There were rows of 356s and arrays of racecars from vintage to modern. Some really rare stuff was being taken apart, or up on jacks, or being prepped to run in some special event or race. One of the most beautiful sights, and one which we were actually allowed to photograph, was a 904 racecar sitting in front a wall of three rows of car and chassis storage. The classic shape was just catching the afternoon light as we walked over, and it was breathtaking.

Now, if I can just figure out what those windows would look like from the outside.