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Ferdinand Porsche was one of the first engineers to develop the automobile. His first vehicle was registered in Austria, and took to the streets of Vienna on June 26, 1898.
His namesake brand is still synonymous with style and performance, and the Volswagon which he designed for Hitler is, and probably always will be, the most numerous and recognizable car ever produced. Ferdinand was also a pioneer of motorsports, and racing remained his passion throughout his life, though the war saw him design tanks, tractors, and generators. For one of many Porsche racing adventures, read my article on Bernd Rosemeyer.
In 1935, the first Volkswagen prototypes were ready for testing, internally referred to as Porsche type 60. After a few prototypes, a series of 30 Volkswagen test cars were made by Daimler-Benz AG in 1937. With the Volkswagen nearing its production, the idea of Porsche’s own series production sportscar was also born. The plan was to use Volkswagen’s mechanicals, but it being a government project, the agreement couldn’t be settled to use the parts by a private car company. So, the Porsche family had to get creative. Motorsport was very ‘in’ at this time, and the KdF could still use a competition car for marketing purposes and the NSKK (Nationalsozialistisches Kraftfahrkorps, National Socialist Motor Corps) started to organize the Berlin-Rome road rally to happen on September 27, 1938.
Because of the Sudeten Crisis, the 1938 Berlin-Rome race did not happen, but as the event was planned as a new tradition, the race was scheduled also for 1939.
For the 1939 race, a project was started to create KdF’s Berlin-Rome competition car. It was a car using type 60 KdF-Wagen’s mechanicals with design from the Porsche 114 project. The KdF Berlin-Rome car was called type 64. The type 64 cars were built using 1938 KdF VW38 chassis and the chassis numbers therefore began with 38. Having the powerless engine, the type 64 had to be as aerodynamic as possible. And the narrow cockpit made it look very cool. These aluminium-bodied cars were designed by Erwin Komenda.
In any case, the car was very fast, despite its puny little engine. That’s also because it was very light. The body, for instance, was built by Karosseriewerk Reutter from 0.5 mm thick aluminum alloy sheets that were beaten by hand to create that teardrop shape. The first car was ready on August 19, 1939, but it was to no avail as, on September 1st, 1939, the Second World War officially commenced and, as such, all racing had to be abandoned.
You may be wondering what happened to the cars since the race did not take place. Well, all three did get built (the second in December of 1939 and the third in 1940) and lived very interesting lives thereafter. The first example was gifted to Bodo Lafferentz, “a member not only of Germany’s national trade union, but he was also a board member of the newly formed Volkswagenwerk,” according to Porsche Road & Race. Lafferentz crashed the car, but the car was salvaged and repaired , then destroyed by allied bombers during WWII.
During the war period, the second and third chassis, used by Ferdinand Porsche himself as a daily driver (hardcore), were saved by Porsche as he fled to Gmund, Austria, where he set up an impromptu headquarters at a villa in Zell-Am-See. As Americans arrived to “liberate” Austria, the appearance of one of the Type 64s, namely chassis #38/42, was intriguing enough to prompt them to seize it. They drove around in it for a while before chopping the roof off and driving it some more until the engine let go. At that point, the car was scrapped.
Ferry Porsche had the last existing car revamped in 1947 by Carozzeria Pininfarina in Italy.
This was the first car labeled “Porsche”. In 1949 the new 356 design was finalized and to finance the new “cottage industry” production in Gmund, Porsche sold the coupe to Otto Mathé, the owner of a lubricants additive company and a serious amateur racer. He “owned” the car until his death in December 1995, including during a four year law suit to recover it, starting in 1991 when it temporarily escaped his control as part of the sale of his company. In 1982 it appeared at the Monterey Historic Races in San Francisco to the joy and amazement of many. In 1997 it was sold at auction to its current owner, Thomas Gruber of Vienne for 6.1 million Austrian Shillings. Porsche apparently had missed this chance to recover the car, but will try again in August when RM Sotheby’s will auction Type 64 #3 in Monterey, and it’s expected to command at least $20 million.
This article originally appeared on American National Socialist.