When you ask most ordinary car enthusiasts which immediately post-War cars made the leap from Volkswagen to Porsche, they say the closely-related Beetle and 356. But they’d be wrong. Welcome to the story of the oldest ‘Porsche’ in the world, which is soon heading to auction.
During the 1930s, Germany was an uncomfortable place to be if you didn’t hold to the ruling Nazi party’s fascist values, but at least the car engineers could do what they did best. At the time, the state (therefore the Nazis) owned Volkswagen and commanded a certain Professor Ferdinand Porsche and his son Ferry to build three racing cars to contest the 1500km Berlin to Rome race scheduled for September 1939.
The idea was to promote Germany’s advanced autobahn motorway network and show how quickly traffic could cross the country, but on 1 September Hitler pulled the trigger on his long-planned invasion of Poland and started World War II. The Berlin-Rome race never happened and the Volkswagen engineers were shunted towards military projects.
Just one of the rear-engined racers had been built by the outbreak of war, officially called the KdF Wagen (Kraft durch Freude Wagen; Strength Through Joy Car) but known to the Porsche family as the Type 64. As the fighting began, it became the property of the German people, which was to say senior Nazis. The managing director of Volkswagen used it until he crashed it.
The Porsches knew what their ultra-aerodynamic car would be capable of, and persisted. Through the war Ferry slowly continued with the project to build the two remaining Type 64s, reusing the chassis from the crashed first car for the third.
Despite both finished cars being moved to the stunning town of Zell-am-See in Austria in 1944, the second was lost. The third survived and made it to 1946, when Ferry himself applied new lettering to the Type 64’s nose to coincide with the launch of his and his father’s new brand: Porsche.
Now one of a kind, the Type 64 may have initially been designed as a Volkswagen but became the very first Porsche sports car with a thumping 32bhp. In 1947 it was lightly restored and tweaked by a young Pinin Farina in Turin, before in 1948 the fledgling Porsche brand unveiled the 356. Porsche displayed 356 #1 alongside the Type 64 in Innsbruck that year, where Austrian privateer racer Otto Mathé fell in love with the latter and bought it by 1949.
He raced it to vast success in the 1950s and became Porsche’s first winning racing driver in the process. He kept the car until his death in 1995. It was sold in 1997 to Vienna-based Dr Thomas Gruber, a world-renowned Porsche specialist.
This exact car, which Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche themselves built, drove and fettled, and which Pinin Farina himself has touched, is for sale with auctioneer RM Sotheby’s. It’s presented in “delightfully patinated” condition (remember that one next time you’re selling a damaged car) along with a huge amount of spare parts, photographs taken throughout its astonishing history and documents to support it.
This is a quite incredible piece of Porsche history, and what a thing it is to behold. Estimates put the expected selling price in the region of $20 million when it goes under the hammer at the Monterey auction starting 15 August. We want it.