An extensive book on Porsche competition and not a single mention of the 911 or the 956/62? Huge and heavy as it is, this book begins in 1948 and ends in 1965, firmly ignoring the arrival of the 911 that was about to launch the Stuttgart firm into serious sales and a tidal wave of success in racing and rallying.
Instead, it’s all about racing efforts during the company’s first competition entry period – the 356 Carreras, the spyders 550 and 718 RS, the svelte 904 and the single-seater F2 and F1 . Despite all the previous books on the mark, Smith feels that this is the first assemblage of all the first runners and every event, although he gets too romantic in drawing a comparison to the Teutonic Knights in their armour. silver, hence the title Silver Steeds. But he “hopes all Porsche fans will find an ‘I didn’t know that’ moment in these pages.” I did – we note aside that Herbert Linge of Porsche created a Mille Miglia road book in 1954, which DSJ borrowed before compiling his rollermap for 1955.
The opening chapters immerse us in Ferdinand Porsche’s many early innovations – his gasoline-electric powered Löhner vehicle and the highly successful Austro-Daimler Sascha racing cars and his time dodging between the various German car companies before setting up his eponymous company. in 1931.
“We never worried if a customer car beat our factory cars. It showed that we were selling front-line race cars”
While he accepted every design scheme offered, including an NSU scheme that would gradually become Hitler’s KDF Wagen, the Volkswagen, it’s clear that the love of racing reigned supreme from the start. Yet even while developing the limitless Auto Unions, he was concocting a lightweight, aerodynamic sports car. Rich in drawings, Porsche Silver Steeds shows us the 1938 plans for a design with a typically Porsche coupe body whose driving force is a compact V10 of a minimum of 1.5 liters, mounted in the center position.
Now fully committed to the “people’s car”, he was not allowed to divert resources: “a sports car is not a car for the people”, quotes Smith. But the industry is often driven by politics; suddenly the propaganda value of a race from one fascist state to another, from Berlin to Rome, became a priority. Porsche’s sports car program suddenly had support and pragmatically inserted this tail-hung flat four in its jelly body form to create three Type 64 machines, resembling saucer-eyed sea creatures . The 1939 Berlin-Rome race will never take place, but the direction is set. While 356 No1 had its engine in the middle, technical pragmatism, using readily available VW parts, gave us the classic engine placement that scared in principle but excelled in practice. To explain all of this, Smith draws on an extremely wide range of photographs and drawings, so these developments become very clear. (Not so some captions: white text on silver does not render readability…)
If you’ve ever been a bit confused about the overlap between Porsche factory developments and Walter Glöckler’s connected machines, Smith is the man to explain how private enterprise could race mid-engined Porsche power. when the main company, short of work, had to repair American jeeps instead. For Smith, you could almost say that Walter Glöckler was actually the father of Porsche racing cars in the years that followed.
Fittingly, the first race for a Porsche was the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans, where prophetically the 356 won its class. Entered not by the factory team but by a French dealership, it led to a flood of sales enquiries, establishing a pattern of profitable private racing. A crucial quote from Norbert Singer: “We never really cared if a customer car beat our factory cars. It proved that we provide our customers with real front-line racing cars. It gave us great credibility with our customers, so we sold more cars.”
I mustn’t get distracted by telling the whole story – it’s Smith’s job which he does with evident enthusiasm in his fifth Porsche book. But take it in small doses – there’s such an avalanche of facts, chassis numbers for every race and model types like cylinders, camshafts and capacity all increase in the 1960s that it’s a bit overwhelming; rather attempting to follow the story through the many illustrations, mostly from the Porsche archives, that accompany each entry and race summary. Early factory scenes, atmospheric color shots of Carrera Panamericana and Pikes Peak, 904 body molds in production, F1 cars wallowing in a muddy Hockenheimring paddock, all boasting generous room to breathe in a Typically high-end Palawan production offered in a deluxe tiered case.
It’s beautiful, but if you want it, you have to act fast. A recent twist in this market is the EasyJet-style rarity price here dropping from £500 for early birds to £2500 for the latest run of the fanciest limited edition. It seems that, like supercars, superbooks have an insatiable following.
|Porsche Silver Steeds