Porsche Heaven at The Petersen Museum

The fabulous one-off Type 64 60K10 greets you when you step into the marvelous “The Porsche Effect” exhibit. It shows the clarity and astuteness of Ferdinand Porsche’s thought on aerodynamics in 1939.

On February 16, I found myself wanting to buy a Porsche. I can thank the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles for that, for they currently running what may be the finest exhibit I’ve seen anywhere celebrating a marque, its history and mystique.

Called “The Porsche Effect,” what the museum offers is like watching a rock get thrown in a pond, and seeing the ripples expand outward, influencing everything they touch. Oldest to newest, the first racers to current Le Mans contenders, four, six, eight and 12 cylinder engines, one-offs to best selling sports cars, it’s all at the Petersen, displayed in a tasteful, artful and very thought-provoking manner.

For this exhibit examines much more than “just” the cars. “Out of the rubble of World War II,” the fabulous catalog explains, “Porsche emerged to shape the motoring desires of the western world…(The marque’s) compelling marketing and Hollywood’s embrace of its products have helped define the contours of consumer aspiration in developed nations. Its regard of customers as ‘family’ members has earned it the largest club following of any car company in the world. And its unparalleled success in motorsport has become the standard to which its competitors aspire.

This line up shows Porsche’s effect on the racetrack over the past five decades. Starting with the closest to the camera, they are a 906 (1966), 917K (1969), 956 (1983), 959 Paris-Dakar Special (1986), RS Spyder (2008), and 919 Hybrid (2015).

“The emotional response brought about by these and other phenomena associated with this manufacturer have combined to produce an influence on modern culture unprecedented for a car company of its size—an influence that can best be described as ‘the Porsche effect.’”

Yes indeed…The exhibit begins with Ferdinand Porsche’s Type 64 60K10 built in 1939. Somehow I doubt it glistened like this 80 years ago, but who cares when you can closely examine a shape so simple, so curvaceous that it’s like the great engineer is standing there, personally explaining the era’s cutting edge aerodynamic thoughts. The Type 64 is brilliant in its simplicity, a beautifully executed piece of machinery.

The 919 Hybrid pointed to the winner’s circle in 2015, and the future. Just look at the word “Hybrid” in the model’s designation, and how that term in now widely used in plotting out the marque’s future.

Despite that, the car that likely impacted me the most was a lovely Type 901 from 1964. Part of the Museum’s collection, this Porsche is something I’d dearly like to drive and photograph, for this is where the contemporary legend started. Walking around the car, I couldn’t help but marvel at how that shape has remained basically unchanged for five-plus decades, constantly being tweaked and refined—and how when it debuted, none of its creators (or anyone else) had even the remotest clue it would be so endearing, and enduring.

It’s utterly astounding to think that when the 901 debuted at 1963’s Frankfurt Auto Show, that basic shape/silhouette and mechanical layout would still be so recognizable, five decades later. To say that no one had a clue that would happen back then is an understatement of the first order! The 901 is truly beautiful and harmonious in its simplicity.

For those who like 356s, they are there in abundance, nicely scattered throughout the exhibit. Earliest was a 1949 Gmund Coupe, and the 1955 Continental Cabriolet looked especially tasty in dark gray and whitewall tires. Intriguingly, super importer Max Hoffman out of New York convinced Porsche to use the “Continental” name, only to find out from Ford that they had trademarked the name. (Can you say, “Oops?!”)

Another personal favorite was the 1976 911 Turbo. The model appeared in the dark days of ever-bigger bumpers and decreasing horsepower, thanks to increasing smog and safety regulations, and the first oil shock. The Turbo bucked the trend though, for the 3-liter turbo 6 cylinder was reasonably economical and, equipped with a widely spaced 4-speed tranny, incredibly quick.

The one-off 928 H50 shows what you can do when your name is on the side of the building. This intriguing 928 is a modification of the one-off 942 that was given to Ferry Porsche by his staff for his 75th birthday. The 942 was a fantastic 928 variant, and three years after receiving the two-door wagon, Ferry had the company turn it into a four-door for easier access to the rear seats.

But to drive it you had to know what you were doing, for stories were abundant back then in southern California about owners who were clueless about turbo lag, not knowing that you literally had to wait that one to two seconds for boost to spool up before you blasted off. This caught a number of them off guard when they came out of a turn so they would lift off the throttle, causing the rear to come around. Today, driving a good one is an absolute joy, for the ride is comfortable, the steering direct and talkative, and the thrill of the delay and then that push—as if two large hands are grabbing your shoulders and yanking back—is brilliant.

A very early 356 Coupe is in the foreground, flanking a Turbo from the mid-1970s. In the background is a rare Continental Cabriolet from the mid-1950s. Everywhere one turns in The Porsche Effect exhibit, you will see such artful (and well thought out) presentations of the cars, and incredible artifacts from Porsche history.

The racers are also in abundance. Especially memorable is a wall of racing glory that starts with a luscious 906 from 1966. It’s followed by a ’69 917K, the first Porsche model to win Le Mans outright. Next is a 956 from the first half of the 1980s that won the 24 hours classic four times, and was absolutely brilliant in “In Car 956,” a fabulous video I had on Betamax (to date oneself…). There was also a Paris-Dakar 959 Special, the dominating RS Spyder from 2008, and finally the ultra trick 919 Hybrid from 2015.

Back in 1976 you really had to know what you were doing when driving the 911 Turbo. Very few people had ever experienced turbo lag, and the incredible surge in power when the engine came on boost. This caught a number of inexperienced drivers off guard so when they came out of a turn they would instinctively lift off the throttle, which was just what you didn’t want to do! Needless to say, Porsche has mastered turbo technology, with tractable forced-induction prevalent across much of the current model line up.

I could go on and on about the cars, but what makes the exhibit truly special and transcend every other automotive museum presentation is what surrounds all the cars. There are oodles of documentation and period photos, internal company correspondence, scale models, engineering drawings with handwritten notes on them, family, factory and company history, and much more. And all this is beautifully tied in with “The Porsche Effect” narrative.

A great line up of historic Porsches in a beautiful setting. In the foreground is a rare 356 Continental from the mid-1950s, a 1968 911 Targa is in the center, while a 1955 550 Spyder lurks off in the background.

This exhibit runs into January 2019, and is about so much more than just the cars. There is an absolute plethora of documentation and period photos, internal company correspondence, scale models, engineering drawings with handwritten notes on them, family, factory and company history, and much more—all nicely tied in to “The Porsche Effect” narrative.

It’s been decades since I was the fortunate custodian of a 1974 911 Carrera (just loved that duck tail, and cammy engine), but after spending time at the Petersen, the Porsche bug hit in full fury. When the pocketbook allows, I’m ready to go out and buy a Porsche new or old…it doesn’t matter!

The exhibit runs until January 27, 2019, so if you are headed towards (or live in) southern California, just GO. You will be glad you did, and be sure to pick up a catalog if you can. Informative, wonderful to read and a visual treat, there were only 200 copies left when I was there.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is located at 6060 Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles; the phone number is +323-930-2277. It’s open seven days a week.

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