Friday, April 6, 2012

Porsche Museum

I think that most boys growing up, at least in the United States, fall in love with the idea of fast cars. There's something about the freedom implied by having a car and the thrill of going fast in that car that we're drawn to. I can remember that, at one point, I even had a picture of a Porsche 959 on the wall of my bedroom. Because we were still kids and until we were old enough to drive, we had to fill that need for speed and thrills by racing our bicycles and riding our skateboards.

Over many years, I've owned a bunch of different cars but my deepest affection is reserved for only two of them. The first, as I've written about before, was my MINI that I owned until last year. That car was amazingly fun to drive. The other love is for air-cooled Volkswagens, including this 1965 convertible that I bought during my first year of college:

I owned and loved that car for almost 20 years. It was the car that I drove across country when I moved from Philadelphia to California. The convertible was actually the third air-cooled VW I owned but it was by far the best.

So, what does my early love of cars and my owning a bunch of oil-leaking VWs have to do with anything? Those VW Bugs were originally designed by Ferdinand Porsche, who also just happened to design and build...Porsches. And guess where you can see a whole museum full of Porsches? Yep, here in Stuttgart!

Located just north of the center of the city, across the street from one of the main Porsche factory complexes... the spaceship-shaped Porsche Museum:

The building is quite impressive. The scale was hard to make out when I was looking at it, and, looking at the photos now, it's even more difficult to appreciate the scale. The building's designed with reception, restaurant, and workshop areas on the ground floor and the museum-part of the building suspended in the air on giant "legs".

After paying to enter the museum and picking up our audio guides, it's up into the white box in the air via an escalator:

The first thing that I saw at the top of the escalator was Ferdinand Porsche's Type 64 body that he designed and built in 1939 for long-distance racing. Its aerodynamic and lightweight aluminum body style was based on the earlier work he was doing on what would later become the VW Beetle. The Type 64 was the basis for almost everything that Porsche has done since.

Around the corner from the Type 64 was the car that I really came to the museum to see. This is, in my opinion, Porsche's masterpiece, a Type 1 (in this case, a 1950 production-model VW), which he started working on way back in the early 1930s as a "people's car" (or "volks wagen" in German):

What I never knew about Ferdinand Porsche and learned at the museum was that the guy was a genius. He was playing with concepts and building motors, cars, and other parts that today we consider somewhat new and exotic. Take for example this in-hub electric wheel motor for a car that he designed, built, and displayed back in 1900. It wasn't until the last ten years or so that designers have just started developing (again) electric, in-hub, wheel motors for use in hybrid cars.

The Porsche Museum was filled with his different experiments and achievements. They do a great job showing the evolution of the cars from the earliest prototypes all the way through today's production and racing models. There's even a Formula1 car on display along with a small manufacturing display (which I wish was bigger).

Getting to finally see a Porsche 959 and one of the original Beetles was definitely cool. The architecture of the building and museum are impressive and the cars themselves are pretty amazing. Somehow, though, I'm still drawn to the Volkswagen-like cars. There's something about that slightly rattle-y sound of the air-cooled motor's valves working away that just draws me in. Porsche's managed to take the original people's car and make it into a driving monster. Probably the best representation of this combination was this 1948 Type 356 that they had a couple of on display:

Since visiting the museum, I heard what I'd call rumors that you can go for a real factory tour at Porsche. I'm hoping that's the case and that I'll get a chance to see it while I'm here in Germany. Interestingly enough, visiting the Porsche Museum makes me want to go visit Volkswagen...hmm... ROAD TRIP?!?!

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