Alexander E. Klein
This year the Porsche Museum is celebrating its 10-year anniversary at its current premises. The collection of Porsche AG, which is at the heart of this popular exhibition, is deeply rooted in the company’s beginnings. Porsche Club News took the opportunity to talk to Alexander E. Klein, Head of Vehicle Collection and Heritage Experience, about what makes a good collection, about Porsche AG itself – and about cars. A discussion which reveals some interesting perspectives.
Porsche Club News: Mr Klein, you collect things which once were, looking back to the past; but also to explain things what is here and now. You also document the present to preserve things which could be important in the future. Does that sum it up correctly?
Alexander Klein: That’s right, you collect things from the past with a view to the future. A collection can be seen from a variety of different perspectives: you can obviously collect everything which has been successful; new developments in production, motor sports etc. These objects are naturally chosen because they clearly demonstrate the company’s progress. However, collecting doesn’t always mean exhibiting the beautiful and successful, it also involves showing the various steps taken along the way.
Which can inevitably be sometimes less successful?
You don’t always have a brainwave of an idea straight away, a solution can develop from various intermediate stages. For this reason, the task of the collection is to show the steps taken to reach the final result. In this way, it is possible to explain for instance that success is not always a product of chance but involves a great deal of work. We collect practically everything between the initial idea and the finished product. And, wherever possible, from all products which we have ever conceived. Even if the idea doesn’t come to anything.
In the 1980s, for example, Porsche considered taking up rally sport again. Audi was using one of the first four-wheel drives and Porsche asked itself how it could also approach this subject. The initial idea was to take a transaxle car and supplement it with an all-wheel drive. Porsche examined this idea further but eventually decided against it because the 911 series proved to be a better all-wheel drive car. And thus the all-wheel-driven 944 disappeared from view. We still have these cars and can show that Porsche considered launching a Group B car, but in the end it proved more sensible to make it based on the 911.
What you are saying is that the collection documents the common thread running through the decades of Porsche development?
Yes, that’s the main mission of the collection. We don’t have the most complete Porsche collection. But we have a collection containing objects which vividly show visitors, interested parties, journalists or fans of the brand the mindset and spirit behind every Porsche product. This mindset is embodied into every one of our cars up to the present day and is like a common thread running through every car.
This mindset allows every one of our cars to tell the real and authentic history of Porsche with all its highs and lows. If the car broke down after six hours because the petrol pump failed, this finding was important to think of a different petrol supply for the next race. And maybe this was exactly the right step which led us to greater success.
Does the collection therefore reflect this mindset?
Yes, the cars reflect this mindset in their authentic, visual appearance, the collection is established based on this mindset and we also apply this mindset to decide on how to improve and evolve the collection. Improving and evolving means closing gaps which have developed in the past and supplementing the collection to respond to new requirements and needs.
With this in mind, it is important to realise that the job of collecting is much different from what it was maybe 15 years ago. It has changed because the company Porsche has over the years understood the importance of leveraging and using its collection in a much wider sense. The collection is seen by visitors in the most familiar sense in the form of a museum. The museum is a meeting place, and the collection aims at constantly offering the visitor something exciting. But the idea of a collection goes beyond the museum: it is also used for internal company tasks, for journalistic reporting and supporting measures in the markets. For this purpose, we have a pool of 13 cars stationed in China, we have five cars which we regularly exchange with America and we work on projects with the major European markets five to six times a year. We support a total of 33 countries with assignments abroad and cars on loan. This is the equivalent of 2,500 transports from Germany to around the world.
In other words, in addition to the cars on display in the museum, you own a separate pool of cars for use around the world?
There are around 80 cars on display in the museum. In stock, we have a total of approximately 650 vehicles. There is a greater demand from the international markets when we celebrate anniversaries – the 911, the transaxle models, the 914 and of course the most recent anniversary “70 years of Porsche Sports Cars”. That is why we have more than one model of the 356 Speedster, for example. We also need several of the early 911 series as well as various versions of the 911 Turbo. The same also applies to some of our particularly attractive models: the collection also contains all the logical predecessors of the GT models. When Porsche launches a new model, we always provide the comparison to the predecessor models for journalistic purposes so that you can see the different stages of the development process. We can trace the history of every series with cars which are still in working order.
We also need these cars for internal company purposes. Our cars are used by the company more than 50 percent of the time for cars that are no longer part of the current production. For example, we ensure that the latest generation of service testers is compatible with the oldest generation of vehicles. We also provide cars for comparing the aerodynamics of various 911 generations in the wind tunnel. Or for noise applications with new models – we test and compare the frequencies of cars from the collection. We also try to simulate defects for unsolved service cases. We are therefore system service providers for all areas of the company.
If today’s museum is a modern service provider, were item simply just collected in the past?
What was it like previously?
A collection starts in principle with a founding generation. This is the 1st generation, they are the “collectors”. There has to be someone responsible at the beginning who decides that what has been built or used in motor sports is not sold on after use. At Porsche, this was the generation 50 years ago. In those days, you have to remember that Porsche had an annual production of a maximum of maybe 10,000 cars and there were far less resources available for motor sport activities. On the other hand, Porsche achieved a great deal in motor sports in the 1960s, and to do this you needed money of course.
It wasn’t always just a matter of course in those days to say we’ll keep a racing car for ourselves and won’t sell it. Of course you said we’ll sell it! So that you had enough money again for the next race car. In other words, you had to have someone who was prepared to make uncomfortable decisions and say we’ll put this car to one side. Initially, a small “put away” and unnoticed collection therefore evolved. Richard von Frankenberg was one of those who decided to put the cars into storage after they had crossed the finishing line. And this is how it came to be that between 1948 and 1976, the cars were simply put into storage after use.
At some point, the next generation comes along and asks: what are we doing with those things in storage, can’t we do anything with them? This critical examination of things that have been put into storage leads many companies to sell a large part of what has been collected. Because they don’t need the things at the moment and money can be made from them. What’s important is to have someone who preserves what has been stored or defends these things against access from external access. This is the generation of “preservers”. This has to be someone who has a vision, who knows that what is stowed away is not just a product but can be of significance, in the sense of history, for the future. It’s usually the second generation which says: Let’s make what we have put into storage accessible to the public. We’ll take a hall and hang a sign up outside: open from 9 am to 5 pm. And that’s how a museum starts life. At Porsche, it was possible to visit the small museum collection from 1976.
We are now in the third generation, the “administrators”, who manage everything and are responsible for filling any remaining gaps in the collection and looking for ways in which we can make the collection work for the company, as already mentioned before.
Besides assisting other markets and using the cars for measurement, comparison or development purposes, we also look for journalistic press opportunities, providing the right car for the right story. We provide cars to support marketing campaigns or video games; every computer game on the gaming market which uses Porsche cars is based on a digitisation of our cars. Multimedia apps and other similar applications are based largely on data recorded on our cars.
But it is also part of our work to raise the company’s awareness of this historic collection. After all, the collection can only serve its correct purpose if the company understands the meaning of incorporating the historic cars into its work. As a result, there is no brochure from Porsche which doesn’t contain a cross reference to a predecessor generation or a relevant photo. There are no multimedia modules or accompanying driving videos where there is no classic car from our collection. There is no medium used in the marketing area which doesn’t build a bridge to the past. They are all used to show the origins of the products and send the message that focusing on the essence of our origins with a view to the future is not a product of chance but the right and logical path to follow.
And how does the collection deal with current products? For the 918, we have a very special mix here in storage: from the mule to the very first series production car. When you took these decisions, the 918 was still a new vehicle. You basically decide what the Porsche Museum will work with in the future, don’t you?
The third generation always retains something of the first generation. We of course start by collecting everything – from the first studies and prototypes to the finished car. At the end of every product cycle, we then go about making sure that we have one model of every body type, every drive unit and every transmission version. And this applies to every model series. From the first Cayennes to the first Panameras and the 918 all the way through to the here and now with the new Taycan. There too we are busy collecting everything we need.
How do you address the question of taste when selecting the exhibits?
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure that a collection is not opportunistic. By that I mean that you need to take a very neutral approach to collecting. No car can be more attractive than the next. And you can’t prefer one colour to another. Otherwise, the collection from the 1st generation would only have yellow cars with green seats and the next generation only silver cars with black seats.
You always need a feeling for the zeitgeist and the current trends – the idea is to present the car within the context of the time it was built. For example, a car from the seventies has to be in yellow or orange. But you don’t choose orange for a 3.2-litre Carrera Coupé from 89 but rather take the colour and equipment within the context of the time, so perhaps in Moss Green Metallic or Marine Blue.
And how do you configure the current models?
That’s an interesting question. You cannot precisely judge today’s zeitgeist because you cannot cast aside all the subjective influence. So we try and work against the cycle. In other words, we try to configure cars that are not typical for today. For example, we have recently added a 911 Type 991 GT3 4-litre to our collection – in Signal Yellow, the RS colour from 1973. We know that in 20 years most GT3s will be in Chalk. Because in retrospect the trend colour was probably Chalk. We are trying to counteract this by choosing unusual colour and then putting pairs of opposites together in the car collection to offset the noticeable trend with a trend we feel. This is our way of trying to balance out this whole issue.
Will there come a time when you might say: historically speaking, we now have everything that we could want? Will you then only collect new cars?
In principle, that’s what we’re already doing now. But as a collection, we don’t just collect cars. As a collection, we cover 100 years of automotive development in the family company Porsche, which includes the here and now as well as the future. And there were no weak or particularly strong phases in this development. In contrast: if you look at the current influences on the automotive sector, you come across solutions which we already envisaged 50 or 100 years ago. For example, it was our cars that were successful with less displacement, fewer cylinders and lower weight. Simply because they were reliable and efficient. That’s an approach which we are still pursuing today. Today, the world of automobiles is shifting towards electrification. This comes as no surprise to us, as we were pursuing the same goal over 100 years ago. Professor Porsche was one of the founding fathers of electricity. That’s one of the great aspects of Porsche; every single product is planned out so far into the future that it still has its legitimacy in the here and now.
I’d like to talk about the issue of restoration. How do you address the question of authenticity?
That’s a really important issue for our team: the common definition of authenticity and how to handle it. We deliberately discuss the issue of authenticity on a frequent basis, deliberately controversially and often by deliberately taking extremely diverse examples as a basis. Restoration is a Latin term meaning bringing back into an original condition. And for us, the important question is: What should the original condition be like?
A car which has driven 300,000 kilometres has marks which shows it has driven 300,000 kilometres, but on the other hand is in perfectly good working order. Do we then leave the car in precisely the state it is in? And do we let the car tell its own story, saying yes I’ve driven 300,000 kilometres? That’s also a message worth conveying.
Next to it, you may have another car that’s only driven 3,000 kilometres but which was kept under a tree for 30 years. This car cannot tell its story: yes I’ve maybe driven 3,000 kilometres but I look like I’ve gone 500,000. In this case, we have to take a different approach to restoration.
You then have a motor sports car that was modified from one season to the next, which was then withdrawn from use 30 years ago and has managed to preserve and retain this status until today. What condition should this car then show? The condition at the end of its last race or that of the very first? Which races did it take part in, which titles and victories did it achieve and which drivers raced in it?
What I’m saying is that we always take different approaches and each car has a completely new condition with which we have to work with to convey its full story. But you first have to know what you want to achieve.
And the best example of how we look at things can be seen by the car we found in a barn, the 911 with serial number 057. We restored this car in such a way that it remains the car of the second-hand dealer Bernd Ibold. Our mission was not to magic a replica car out of the hat, but produce an authentic car that, even after the restoration, still had all the unmistakable hallmarks of the Bernd Ibold car. And we succeeded! The car has retained its soul and its story which it is allowed to tell.
Which takes us back to the subject of mindset which we discussed at the start.
A collection, when seen as a composition of many products – in our case vehicles – cannot just be about the addition of cars, a mere accumulation. A collection should reflect the attitude, the ethos and DNA of the product. Every car carries its own statement. It came at a certain point in time, was designed for a specific purpose, a specific customer group and a specific order. It’s important to listen to this individual story of each car in order to be able to communicate with it. And this individual story shouldn’t be forgotten or be lost in a collection, in this vast pool of countless stories and cars. It is all the more important that the collection has to understand each and every story to be told.
Do you also mean that by telling each and every individual story, you are contributing to the bigger, the overall story of Porsche?
And to be able to do this, the collection needs its own fingerprint. With all these many, tiny details and aspects, it is the collection alone that sends a statement to the outside. And the statement we want to send is that we are a collection which displays the core messages of the company in every single one of its collected items. The collection has understood the cars and the collection is a representation of the actual state of the company’s history. With all its highs and lows and without any ‘window-dressing’: We show cars how they once were and not how we would have liked them to be: we show the car that broke down after the first lap; we show the design draft which never came to fruition; we show the technology that proved not to be perfect. These are all important steps in our company’s history: learning from mistakes, evolving in the right direction and always being able to reinvent yourself.
Can the collection be considered to be the guardian of “Dr. Ing.”?
As the department GOM and Historical Communications, definitely. All of the company’s collections reside here: the car collection, the classic motor sports collection, the company archives with the image, video, plan and documents archive. But we also like to apply this in a wider sense: we take the term “historic backbone” of Porsche AG literally. The attitude, ethos, spirit, mindset of the Porsche universe are all rooted here.
Thank you very much!
Alexander E. Klein, Head of Vehicle Collection and Porsche Heritage, Porsche AG.