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Semper Vivus – always alive

Porsche Museum and Porsche Classic Clubs at the Retro Classics in Stuttgart

For many, it is the starting signal for the Club season, the kick-off event for a high-octane event summer: the Retro Classics in Stuttgart. Early on in the year it became clear that this would not be an ordinary year. While the cult exhibition in south Germany was in full swing at the end of February, there was already speculation among those admiring the fantastic vintage and classic cars and other exciting historical exhibits about how things would continue after the Retro Classics. Will the Techno Classica in Essen take place at all? And what if it does not?

The reason: the coronavirus. It was already clear to one or the other person in Stuttgart: the Retro Classics could be the last exhibition of its kind for the time being – the starting signal into an unpredictable season.

And that is what happened. The virus changed everything. The kick-off event was followed by standstill. Public life came to a stop. Any events organised were cancelled – inconceivable. For the well-being of us all. All that remains for us is to take stock of the current situation.

The international Porsche Swap in March had to be postponed. Events in April and May are currently still on, depending on developments. We hope that the situation will have stabilised by June so that we can pick up the 2020 season again and so that some of the planned highlights can still take place.

But it is uncertain whether and how quickly things can continue. The virus does not know any certainties. Just two months have passed since our preview of the season and writing these lines. How quickly the world has changed.

Today’s innovation – tomorrow’s tradition

But back to the Retro: just like last year, the stands of the German Classic Clubs and the Porsche Museum were in Hall 1. And what had proven itself in the previous year, was again mightily impressive: located next to each other and separated only by an aisle, the two stands merged into an impressive Porsche area, which was the usual eye-catching spectacle not only due to its large expanse.

This symbiosis differed in the detail, however. Looking more closely, it was possible to quickly see that the two exhibition concepts indeed had their differences or, to be more precise, their special features. The Porsche Museum decided on a small but exclusive didactic row of vehicles representing important milestones for the company. This included a number of Porsche models from recent times that would not normally be expected at a classic car show.

The journey through time at Porsche started with a look into the past and the Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus, a roadworthy reproduction of the first functional hybrid vehicle in the world. At the other end of the timeline was the present, and the latest member of the family – the Porsche Taycan. Its motorised heart: fully electric – like the future.

“Although it is a new vehicle at a classic exhibition, this makes sense for us as Porsche AG,” says Frank Jung. The head of the company archive sees it as an important task of the historic PR work to link the past with the present. “We are showing innovations from different centuries here.” And an innovation becomes a tradition only when it is successful, explains Jung. “If we did not transfer the past into the future, we would just let things take their course. But we are looking forward to the future from a strong past.” And that is the logical course of events for Porsche. “Today’s innovation is tomorrow’s tradition.” What he means here was reflected in the Porsche motto at the exhibition: a pioneer of sustainable mobility. “The history of Porsche begins with electric power. Ferdinand Porsche found his way to mobility and through this to automotive engineering only through his fascination with electricity,” remembers Frank Jung.

Indeed, Ferdinand Porsche was already fascinated with electricity as a young man. The oldest Porsche design still in existence from this time is from 1898, the Egger-Lohner C2 with an octagon electric motor, and this original vehicle is part of the museum collection.

Jung: “In 1900, he presented the first electric vehicle with the designation ‘System Lohner-Porsche” at the Expo in Paris.” In the same year he designed the first electric car with four wheel hub motors, which was also the first all-wheel drive vehicle in the world. “And he installed two single-cylinder De Dion-Bouton combustion engines on his electric vehicle as range extenders. These had the sole purpose of driving the alternator, which in turn drove the wheel hubs,” explains the Porsche archivist. The result was the first fully functional full hybrid vehicle ever to exist. “And by going back to the beginning we complete the circle, following the path from combustion-engine vehicles, through hybrid vehicles to the electric vehicle. Without restricting ourselves to just one drive type. There will of course still be vehicles with combustion engines from Porsche, but there will also be hybrid and electric vehicles.”

The coup

Saturday afternoon. There are crowds of visitors, interested people and motorsport enthusiasts at the stand of the German Classic Clubs. Walter Röhrl, rally icon and Porsche brand ambassador is the attraction for a large number of enthusiasts. It is well-known that he has good connections to the Porsche Classic Clubs. But the fact that he chose the Clubs' stand to present a vehicle that is important for him surprised even Jan Ulrich, the stand organiser. “We were able to exclusively exhibit a replica of his first 911 for Walter Röhrl,” reports Jan Ulrich. Before 1970, Röhrl already drove in rallies with other brands. “But his career really only took off in 1970 with the first Porsche.” The original no longer exists, but the replica’s chassis number is very close to the original vehicle, says Ulrich. “He wanted to present it to the public here at the stand. That was a small coup for us.”

For Röhrl, participating in the Rallye Bavaria with this vehicle in 1970 was a special career-defining moment. It was therefore an overwhelming feeling for him to be able to remove the cover from the vehicle at the stand after 50 years.

“Claus Schmid from the ‘356 Club Stammtisch Baden-Württemberg’ had accepted the honourable task of interviewing Walter Röhrl. He signed autographs here for two whole hours,” says Jan with a smile. “A wonderful occasion for us and for our attendance at the exhibition.”

This year, the Classic Clubs wanted to demonstrate with the selection of vehicles on show that the venerable and also valuable vehicles are actually still used for racing – vehicles like a Carrera Speedster, which still takes part in the Le Mans Classic, for example. The Club for classic 911, the Porsche Club für den klassischen 911 Südwest, supplied sporty 911 derivatives for this: a 911 as a Donohue version and a 964 from the Carrera Cup in which Roland Asch won the trophy. “We want to convey the emotion and passion that we associate with the vehicles and which we experience with and for the cars,” explains Jan Ulrich with feeling.

Alongside the Porsche 356 Club in Germany, the Porsche 356 Club Deutschland, to which Jan Ulrich also belongs, the Porsche Club for the air-cooled 911, the Porsche Club for the 924/944, the Porsche Club 968 in Germany, the Porsche Club VW-Porsche 914 of Germany and the German Porsche Club 928 were also present and provided support both with personnel and vehicles.

A common cause

“As always, it is important for us to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the Clubs at a classic car exhibition, because they are our extended arm, our brand ambassadors,” explains Frank Jung, looking across the large joint area. “And here we have them right opposite to us.” There we have it again, the impressive symbiosis. “On the one side we have the beginnings, the tradition of Porsche, and on the other the enthusiasts who keep the vehicles alive, who do not just preserve the cars themselves but also the knowledge,” says Jung when describing this mutually beneficial arrangement. “We like the variety of Porsche here at the Retro: the Porsche Museum, Porsche Classic, and the Porsche Classic Clubs. That is perfect brand representation, and what is more it is in Stuttgart.”

Jan Ulrich also has only positive things to say about the cooperation with the Porsche Museum. “We certainly have an exciting overall situation here. Together with the Porsche Museum, the area is really impressive, and you can see people strolling over to us from the museum’s stand to look at the vehicles here as well.”

This was encouraged by the arrangement of the vehicles, which were lined up like a fan facing the museum area. The blue stripes on the floor picked up the graphic design from the Museum’s stand. In addition, the fantastic support from the Community Management and Club Support at Porsche Deutschland GmbH meant that it was possible to equip the stand with large-format posters, standing tables, stools and seat cubes between the vehicles. “This naturally encouraged visitors to sit down, spend time and look at the cars,” says Jan Ulrich.

And those who took this time can count themselves among the lucky ones.

Photos Walter Röhrl: Dieter Röscheisen