By Carson White
“You know the Porsche Museum is closed on Mondays, right?” I did not know this, and grew concerned considering our tour was indeed scheduled for Monday. After attempting to confirm this with the museum, I decide not to worry about it. My tour was, after all, scheduled with Porsche’s Manager of Historical Archives, Dr. Landenberger.
As we arrived, on a Monday evening, I was glad to see people standing inside the museum’s lobby. The street intersection is expectedly filled with Porsche activity. A dark red Porsche 991 drives through the city in some sort of test guise that resembles mid- twentieth century aerodynamic testing. In the museum’s plaza there is a photoshoot with a model and, predictably, a Porsche. I tell the man at the front desk that I am here for a tour, and he promptly summons Dr. Landenberger to the foyer. Herr Landenberger, as one would address him in the native language, walks up and greets us. I quickly realize I’m in the presence of Porsche’s most knowledgeable expert on the brand’s history. He removes the balustrade in front of the escalator, motioning for us to ride up into the upper box, as”¨it appears from the outside, where the museum’s public display is held. An opportunity like no other is about to commence: an evening with the Porsche museum to ourselves, with the Porsche expert as our guide.
Herr Landenberger leads us to the first exhibit: a small collection of Porsche’s earliest vehicles. While the late-19th-century electric-powered automobile is front and center, I was fascinated with the fire engine that is every bit a Porsche creation as the 959 in the background.
As Herr Landenberger tells us about the first few cars, it becomes apparent that the Porsches themselves may not be the art in the museum: but rather the story of each car. Additionally, each car is continually maintained in top drivable condition; a trait that Herr Landenberger told us of early in our tour. Not only are they drivable, but also each one is kept in top condition and is regularly exercised: some of the cars are even displayed with their current registration plates. As we walk through the museum during its closed hours, the staff casually makes some changes to some of the displays. Workers reposition a 904, and tangles of electrical cords mysteriously surround a 718 Formula 2 car.
As we walked further, staff casually sends the first 935 rolling down the floor’s gentle slope, before a worker jumps in and hits the brakes to stop it just where they want it. Behind the 935 is a 924 GTP LM that also gets moved, revealing some oil drips that have settled into the grout between the polished tiles. Yes, it is quite clear these four- wheeled vehicles do get driven.
Well, maybe not all of them. While I didn’t specifically ask Herr Landenberger, I doubt the cutaway Porsche 959 remains a functioning car. The cutaway – with each individual component handcut to make it appear as though the entire car went through a bandsaw – is perhaps the star of the special exhibit celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the 959 supercar. In the exhibit are also two prototypes; one the original “Gruppe B” concept car and a development prototype. The bodywork of the latter has all sorts of hand drawn notes, tape, and even a few entertaining drawings. I’m guessing the author of this doodle never anticipated his artwork to be on public display.
We walked past rally cars, race cars, and street cars, and some cars that don’t fall into any of those categories. Such as the VW Schwimmwagen; essentially a VW “Thing”- based amphibious car. However, this car’s exercise is now strictly limited to dry land: no
aquatic forays for this amphibian, as I am told. I was then surprised to be greeted by Sally Porsche’s smile; a face recognizable to anyone who has seen Pixar’s Cars. This too is also not a static display. We pass by the staggering collection of trophies and arrive at what is the final exhibit in the public museum: Heidi. Heidi is the nickname for the Porsche 919 that in 2015 gave Porsche its first 24 Hours of Le Mans trophy since 1998, a well deserved addition to Porsche’s trophy collection. Heidi idealizes the drivable trait all the displays share, wearing the thickest cloak of oil and rubber marks in the entire museum.
Herr Landenberger then takes us to our final stop: the Museum’s Classic Workshop. The Workshop is like any good shop: cleaner than most, toolboxes decorated with badges and stickers, and rock music playing from distant speakers. The upholstery section houses some newly assembled seats, and a freshly restored aluminum body is reunited with a wiring harness. Most of the mechanics are finished for the day, but a few continue to work as the rock music plays in the background. I don’t think I’ll forget hearing Herr Landenberger hum along to AC/DC rock music as Porsche workers restore and service a fantastic collection.
While the museum is impressive any time of day, Herr Landenberger made our visit truly personal. He has our respect and thanks for guiding us through the museum, and also for continuing to share Porsche’s stories with anyone who might ask and listen.
About the Author:
Carson White is currently an architecture student at Northeaster University, in Boston, MA. When studying abroad in Berlin, Germany this past fall, he received a unique opportunity to get a personal tour of the museum of a favorite car brand: Porsche.