One August morning, Alexander Klein, Manager of the Classic Car Collection at the Porsche Museum received a phone call after 50-years of waiting.
Well not him solely, let me explain.
For 50 years, the Porsche factory collection had lacked an early-model 901. All of the customer vehicles produced up to that point were manufactured as 901 vehicles but sold as 911 vehicles - due copyright dispute with Peugeot.
In 2014, while valuing a collection of items long forgotten about in a barn, a German TV (RTL2) crew working on an antiques and memorabilia programme stumbled across two 911 models, lying in a barn that dated back to the 1960s.
During that phone call – the team read out one of the car’s chassis numbers – 300 057. And as Alexander Klein said, “the penny dropped”. The TV crew had stumbled upon one of the earliest 911 vehicles ever produced, built in autumn 1964 as a Porsche 901.
Eleven days later, two experts from the Porsche Museum went to the former farm in Brandenburg to inspect the two vehicles.
They first encountered a gold-coloured 911 L from 1968 in a very poor state of repair. At the very back of the barn, covered by a thick layer of dust lay the remains of a red 911.
What is a Porsche 901?
A wish list jotted down by founder Ferry Porsche on a squared paper included the following features: “2-seater with 2 comfortable jump seats. Rear view mirror integrated in the wings. Easier entry”.
At the same time, the sales department didn’t want a radical new car, just an evolution of the original concept. The concept had to remain too, with engine housed at the rear.
Many design concepts were received and examined, but all failed to fit the aspirations of the founding father. Until a promising intern joined the design office of the former Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche KG in 1957, his name was Ferdinand Alexander Porsche (Ferry's son) – who produced a model of a coupé that for the first time came closer to Ferry’s ideas.
A prototype called Type 754 was created in 1960 as a highly promising four-seater study.
Like Ferry had requested – Type 754 had the flattened bonnet between the free-standing wings, inclined built-in headlights, A-pillars with the windscreen and elegantly shaped rear section.
But the roofline didn’t have that fastback slope – Ferry rejected the four-seater idea as a compromise and the 2.40-metre wheelbase from the previous design was shortened to 2.20-metres.
In 1962, work started on the development of this fastback coupé with a 2+2 seating arrangement. Called type number 901. On the evening of November 9, 1962, the first prototype rolled out of the Zuffenhausen factory gates for a test drive.
At the IAA Frankfurt Motorshow on September 12th, 1963, Porsche celebrated the world premiere of the 901 with a pre-production vehicle, even though its specification was far from being finalised.
The six-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine with eight crankshaft bearings was a completely new development. Dry-sump lubrication ensured an adequate supply of oil, even at high longitudinal and lateral acceleration. One camshaft rotated in each of the cylinder heads, driven by intermediate shafts and a chain. With a compression ratio of 9:1, the 2.0-litre engine delivered 130 hp at 6,200 rpm.
On September 14, 1964, the Porsche 901 went into series production. The first vehicles were kept by the factory or used as exhibition vehicles.
One of which was sent to the Paris Auto Show which opened in the same month.
The exhibition gave Porsche an unexpected problem with Peugeot in early October 1964, on the grounds of copyright infringement. Peugeot has almost exclusively owned the three digit naming convention (in France) and had used it on its models since 1929.
This prompted a rather practical solution from Porsche – by changing the “0” to “1”, simply because it avoided extensive changes being made to the print layouts that had already been prepared for sales and advertising copy, operating instructions and other documents.
The Porsche 911 was born.
Resurrecting Number 57
Number 57 sat with both front wings missing and large sections of the vehicle eaten away by rust. Save for the instrument panel, most of the interior consisted of mere fragments. The brakes were seized, and so was the engine. But the chassis number was pristine.
After a detailed inspection and valuation reports submitted by two external experts - Porsche paid a sum of EUR 107,000 for the red original 911, and EUR 14,500 for the golden 911 L, (which will remain as unwashed, living history in the museum) – the figures were far beyond the seller’s expectations.
Number 57 as it had come to be nicknamed – had most its components heavily corroded and unusable. Other parts – such as the inner and outer sills on the right-hand side, as well as the front bumper and its mountings – were missing completely. Things didn’t look much better in the chassis area as all the axle and axle guide mountings on the front and rear axles had been severely affected by pitting corrosion.
The restoration process which took some three years started with a complete disassembly of the vehicle. Much care was taken, regardless of if it proved impossible to save a particular component, there was still a chance that it could serve an important function as a sample part.
The individual parts of the early 911 were then sent to a network of specialists at Porsche Classic and suppliers, as well as body engineers, saddlers and upholsterers.
The remaining shell was placed in a chemical bath for de-rusting and paint removal. The surfaces that were uncovered were in exactly the same condition as when they were sealed over 50 years ago. In fact, initial investigations had assumed that over 50% of the body had been destroyed. However, as it turned out that over half of the sheet metal was worth preserving.
Over 12 months of highly crafted work went into the shell. Body parts were supplied by a 1965 ‘donor’ car, even replacing sheet metal ‘welding point by welding point’ onto Number 57. The longitudinal beams were also replaced, as were all of the vertical, interior and exterior panels in the side skirts.
Upon completion of the bodywork, came the precision grinding stage, which involved mounting the glazing, bumpers, door handles, antenna, headlights, and trims, as well as all add-on parts from Porsche Classic, on the unpainted body.
By doing so, the experts ensured that the clearances in the body all matched up, as well as the distances and symmetries of the bumpers and overriders, panels and grilles – any components that didn’t fit, were reworked or adjusted.
However, authenticity had to take a back seat in respect of the Signal Red 6407 paint colour. Instead of the original mixture of solvent-based paints, the specialists developed environmentally friendly water-based paints. When it came to protecting the rare piece of metal – Porsche opted to protect the metal with the same cathodic dip anti-corrosion coating bath as today’s 911 vehicles.
Porsche Classic chose to completely rebuild the engine. Although the engine and gearbox in Number 57 were not the original units, they were of the correct specification. The cylinder heads and control system could be removed without any problem, but the pistons were stuck fast in the cylinders. A combination of rust remover, heat, time and patience finally brought away the crankshaft. The crank mechanism was then rebuilt in its entirety from new genuine parts.
Over the course of around 120 working hours, the six-cylinder engine was painstakingly restored to perfection. The slow process was necessary to take precaution against breaking parts and reproducing parts which were not kept in in stock by Porsche Classic.
Even the interior was built with meticulous attention to detail. For instance, replacing screws of the right shape to mount the car’s indicators, to adapting the cable harness of later 'F Series' 911 to remount all of Number 57’s original glass pieces.
To restore the original design of the interior roof lining, workers had preserved a piece of the interior roof lining, then used original ‘spiked roller’ tool from the 1960s to stamp patterns to repair and restore the original pattern of the interior roof lining.
In summer 2017, the “marriage” of the Number 57 took place as the flat-six engine returned to its rightful place.
Number 57’s Last Surprise
After a painstaking three-year restoration process – the oldest 911 in the Porsche Museum was given its new lease of life in Autumm of this year.
Some 53 years ago, on October 22, 1964, Ferry Porsche finally gave the order for the name to be changed. From that day on, the 901 was to be called the 911.
On that very day – October 22, 1964 – the last of three 901 vehicles was taking shape in the production department, which was to hit the road under the new 911 moniker, that last red coupe bore the chassis number 300 057.