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Spotted

Spotted: Porsche paid $4.6-million to buy a 550 Spyder from a private collection Add to ...

Spotted is Globe Drive writer Peter Cheney’s weekly feature that takes you behind the scenes of his life as a vehicle and engineering journalist. In coming weeks, we’ll also highlight the best of your original photos and short video clips (10 seconds or less), which you should send with a short explanation. E-mail pcheney@globeandmail.com, find him on Twitter @cheneydrive (#spotted), or join him on Facebook (no login required). All photos by Peter Cheney.

Porsche Dream Shop

I managed to get a tour of the restoration garage at Porsche’s museum in Stuttgart, which has to be the nicest shop I’ve seen, with an incredible combination of tools, workspace, and iconic cars. On the left is a green 1956 Porsche Super 90 that was once the company car of Fritz Sittig Enno Werner von Hanstein (a.k.a. “Hushke), who headed the company’s racing department back in the 1950s. The silver car next to it is a Porsche 550 Spyder, a rare 1950s model that became famous when James Dean died in one in a California desert in 1955.

The €3-million Death Car

A Porsche 550 Spyder is one the most desirable collector cars in the world. Porsche paid €3-million ($4.6-million) to buy this one from a private collection last year. Would the 550 be as valuable if James Dean hadn’t died in one? Hard to say.

Handmade


You don’t get to see a car like this very often. Looking at the 550 up close in the Porsche restoration shop made me realize how much hand craftsmanship went into the sports cars of the 1950s. Every weld was made by hand, and the aluminum body panels were shaped by craftsmen who used mallets, files, and wooden forming blocks.

The Bathtub Porsche

This 1950s Porsche 356 Speedster was undergoing a light touch-up in the restoration shop. I used to work on Speedsters back in the 1970s, but I don’t think I ever saw one as perfect as this – no body filler, no non-original parts. With the possible exception of the 911, the 356 is probably the most iconic Porsche ever made. Thanks to its rounded shape, it was known as the Bathtub Porsche.

Old School Brakes

These are the drum brakes on that beautiful 356 Speedster. The drums weren’t very powerful, but they are industrial art.

The German Way of Speed

I spent a week driving through Germany in a 2014 Porsche 911 S. It was incredible on the autobahn, where I was reminded yet again of how much better Germans are at highway driving compared with North Americans. I spent hours cruising at speeds of up 245 km/h, and was rarely held up by slower traffic. (And only in Germany do you get passed by a minivan at over 170 km/h.)

The German Winnebago

I spotted this VW camper van in Stuttgart as I headed up to the Porsche plant. Europeans are used to living in a lot less space than we are - even in their motorhomes.

The Flying Pig

One of my favourite exhibits at the Stutttgart Porsche museum was this 1971 Porsche 917 race car that became known as The Pink Pig. The factory race team painted a butcher’s diagram on the car and named each section for a cut of meat. How can you not love that?

The World’s Worst Trunk

To meet the racing rules, the 917 race car had to be capable of carrying a specified amount of luggage. Porsche engineers met the letter of the rules by installing these fibreglass boxes under the 917’s tail. Located next to the engine, gearbox and red-hot exhaust, the luggage boxes would have been absolutely perfect for carrying a picnic lunch, would they not?

The Monster Motor

Near the Porsche 917 race car display was a disassembled example of its legendary motor: a 12-cylinder, turbocharged monster that produced 1200 horsepower.

The People’s Car That Wasn’t

Until I spotted this one on display at the Porsche museum, I’d never heard of the Porsche C88. Built in 1994 after the People’s Republic of China asked manufacturers to submit proposals for a mass market car, the C88 featured a single child seat (in line with the communist government’s one-child-per-family dictum.) A number of other manufacturers also built prototypes, but China rejected every proposal, including Porsche’s. Company officials noted that China went on to build its own cars, which included many features from the Porsche concept. As Porsche Museum director Dieter Landenberger put it: “The Chinese government said thank you very much and took the ideas for free….”

The Swinging Sixties

I spotted this vintage Porsche ad in Stuttgart. Classic.

Not Your Average Rental Car

After leaving Stuttgart, I headed up to the Nurburgring, the famous German racetrack known as The Green Hell. The track was closed due to weather, but I met with the guys from RSRNurburg, a company that teaches people how to drive the Ring and handle high-performance cars. This Lotus Exige is one of many cars you can rent from them, along with McLarens, Porsches and Renaults. I plan to return for some lapping sessions with the RSRNurburg guys. They really know the Ring, and there are 185 corners to learn.

The Bavarian Drinking Suit

Yes, they really do wear those leather pants in Germany. (They’re called lederhosen, and my mom put me in a pair when I was living in Germany as a little boy.) I spotted this guy at the Nurburgring. He explained that lederhosen are still popular for beer fests. “So it’s a drinking suit?” I asked. “Jah,” he replied.

Old Room, New Technology

Before I left Germany this week, I squeezed in a visit to Schempp-Hirth, a glider manufacturer that dates back to the mid-1930s. Like Porsche, this is a company that combines history with state-of-the-art performance. I loved the wooden-floored rooms in the old sections of the factory.

How to Park a Glider

Schempp-Hirth is located in Kirchheim, a small German town near Stuttgart. One of the required skills for a Schempp-Hirth worker is parallel-parking a 10-meter long glider trailer.

A Racecar With Wings

This is the final assembly room at Schempp-Hirth, where workers install control systems and digital instruments in gliders before they head out for a test flight and delivery to customers.

An Engine That Can Disappear

I got to take a flight with test pilot Bernd Weber in a brand-new Schempp-Hirth Arcus glider. Unlike most gliders, this one can launch itself into the sky without assistance – there’s a motor hidden in the fuselage. (You can see the propeller behind my head.) We powered up to 2000 meters, then shut off the motor and folded it back into the fuselage, turning the Arcus into a pure, silent glider again.

Powered By The Wind

After shutting off the motor and folding away the propeller, Bernd and I rode the updrafts along the mountain ridges near Kirchheim. At the end of our wing is Teck castle, which dates back to the 1500’s. We went past the castle at over 200 km/h, powered only by gravity and the wind striking the ridges. Looking down the Arcus’s high-tech wing at this ancient stone structure was a perfect moment.
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