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“First Ever Porsche” fails to sell

“First Ever Porsche” fails to sell

Fallout from the failed sale of the so-called “First Ever Porsche” – the 1939 Volkswagen Type 64 – at RM Sotheby’s in Monterey continues to unfold across the Internet. If you missed it, the car crossed the block fairly late in the sale and bidding in the packed tent began at an eye-watering price. A series of errors then followed.

Auctioneer Maarten ten Holder is said to have opened by saying that Sotheby’s had a bid at $30 million. The screens were duly set to this. As Maarten called out the bids, the numbers on the screens (facing away from the auctioneer) went up in $10 million increments until the podium displays read $70 million, at which time the auctioneer said the bids were in fact at $17 million and the numbers should be corrected, blaming his Dutch accent for the confusion.

From videos of the sale, it seems clear to me that Maarten is going up in increments of $500,000 from a start point of $13 million, and not ten million from a start of $30 million. However, the main fallout has come from claims of shill or chandelier bidding, where the auctioneer is calling increasing numbers with no bids actually received. Auction watchers are pointing the finger at dishonourable conduct.

Bid Running at Auction

I am not presuming any guilt here, and I’m not affected one way or the other, so there is no issue at my end. But anyone who thinks that ghost bidding is unusual conduct at auction needs a reality check. The best auctioneers all make their reputations through generating a fever and driving bidders to ever-greater heights: the practice is known as running the bids. Having bought hundreds of cars at auction in my career as a retail car buyer, I have had the bids run on me more times than I care to imagine. It is part of the auction experience.

I don’t remember one auction from the hundreds I’ve attended over more than thirty years in the motor trade where something that clearly was not worth the space it was taking up went for a higher price than expected. I have written several magazine columns about this crazy phenomena.

It usually happens when a private buyer comes along who has never been to auction before and the bids are run up to private sale money for a car sold as seen without prior approval. While it makes no sense to buy a car at auction without any sort of test drive, and pay the same price as one would from a bona fide private seller with a test drive before purchase, the practice is just as commonplace today as it ever was. Car auctions are not the best place to learn how to bid.

One type of auction where bid running was less common back in the pre-Internet days was disposal sales, where the auctioneers were getting a fixed price, regardless of whether items sold or not. This included Police and Lost Property sales held all over London and trade disposals, such as the old sales hall at Dingwalls in Croydon; probably now demolished to make way for a retail distribution centre. I bought a stack of cheap cars at London disposal sales in the late 1980s and early 1990s and they came at exactly the right price.

Contrast this to a job lot of cars I bought at a well-attended Colchester sale around the same time. This was a job lot of ex-Tesco fleet cars in the colours of the Tesco logo (all non-metallic red, white and dark blue) and I paid well into book for all of them. They were all presented in good condition, ready to be sold, so I knew I could make a profit on the lot, but the auctioneer made it bloody expensive for me. I never went back there again.

“Once bitten, twice shy” is likely to affect some reputations for a while, but all auctioneers will feel Maarten ten Holder’s pain. The car was already cooling off after Porsche took the unusual step of publicly denying any special Porsche provenance for the Type 64, over and above its undeniable importance as one of the early VW-based racing cars built by Ferdinand. It was down to ten Holder to do his job and get things cracking in the hall and he had a good go. The problem with the numbers turned things into a bit of a joke, but did he really get the bids?

Before the sale started, the car had already been offered to everyone who was likely to buy it and all had refused at the asking price. Bids supposedly went to $17 million in the tent, but the car is still listed as being for sale. It is clearly worth buying, just apparently not at that price.

The car now sits in storage in California, where its market value has been described as “f**ked” by people who should know a bit better. The truth is that good collectors are switched-on investors who get into this for the long term. Their experience and love of a deal makes then savvy and open to taking a risk. There is no doubt in my mind that the vultures are already circling above the Type 64.

The scandal surrounding the car and its first trip across the block has added to its story and therefore its appeal in certain quarters. Commentators who put a pre-sale value of up to $5 million on it may eventually learn that the car has changed hands privately for more than this: it would not surprise me one bit. It depends on the mindset of the owners: if there’s a lawsuit pending, then all bets are off.

I would put a bit more than $5 million on it and, if I had the money, I would be making enquiries. It’s an interesting story and perceived long term value of these things is all about the story. If you don’t know this about the human condition, you will never make a good auctioneer!

Photo by Jack Schroeder ©2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

First-Ever Porsche heads for Auction

First-Ever Porsche heads for Auction

California is set to reassert its credentials as the epicentre of the classic Porsche universe this August, when RM Sotheby’s offers what it is calling the first-ever Porsche for sale at the Monterey weekend.

Sotheby’s refers to the car as “the only surviving example of the Type 64 Porsche and the personal car of both Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche,” but the honorary title is at odds with respected Porsche historian and friend of the Porsche archives, Karl Ludvigsen, who describes this car and its stablemates as Type 60K10s rather than Type 64s. This car is noted by Ludvigsen as one of three 60K10s built in preparation for the Berlin-Rome race, which was planned to run in September 1939. The historian explains things as follows:

“When, in 1941, Porsche compiled a book covering the activities of its first ten years, it conflated the Types 64 and 60K10 under the “Type 64″ heading. Understandably, this has led to confusion for later historians. This author prefers to maintain a clear distance between the two projects, which were in fact distinctly different and played contrasting roles in the Porsche sports-car saga.”

Type 64 Origins

The origin of the Type 64 Volkswagen is well documented. Ludvigsen’s must-have work ‘Origin of the Species‘ describes how, in 1937, “Porsche designers sketched the specifications of another member of the VW family, the Type 64, listed in the Porsche annals as VW-Rekord (Sport)”. However, circumstances surrounding the Type 64 plans were difficult.

Building one-off sports cars didn’t suit the PR tastes of the German Labour Front, overseers of the KdF-Wagen (Volkswagen) project that the Type 64 was based on. Nor would the organisation sell KdF parts to Porsche for the design house to build its own Type 64s. As Porsche could neither obtain the parts or the funding to take the project further, no Type 64s were ever built.

Enter the KdF 60K10

When the first Autobahn was opened from Berlin to Munich, a race was planned for Autumn 1939, to highlight the feat of civil engineering. After sprinting south through Germany along the new highway, the competitors would continue through Austria to the Brenner Pass before racing closed roads, all the way to Rome.

With deliveries of the new Volkswagen/KdF-Wagen scheduled for early 1940, the race was tailor-made for PR. A racing car built on the Volkswagen was now an entirely different proposition, and the Labour Front was now all in favour. Ferdinand Porsche decided that the cars should be built on the standard Type 60 VW chassis with a special aluminium body hand built by Reutter.

Much of the engineering for Type 64 was integrated into the Type 60K10, allowing a short development cycle. The first of three cars was finished in August 1939, with the second completed a month later. The race was officially shelved after Germany invaded Poland the following month, but one more car was finished in June 1940. Based on the damaged chassis of car number one, that is the car being offered for sale.

First-Ever Porsche: The History

Sotheby’s press release tells how “the third Type 64 was retained as a personal family car and driven extensively by Ferry and Ferdinand Porsche. When the company was forced to relocate headquarters to Gmünd, Austria from 1944-1948, it was kept alongside No. 2 at the family estate in the picturesque lakeside town of Zell-am-See. No. 3 was the only example to survive the war, and Ferry Porsche himself applied the raised letters spelling out ‘PORSCHE’ on the nose of the car when he had in registered in Austria under the new company name in 1946.

“In 1947, restoration work was commissioned by Porsche and completed by a young Pinin Farina in Turin, Italy. Nearly one year later, Porsche demonstrated the Type 356 roadster, no. 1, on public roads in Innsbruck, with the Type 64 by its side. Austrian privateer driver Otto Mathé completed demo laps in the Type 64 and fell in love, buying it from Porsche the following year. He enjoyed a successful racing career with the car in the 1950s—the very first to do so in a Porsche product—and kept it for 46 years until his death in 1995.

“In 1997, the Type 64 changed hands for just the second time in six decades and appeared at a handful of vintage racing events with its third owner, Dr. Thomas Gruber of Vienna, including Goodwood and the Austrian Ennstal Classic. Dr. Gruber is the author of the renowned Carrera RS book and one of the most respected Porsche specialists worldwide. Delightfully patinated, the streamlined 1939 Porsche Type 64 is now offered in Monterey from the long-term care of just its fourth owner, who acquired the car more than a decade ago, and is accompanied by many original spare parts, as well as extensive period images and historic documentation.”

Previous efforts to sell the Type 64

Instagram threads on this car throw up a few stories regarding previous efforts to sell it privately. One commenter on the RM thread suggests that Mathé’s guys may have altered a chassis number back in the day (quite common on older Porsches) and classic Porsche dealer, Maurice Felsbourg, commented that “The Otto Mathé car has been for sale by owners for years now. Each time asking price was met, they either raised it or changed their mind. They play golf with Piëch & Porsche, they surely won’t buy it. I hope bidding stalls at €5m.”

Sounds slightly like sour grapes you might think, but it is true that the car has previously been offered to specialists. One contact showed me an email from 2014, when he was offered the car at €12 million. Plenty of people will know about recent efforts to sell and that will influence some bidders. It if often the case that collectors reject the opportunity to buy in open market when the seller has made things difficult behind closed doors.

Whether you call this car a Type 64 or a Type 60K10, assuming the car all checks out, this is the most significant VW-Porsche to come up for sale since the last time it changed hands. Sotheby’s press release says that it could get up to $20 million: we’ll see how that goes.

Update – read more about the dramatic events when the Type 64 came up for sale.

Photos © Staud Studios 2019 courtesy of RM Sothebys

Porsche 4-cam Engine Stripdown

Porsche 4-cam Engine Stripdown

I had an interesting visit to Tuthill Porsche at the weekend. Francis took one of his 4-cam 356 Carrera engines out of storage and brought it into the engine workshop for the team to carry out a complete restoration and rebuild, including upgrade to 904 spec (pistons and cams ready and waiting).

The 587/1 GT engine was found sitting in the corner of a garage many years ago. It had been in a fire and done a bit of damage but nothing too serious. Fran took it home and started rebuilding it with the help of a friend who made valve guides for Formula 1 engines and had rebuilt a few race engines also. They rebuilt the bottom end, bought new valves from Porsche and made a full set of valve guides (superb things to look at) but never got around to doing the top end. Now the Tuthill engine builders will get stuck into it as a special project and I am excited to follow the work.

The 4-cam engines are a bit of a minefield, but no doubt when they work they are pretty special. Ferry Porsche had a 4-cam in several road cars and put a fascinating piece about development of the first Fuhrmann 4-cams into his autobiography, which offers an excellent insight into how the factory was operating at this time (late forties).

“For some time, our total work force comprised less than a hundred men, but we made good use of the cramped and limited space (a 600m2 rented workshop in Stuttgart) and even managed to find room for a diminutive test and racing shop, which held just two cars. It was shielded from prying eyes by an ancient closet and a primitive sliding curtain.

“We knew when we started using the Volkswagen engine for our Porsches that the maximum to which we would be able to increase piston displacement would be 1,500cc. The pushrod system of valve actuation, while completely reliable, also placed limits on engine revolutions. But we had foreseen this problem, and already by 1950 Dr Ernst Fuhrmann, an outstanding engineer on our staff, began designing our future Carrera engine.

“Different technical drawings were made which examined the possibilities of driving four overhead camshafts. One method was by chain, another by gear drive and so on. It seemed to us at the time that the best method to use would be a gear train, and that the distributor could also be driven from the end of one of the camshafts; but this arrangement led to difficulties.

“Each of the four camshafts operated two valves, and as the engine gained speed, a vibration began which ended up by destroying the ignition system. We therefore had to make changes in the ignition drive – not too much of a problem. The Carrera engine originally had a piston displacement of 1,500cc but was so designed that could be enlarged to 2 litres. However, we are anticipating a little, since another five years were to pass before we introduced this famous engine into our production line.”

Looking at the myriad parts spread out across the work bench in Tuthills, I simply cannot imagine how much effort went into making this thing work reliably. It is insanely complicated – the camshafts have flywheels and each camshaft is driven by a shaft which needs two position adjustments (one at each end and in opposite directions) to alter the cam timing. Even the flywheel is complex: it is fixed to the crankshaft by two tapered spacers, which interact under torque to lock the flywheel solid, but need huge torques combined with a specific routine of taps with a brass hammer to do their thing properly.

The first Type 547 crankshafts were Hirth roller bearing assemblies that came in separate pieces. Can you imagine starting an engine build by assembling a crankshaft? There is wonderful madness to an engine designed for production that took 120 hours to assemble and up to fifteen hours to set timing on. Compare this to the 41 hours often cited as start-to-finish build time for a complete 996!

Every single piece of it is outrageously complicated, making the flat-four 4-cam engine fascinating but frustrating. It leads me to wonder how much of Fuhrmann’s love of the complex fed into the convoluted, overweight transaxle cars which he had scheduled to replace the 911 before he was eventually replaced as Porsche CEO by Peter Schutz in 1980. An interesting question that would no doubt draw many comments on engineers as MDs, and the eternal battle between technical staff and accountants.

Setting aside my musings on four-cam contribution to Porsche boardroom history, this engine build is a fascinating project and one I am really looking forward to following. For example, valve lift on the 904 spec 587/2 engine is confirmed as 10mm exhaust and 12.5mm inlet. This would be mental enough with small-ish valves, but the 4-cam valves are huge and weigh a shedload. It is simply unbelievable and wondrously exciting!

Porsche Art for Christmas: Sculpture

Porsche Art for Christmas: Sculpture

As classic Porsches assume the air of treasured possessions such as fine art or jewellery, so more artful representations of the cars arrive on the market to remind us of our passion. Many artists have produced representations of the classic Porsche 911 and 356 models, but these recent sculptures from Rotterdam artist, Stefan de Beer, really caught my eye.

The former car restorer and trained artist has created his Porsche studies with long-time creative partner, Brigitte Broer. The shapes speak for themselves, but I really love the concept of louvred sections, which call to mind the cooling fins on an air-cooled Porsche engine.

porsche-911-light-sculpture

“After a successful career as a racecar designer, I returned to my early love for art and architecture,” says Stefan. “Long ago I started my education at the Academy of the Arts, after a few years I switched to car design at TU Delft, the Polytechnisch Bureau Arnhem and the Art Center College of Design in Switzerland. After twelve years as a car designer and engineer, I sold my business and returned to the Academy to start all over again and study art and architecture. Since 2007, I have found a perfect balance between art, architecture and old sportscars.”

Each of Stefan’s sculptures begins with 3D laser scan of a full-size car. CAD techology then is employed to generate a digital representation, at which point the artist select his sections, and transfers those dimensions to a pattern-making machine.

porsche-light-sculpture

The laser pattern cutter transfers the profiles to high quality acrylic and wood materials for just the right effect. Each sculpture is then assembled by hand. The shapes can also be fitted with a lighting attachment, and even engraved with custom registration plates. The last bit might be a step too far for me – less is more, after all. Every piece comes with a ‘Certificate of Authenticity’, bearing the unique number of the sculpture and the signatures of the makers.

We’ve seen lots of other louvres on classic Porsches this year but none have felt as fresh and airy as these. Order direct from the partnership here.

Ferry Porsche on the Styling/Engineering Compromise

Ferry Porsche on the Styling/Engineering Compromise

Ferdinand Porsche’s second postwar visit to the USA was in August 1952. The trip was arranged by Max Hoffman, who had visited Austria for a summer vacation and brought news of a possible consultancy opportunity with Studebaker. This gave the Porsche chief a very good reason to travel.

To discuss the Studebaker project and to catch up with what else was going on across the Atlantic, Ferry, Dodo (his wife) and engineer Karl Rabe (pic, left) sailed to America on board the Queen Elizabeth from Cherbourg to New York. The following passage is from “We at Porsche”: Ferry’s autobiography, which was written with the help of John Bentley.

“I went on to Detroit and called on an old friend, Zora Arkus-Duntov, who had transformed the original lifeless Chevrolet Corvette into a world-famous sports car – in fact the only true machine of this type built in the United States. He took me to the Research Centre of General Motors where I met Bill Mitchell, the chief of styling. We talked about new cars and walked through his office where he had some models. He pointed to a particular one and held it up. Here was a typical example of the communications problem between styling and engineering.

“”To get a nice looking front end on this car,” Mitchell said, “the engine must be lowered. I therefore modified the carburetion system to bring it lower and made other changes in the engine.”

“Arkus-Duntov, who was standing beside me, did not react favourably. “What nonsense,” he said. “There is no way to build such an engine.”

“This was all I needed to realise how far apart a stylist was from an engineer. If it was necessary to bring these two minds together, a third person would be needed who had a clear idea of what could and could not be done by both parties. Such an individual need not be either the best stylist or the best engineer, but he must know exactly how to bring about the most effective compromise.”

Given the unique look of the 356 and the first 911s ahead, Ferry’s opinion on the need for compromise between styling and engineering is interesting. One could say that this was the key skill of Erwin Komenda (pic, centre), who brought such life to the early Porsche products. A talented engineer and a great visual artist, Komenda was perhaps the ultimate agent of positive compromise.

The original meaning of ‘compromise’ suggests a joint agreement, from the Latin ‘com’ (together) and ‘promittere’ (promise). The word has taken on a negative aspect in recent times, as in “compromised security”, which is just a soft PR way of saying broken, failed or ineffective. This sense of compromise is not how Porsche would have viewed it, but some of the compromises made on later models could be regarded as counterproductive. There is seldom an upside in compromised principles to reach shallow goals.

However styling and engineering were balanced, durability was never negotiable. Reliability was Ferry’s first priority in all things Porsche. Herr Doctor would sacrifice anything else to ensure Porsches were reliable, as no Porsche should ever be seen broken down. He would not have handled a flat tyre in a car with no spare wheel very well.