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Friday, April 29, 2011

Hi all, Greetings from Stuttgart once again.

Today we did just two interviews, but there were as different as could be: This morning we talked for 90 minutes with Klaus Bischof whjo joined Porsche in 1968 as a mechanic and now is the Manager of Museum Automobiles. In his job he runs the historic collection and takes museum cars to events and locales as distant as Doha, Qatar in February, Moscow in March, Shanghai last month, Italy in the new few weeks for the retro Mille Miglia races, and, of course, to the  Rennsport Reunion at Laguna Seca and the Porsche gathering at Quail Lodge later this year in mid-October. A regular participant in most of the world's greatest historic events, Klaus sports a watch on each wrist, each of them large chronographs that commemorate events we all dream about running. Now 63 years old, he grew up in a village just 4 kilometers from Stuttgart and when he was six and seven, he could hear factory mechanics and drivers such as Herbert Linge running the 550 Spyders up and down the uncompleted autobahn that ended at a tunnel near Heilbronn. He and his friends would run from their homes to the autobahn overpass and they'd see the 550s coming at them up the hill, pass under them, speed toward the tunnel, brake hard, pull across the median, and rocket back down the hill toward Zuffenhausen. He told us those days changed his life; he dreamed that someday he would work on those cars. 

Klaus was full of great stories including one about one of the 917s he cared for during 1971. The cars were losing their brakes and he asked racing director Rico Steinemann what he should tell the drivers when they came into the pits and complained. Rico gave him an answer and the next time Helmut Marko came in, Bischof passed on the boss's advice: "If you want to win, don't use the brakes." Marko won, setting the fastest lap time and average speed of any 917 in competition ever.

Our second interview today was with a man Jerry and I met four years ago working on Porsche 60 Years. These days, Herbert Ampferer is Porsche's Director for Environment and Energy, and much of his time is spent dealing with issues of emissions and alternative fuels. But with the 
Le Mans regulations for 2013 and 2014 encouraging partial- and full-hybrid race cars such as Porsche 911 GT3-H and the type 918 RSR, the future is anything but dull. In fact, Ampferer is confident Porsche will continue to race, that it will continue to hold its unique place within the larger Volkswagen family, and he offered us some insights into the racing direction the company is taking now and in the future. 

He said I can write about it—but for the book, not for this—since the book is a year or more in the future and the blog is, umm, tonight.

Following nearly two hours with Ampferer, we prowled the museum. It is really a fascinating place and even on a Friday, the building had a large crowd. You'll see a few photos attached here.

We are off to see Walter Rohrl tomorrow afternoon in the tiny village where he lives south of Munich. As a former world champion in rallies, and in Trans-Am, and a winner at Pikes Peak, he has promised us he has stories to tell.

Meanwhile, if you're enjoying any of this, let me know and let your Porsche-enthusiast friends know as well, please.

Stay tuned,


Great Start To This Porsche Motorsport History

Our interview schedule gave us appointments at 10am, 1pm, and 3pm, which allows plenty of time to spill over without sacrificing time with the next subject. It paid off immediately today with nearly 90 minutes with Peter Falk. He is a tall slender Patrician gentleman, soft spoken but very quick to smile. He started at Porsche in 1959 and - get this - his first assignment was to install air conditioning into a 356. It was only experimental and he told us it was a nightmare -a small car with a tiny engine compartment that suddenly needed so much more plumbing. It had nothing to do with racing but I like to find out the very first assignments of everyone I talk to. Sometimes the surprises are startling. Like AC in a 356.

More to the point of racing, Falk was a participant in one of the most fascinating races against time that Porsche ever staged, a monumental record run staged at Monza race circuit, using the Number 001 911R. I've spent time digging into this event in the past but today Falk cleared up a few more lingering mysteries. And then he went on to talk about his development work on 911 rally cars, the 904, 906, 910, 907, 908, 909, and 917 racers. He gave us a fascinating litany of out-oof-the-box successes and a few dazzling failures that went on to capture world championships. We will have number of period photos of Falk and some wonderful recent portraits that Jerry shot today.

Our second subject was Ed Peter who spent two decades helping American dealers get the cars they needed to sell. He explained the structure that put Porsches in Audi sales rooms and put Porsche+Audi logos on the 1971 and 1972 Can-Am cars. Full of stories of working with Penske on Can-Am racers, as well as representing Porsche at hundreds of other races, he explained a number of the mysteries that cloud Porsche's unsatisfying efforts in CART and Indy Car racing. As enjoyable, he brought along two DVD's of images. Ed Peter was a talented photographer who chronicled all the races he attended, shooting thousands of previously unpublished photos - which you will see in this book.

The afternoon ended with Valentin Schaeffer. Porsche has an ability to attract exceptional talent and keep them a long time. Schaeffer started in 1956 and worked only in the motorsports department. A compact man with an extremely expressive face, he was sent by his boss in the late 1960s to a local company that produced turbochargers for trucks and tractors to buy some samples to begin the development experiments. But his boss insisted on secrecy; Schaeffer could not identify who he was with or even what they were going to be usesd for. Finally, the group of engineers around the table asked him, "Well, can you tell us how much horsepower you hope to produce?"

Schaeffer grinned at them. At last there was a question he could answer: "More than 1,000," he answered.

Tomorrow, we have the next two interviews, plus time to get through the museum and shoot pictures for you to illustrate what we're learning.

Stay tuned,     Randy

You just gotta love it.

In safe secure comfort, hurtling along the autobahn at 279 kilometers per hour, we are heading south from Munich. Both Jerry's plan and mine arrived early, we found our luggage and each other quickly, and headed out.

As the speed indicator bounced between 265 and 280 kph, the waitress walked through the car with our coffees. Oh, did I forget to mention we were on the ICE Inter City Express, the high speed train that runs all over Germany? Run by the German federal government, the trains are quiet, comfortable, and spacious. And they go 175 miles per hour.

The ride from Frankfurt to Stuttgart took just one hour 12 minutes to cover a distance that would have taken us four hours to gather the rental car and drive. From the Stuttgart Hauptbanhof main station, another 20 minutes in a taxi got us to Porsche's amazing new museum where our host, Dieter Landenberger, Porsche historian, director of Archives, and co-director of the museum, was waiting for us.

Dieter led on us a quick introductory tour of the museum (don't worry; I promise photos will follow). It is a photographer's dream, whether the shooter likes cars or architecture or people-watching.

Just before the Museum closed at 6 p.m., Dieter walked us two blocks to Porsche Werk I, the oldest building of the Porsche factory complex, to pick up the new 2011 Cayenne he had arranged for us to use the the near-month we are here. (Yes, a picture is coming—but we're going to wait to put it somewhere interesting!)

Tomorrow, Day 3, we begin interviews, starting with Peter Falk, head of Porsche racing from 1965 through the 1980s. Next is Ed Peter, who was export sales manager at Porsche from the early 1970s till early 1993. He was responsible for "encouraging" many dealers throughout North America and other countries to race Porsches and to support their customers. The final interview is with Valentin Schaeffer, who tamed the turbochargers and made Porsche's turbo racers indomitable.

But before that is dinner in Dieter's favorite Turkish restaurant two blocks from the factory, called Diyar.

Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On My Way to Germany.

April 26, 2011

Hi all, so begins the cross-pond slog. United Airlines into Frankfurt tomorrow midday.

I got an e-mail from Dieter Landenberger this morning asking if we can change our interview plans with Wild Man Walter Rohrl (he's the extraordinary driver you may remember from yesterday's Day Zero blog launch?) It seems he cannot make it to the museum to meet us this coming Friday so, alas, we must go to his farm to meet him at home on Saturday. Which means there will be interesting trophies and photos to add to his stories!

And perhaps he has something in the barn that he might drive that might be suitable to entertain/terrify a couple of American book authors?

Drat the luck!

Sunday we head from the south of Germany to the north to meet Dieter and a Porsche video crew at an event outside of Cologne that is known as the largest Porsche gathering in Germany. I'll be sure to include a few pix of that one. (And perhaps something of Walter driving our loaner Cayenne sideways across the hills?)

For years I've relied on an anti-jetlag concoction commercially available at travel stores. The newest incarnation is called JetZone. I used it on a three-day round trip to Doha, Qatar, for Excellence magazine in February. It worked superbly on that 17 1/2 hour flight east bound—I arrived 11 time zones from California and was on their time. That was important because Excellence editor Pete Stout had me working hard and fast the next morning. I'm banking on the same stuff for this trip because, as I mentioned yesterday, our first interview is with retired racing director Peter Falk. It's scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday.

We'll prowl the museum sometime Thursday and I'm going to ask Dieter to find me something cool—and behind the scenes—to shoot and send you all.

Stay tuned,      


The Beginning of an Exciting New Porsche Project.

April 25, 2011

Hi all,

My wife Carolyn suggested I do a blog of the trip I am about to begin. I think most of you know that several years back Dieter Landenberger, Porsche' s head of Archives and co-director of the new museum, asked me to write their racing history for them. He reiterated his request this past summer when he and his wife Sonja came to visit us in Santa Barbara. My long-time publisher Motorbooks politely deferred on this project, worried that in the current book and financial economy, it might be too tightly focused for their audiences. David Bull in Phoenix quickly stepped in and he and I have been plotting and scheming ever since this past winter to produce what we hope will be an exceptional history of Porsche's racing.

But this is day zero, meaning tomorrow I fly to Frankfurt where I connect with long-time friend and serious Porsche enthusiast Jerry Reilly. I met Jerry 21 years ago while producing my first Porsche book, Porsche Legends. We hit it off and our friendship has grown deeper and deeper over the years. Jerry first accompanied me along on the trip in 2004 and 2005 when I researched and then wrote Porsche 911: Excellence by Design. (I also dedicated the book to him and to my late father in law.) Jerry's background is in business and each morning I'd go over the day's interview subjects with him and review the questions I had developed for each individual. Time and time again, Jerry came up with one or two or several questions that I never would have thought of, topics that grew out of a business-like approach to Porsche's design, engineering, marketing, racing. Many times, in my mind, his questions yielded the most interesting and thought-provoking answers and information of the day. He then came with me when I did Porsche 60 Years, and now, glutton for punishment that he is, he's agreed to yet another journey through Porsche's history. I already have tasked him with reviewing my daily questions and discovering the issues I missed. (There are other assignments but he doesn't know about those yet....)

If you can think of friends who love Porsches or racing and who you think might enjoy reading some of what I'm going to be learning—and passing along to you—please pass it along to them.

At some point, I'll throw (c) copyright symbols on some of what you'll read. I'd rather not read it myself on some other site or publication (and I will be grateful for your respecting that request.) But for Porsche enthusiasts and for those who enjoy sports car racing, this next month will be a journey through some very interesting history. Dieter—and Porsche—have promised me full access and exceptional cooperation. In our first four days of interviews alone, we start by talking with Peter Falk, who ran racing for more than a decade and who was so effective at it that insiders and outsiders dubbed the Porsche motorsports department "Falkland." As though it were its own nation. (Probably it was a monarchy!)

Porsche was the first company to successfully turbocharge its race cars and a few hours after spending time with Falk, we'll talk to turbo "inventor" Valentin Schaeffer (perhaps we more accurately should call him Turbo Tamer.)

The next day we meet Klaus Bischof, who started his career at Porsche as a racing mechanic (and was at Le Mans the first year the 917s won!). After returning to school and earning his engineering degree, he came back to Porsche as a racing engineer who helped steer a number of projects into winner circles. That same day we meet again with Herbert Ampferer, who worked with Schaeffer on turbocharging, but also helped develop Formula 1 cars, and endurance racers; Ampferer was one of my most favorite interviews from the 60 Years project. The man simply did everythjing. That day we conclude with Walter Rohrl. Walter sometimes is known as Wild Man Walter. He is arguably one of Porsche's fastest and most capable racers who has served as development engineer on a number of extraordinary cars and who has run—and won—more races than I can count. He is regularly the driver the factory calls on to set new lap records with new models at German's legendary Nurburgring circuit. A ride with him would be a thrill, but that's unlikely to happen. I think hearing his stories should come close.

The next day is all racers, all legends, Kurt Ahrens, Hans Herrmann, and Herbert Linge. Between them, they have more than 100 years combined experience racing Porsches into the victory circle. I've met and talked to Herrmann and Linge before; they are great story tellers.

The next day...well, you'll just have to wait for that. And then there are 24 more days after that. I return to Santa Barbara on May 22. I am guessing it might take me a while to come back to earth even after the plane lands.

I'm going to be recording each of these interviews. We have the idea of doing not only a print edition but also an e-book and David Bull and I have been bouncing ideas around that include excerpts of these individuals—in their own voices—telling their stories. We'll see how it works.

Oh yeah, pictures. Well, just wait and see. So to speak. This book promises to be not only a reader's delight but a visual feast as well. I already have worked with Porsche Archive's Jens Torner, and I've heard he has entire new collections just waiting for me to see.

I'll try to keep you posted every day or so. In the meanwhile, as my friend Pete Biro says, "Stay tuned."