Entirely made out of aluminium with aeronautical standards, the 1939 Typ 64 is the ancestor of all Porsche sports cars in the post-war years. This is its peculiar story
By Alberto Pomari
A car which made motor racing racing history was the leading player in a millionaire auction sale which ended up as a game of misunderstandings and was eventually cancelled much to the general dismay. The incident occurred during the latest Monterey Car Week (USA), which ended on Sunday, August 18th, 2019, but as the Ansa press agency reports, news leaked only after a few weeks, probably not to amplify the bad impression made by RM Sotheby’s, auctioneers specializing in historical cars. Due to a banal (but very serious) misunderstanding during the relaunches to secure the first and only 1939 Porsche 64, a record offering of seventy million was announced, but the amount which had been actually proposed was “only” seventeen million. This mistake on the auctioneer’s part caused the auction sale to be cancelled and the car was bought in, much to the owner’s disappointment.
The car in question, entirely made out of aluminium, was designed and manufactured in 1939 and is considered the ancestor of all Porsche cars in the post-war years. Its history is peculiar. In 1938 the nefarious Nazi regime’s propaganda had thought of a car race which should have taken place on the road, between Berlin and Rome, the following year. Several manufacturers were invited to present models to take part in the competition, which ended up never being held.
The Nationalsozialistisches Kraftfahrkorps (NSKK), the paramilitary organization of the national-socialist party which was supposed to promote “car culture” in the Third Reich, commissioned Ferdinand Porsche to manufacture three sports versions of the brand new KdF-Wagen, the future Volkswagen Beetle. Strongly backed by Hitler, the project to produce “the people’s car” had been entrusted in 1937 to KdF (Kraft durch Freude, strength through joy), the Nazi party recreational group which had replaced trade unions, and Ferdinand Porsche had taken care of its technical development. KdF-Wagen was a car conceived and sold at a low price directly by the regime, but because of the war, its civilian production never began, apart from a few pre-series specimens called VW38.
Aluminium constructions and futuristic solutions
The three prototypes designed and manufactures for the 1939 race were called Typ 64. The Porsche 64, also known as VW Aerocoupe, Type 64 and Type 60 K10, is considered by many as the first car manufactured by what after the war would have become the Porsche company: an authentic forerunner of the style and the sleek lines which will characterize the future Porsche cars. The number of the model derives from the fact that the design build on a project for a high performance racing car proposed by Porsche to KdF in 1937, but never realized. The best part of mechanical parts came from a series of 38 prototypes created for KdF-Wagen. The car body design was the outcome of a compromise, since the cabin had to look like a KdF car, but with the visual impact of a “record-breaking car”.
Porsche created a car which had more aspects in common with an aeroplane than with “the people’s car”; the streamlined underbody and shell were made out of rolled aluminium parts, assembled using over 2,000 rivets. The chassis was created using of tubes with a rectangular section made out of Duralumin, a particularly light and strong aluminium alloy used in the aeronautical industry.
The extra-narrow cabin made the car more streamlined, but also rather uncomfortable. The driver of the Typ 64 is seated almost in the middle, the passenger has to sit on a sort of emergency seat placed diagonally behind the driver’s. Besides aerodynamics, the technicians who cooperated with Porsche also revised the engine of the KdF-Wagen. Larger valves, two Downdraft Solex carburettors and a greater compression contributed to increase the power and performances up to 35/40 hp, far more than the power of the first 23.5 hp KdF Beetle. Thanks to the engine’s high torque and to the weight adding up to only 600 kg, due to the extensive use of aluminium, Typ 64 had a good acceleration and the maximum speed, remarkable for its days, exceeded 160 km/h. This would probably have impressed the purchasers of the car in the upcoming competition, but the outbreak of the second world war cancelled the project of the race.
Three unfortunate prototypes
In spite of the cancellation of the project, from 1939 to 1940 three specimens of the Typ 64 were manufactured: the first to use one of them was SS Colonel Bodo Lafferentz, member of the board of Volkswagenwerk, which in 1939 damaged it irreparably in a road accident. The second car was confiscated by American soldiers, who in May, 1945, discovered it in a deposit; they cut off the roof and used it for fun for a few weeks, until the engine gave up and the car was completely demolished. The third car, completed in 1940, is the only original Typ 64 which survived up to today. After the war, the car remained a property of the Porsche family who used it after refurbishing it in 1947: Battista Farina, at the time a bicycle manufacturer (forefather of the Pininfarina lineage of designers) renewed the aluminium shell of the car and Porsche worked on the engine. At the end of this refurbishing, the car was completed with the Porsche lettering on the front of the bonnet, which became the model for the current brand, and renamed Porsche 64. Almost everything about the car is original: the seats, for instance, are still upholstered with the fabric which Ferdinand Porsche used to sit on. It is hardly surprising that an unknown and affluent collector should have offered 17 million dollars to lay hands on it.
The detailed history of the Porsche 64, rich in technical and construction details, is available on one of the main reference websites for Porsche car collectors: www.stuttcars.com