Night at the museum

As a building, the new Porsche Museum is brilliant. Designed by Austrian firm Delugan Meissl, the exhibition hall seems almost to hover above Porscheplatz in Zuffenhausen. Surrounded by industrial austerity - the 911 is built literally next door - the visual impact is stunning. But while the architecture is eye-catching, it's the contents that people will come to see.


It's incredible that Porsche, a company with a legendary racing heritage and maker of some of the most exciting cars of the last half-century, didn't get around to commissioning a purpose-built museum earlier. Until the new building opened to the public on January 31, the company had only 20 of its collection of 400 cars arrayed in a makeshift space.

The new museum, which cost over 100 million Euro, can display around 80 cars from the Porsche collection at any time. And the interior layout has been carefully designed to tell the story of the company, its principles and its achievements in a highly engaging way.

At the top of the long escalator which carries visitors from the ground-level entrance foyer to the elevated exhibition space, is the bare and beautiful aluminium shell of a Porsche Type 64. Designed for a Berlin-Rome race and built in 1939, it's the very car that Ferdinand Porsche himself drove during World War II. It's the first car to bear the name of the company's founder (and his name only), and only three were ever built, so it's both significant and very rare. The plan is to turn this shell into a running car, just like all the others on display.

Beyond the Type 64 is an area devoted to Porsche before 1948, the year Ferdinand went into car making for himself. The variety of projects are testimony to the man's versatility; there's an in-wheel electric motor from the petrol-electric Lohner-Porsche of 1900, a World War I in-line six-cylinder aero engine, a 1920s Mercedes-Benz racer with supercharged 2.0-litre in-line eight and, inevitably, a Volkswagen Beetle. Beside it is a close relative, the No. 1 prototype for the Porsche 356.

The bulk of the exhibition space is taken up with post-1948 Porsches. And the way they're arranged is very intelligent. Around the outside wall, in a black-painted niche, are the production cars, from the very beginning to the present day, in chronological order. The internal space is devoted to a variety of exhibits. Some are what you'd expect, like the line-up of famous 917 racers, but others are unexpected and delightful, such as the set of three cut-in-half and cased 911s. One is a clay model, one a development prototype, the last a production car. Other areas are themed, around concepts such as lightness and speed. Cars, bodyshells, engines and components are used to illustrate how Porsche turned these notions into race-winning or road-going reality.

It must be one of the best automotive museums in the world, and a must-see when in Stuttgart for anyone with a particular love of Porsche or a general interest in the history of automotive technology.

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