When the second edition of this fine publication was released back in April 2019 in German, I enquired immediately as to when the English edition would be available. I was told it would be coming onto the market in late autumn 2019, so I waited patiently for it to arrive. The reason I wanted to get the English version was because this book, in my view, would cover an extremely important segment of Porsche’s early history, which is about the most crucial era in the company’s overall history. I felt too, that there would be many other readers out there who would also want this in English.
Why is this era so important? It is important because without the perseverance of the company’s management, and the dedicated staff at all levels back then, we would not have the sports cars that we so love and admire today. And it was by no means a certainty that the company would even survive in those early days, because they had uprooted and moved to Austria to avoid being wiped out by the Allied bombing during the Second World War. The company was only in Austria for around five years before they moved back to Stuttgart, but at that time they were prevented from moving back into their own buildings. So, they did the next best thing, and that was to form partnerships with loyal companies, to get their fledgling 356 sports car produced. It is against this backdrop of uncertainty and constantly changing circumstances, that the 356 made its entry into a world still reeling and recovering from the devastation of the war. It was a case of survival, not at the cost of cutting corners, but of the determination to produce a quality product, and a vision for the future.
And so it is, that this book was intended to cover that period when the first of the Stuttgart 356s were given birth, confirming this model as the foundation of the Porsche company. But if it wasn’t for the Stuttgarter Karosseriewerk Reutter, perhaps the Porsche 356 and its subsequent siblings may have looked very different today, or they may not have existed at all.
The author, Frank Jung, the great grandson of one of the Reutter company founders, Albert Reutter, was ideally placed to uncover the intriguing history of the company. Written by the same author, the first edition was printed back in 2011 and previously available only in the German language, but this second edition includes new material that wasn’t in the earlier book. Unpublished documents and pictures were sourced from several institutional and private archives, including of course the Porsche archive itself. In addition, a significant amount of material was sourced from the pool of the Reutter-family archive, and former employees, apprentices and relatives have contributed their knowledge and memories through both words and photographs. This makes for a fascinating historical account of a vitally important period in the German automotive industry.
From a content point of view, the book gives the Reutter company’s history from its inception in 1906 through to 1949. Prior to the war, Reutter was responsible for producing the many prototypes that were designed by the design office of Ferdinand Porsche between the years 1931 to 1938, which included the ubiquitous VW Beetle. After the war, a contract was established between Porsche and Reutter in November 1949 to produce 500 of the model 356 for Porsche, and these were delivered by Easter 1950. Reproductions of the various pieces of original correspondence between the two companies are shown in the book, which really brings the cooperation between Porsche and Reutter to life. It would be fair to say that the extent of original correspondence and the plethora of early, previously unpublished photographs, makes this a very rich and compelling read.
Throughout the rest of the book, the author details the major milestones in the production of the various 356 models and the relationship between Porsche and Reutter as it unfolded. Personal accounts and memories from staff who worked at Reutters on the Porsche 356 models, make for interesting reading. Also bringing this history to life, are extracts from the Reutter staff newspaper, some accounts highlighting the difference between what actually went on within the halls of production and what management revealed to the outside world. Some of these extracts make for very humorous reading seven decades on. It is revealing to notice how the bodies were spray-painted by workmen who wore nothing but ordinary overalls (no safety breathing apparatus), and components were fixed in place by workers using traditional hand tools.
The book also illustrates with fantastic period photography, the production and assembly process, revealing the high degree of manual finishing on 356s of this period. The processes of upholstery sewing, welding, finishing, polishing, final inspection and despatch are all well covered, showing workmen and women dedicated to their work, and enjoying what they did. Life at the factory included meals in the canteen, and here one can see staff members tucking into their tasty meals.
The style and presentation of the book is to be complimented. The pages are well designed and despite the numerous images, the text is easy to follow and there is plenty of white space creating an uncluttered feel. This is an excellent publication that covers aspects of 356 production that you won’t find elsewhere. This book is certainly one that you want to make space for on your library bookshelf.
About the author
Frank Jung is the great grandson of one of the founding members of the Reutters company, Albert Reutter. On 1 January 2018, Jung (40) took over management of the Porsche company archives in Stuttgart. Previously, Frank Jung spent six years as head of the Tradition division at Recaro Holding GmbH in Stuttgart.