It is always a pleasure when a top-quality book lands on my desk, so when Porsche – The Golden Years arrived at the Porsche Road & Race offices, I was especially pleased. We had the pleasure of reviewing Ferrari – The Golden Years on our sister website, Virtual Motorpix, back in 20 October 2017 and so we expected nothing but the best from this top author. We weren’t disappointed!
The year 2019 is an important one for Porsche in that the mighty 917 celebrates its fiftieth birthday, having been launched at the Geneva Motor Show back in 1969. However, this book is not just about the 917 and its haul of victories, impressive as that is, but the focus of this book is really the period 1948 to 1998, widely regarded as Porsche’s golden years in motorsport.
The author, Leonardo Acerbi, has broken the content into chapters covering a decade each, except for the first two chapters which outline the background to the roles played by Dr. Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche. The third chapter (1938-1949) covers not only the period of the War but also the development of the extraordinarily sophisticated Cisitalia. Of course, this period also includes the birthing of Porsche’s own creation, the 356, which broke cover in June 1948.
The next fifty years saw the Porsche company grow from a small (almost) cottage industry to the international corporation that it became by the end of the last century. Although Porsche started out building sporting cars that were easy enough to drive every day, it wasn’t long before privateer racing drivers saw the motorsport potential in the 356. The mechanicals also formed the basis of Porsche’s own motorsport ambitions, and soon the 550 race car was born.
The author has compiled the story of Porsche’s extraordinary road to success in motorsport by combining his talent and passion for getting to the bottom of a story. Acerbi’s easy style brings the story to life, and with his vast experience in the field of historical motorsport research, the book becomes a treasure trove of anecdotes and information for the Porsche-hungry enthusiast. Many of the images used in the book are taken from the publisher’s own photographic archive, and so you will find a good number of images that haven’t been overused – a refreshing aspect in today’s publishing world.
Through the 1960s, Porsche’s motorsport drive was spearheaded by the advent of the “plastic Porsches,” a campaign which culminated with the mighty 917. Of course, Porsche would not have won as many races without the assistance of the top drivers in the world, but those drivers would not have been drawn to Porsche race cars if they were not successful. And so, a combination of top international drivers and reliable, fast cars, ensured that Porsche was on the podium a lot, and usually on the top step. Here Acerbi’s skill for combining the right images with the appropriate text makes this book stand out.
The author covers all aspects of Porsche’s motorsport success, from the 356 and 550 through the early Formula 1 and 718 cars, before launching into the phenomenally busy and creative decade of the 1960s. Hill climbing was extremely popular at this time, and the various “Bergspyders” are given their place in the book too. So much of Porsche’s motorsport success built on the reputation of the 917, the first Porsche to win the Le Mans 24 Hours, and so this model naturally receives good coverage.
It is difficult to separate Porsche road from Porsche race cars, because the one feeds the other and vice versa. In fact, this statement is supported by a quote from Ferry Porsche at the front of the book, “There must always be a stimulus that pushes man to be competitive. Without stimuli, man would never have gone to the moon. With regards cars, there is nothing better than racing.” Motorsport has always been central to Porsche’s technical development and nowhere is this more evident than the close relationship between the 911 road car and the 911-based turbocharged race cars of the 1970s.
The Group C era of Porsche’s achievement record through the 1980s reads like no other. Rival manufacturers could only watch as privateer teams flocked to buy a customer 956 or later the 962, while victory after victory was racked up by the Stuttgart manufacturer. As if this wasn’t enough success to hang your hat on, Porsche pushed ahead with arguably one of the most sophisticated sports cars in the world, the 959. The 4-wheel drive technology led Porsche to a 1-2 result in the 1986 Paris-Dakar Rally. Excellent photography accompanies all of these great achievements in the book.
Through the 1990s, Porsche spent much of the decade providing race-winning GT cars to customer teams and supporting them through this time. Their manufacturer involvement was limited to the introduction of the GT1 in the late-90s, but this culminated in the sixteenth overall victory at Le Mans in 1998, the day before the company’s official golden anniversary.
The book is laid out in a dual language format – Italian/English, but this in no way detracts from what is an excellent piece of work. As mentioned earlier, Acerbi’s easy-going style and deep research makes reading this 320-page book a pleasure. There is a lot of important information, interesting facts and well-presented research in the pages of this book, and this only comes from an in-depth knowledge of the subject. I recommend this publication to all Porsche motorsport enthusiasts.