The story behind the development of Porsche 901 and Porsche 902
Demand for Porsche cars grew with each passing day and from 1950 and 1966, Porsche manufactured and sold 77,766 Porsche 356 series cars, the Gmund and Stuttgart variants, and A, B, C, and SC variations in all body styles.
Porsche T7 Concept
In the final years of the Porsche 356, Ferry Porsche often got requests from customers for a faster, more spacious, and more comfortable car.
He and his designers were thinking about a possible car like that as early as 1952. Erwin Komenda, the designer who styled the Volkswagen Beetle and the Porsche 356 began working on more designs and conceptual art and submitted those proposals to Ferry Porsche.
The earlier concepts varied little from the Porsche 356. These were just enlarged to accommodate four adults. Ferry Porsche then decided to invite other designers to give it a try as he wanted something different. One such designer was Albrecht Graf von Goertz, a German designer based in New York. These designs were considered too American for Porsche’s liking.
Designing studio chief Heinrich Klie worked with his associates Ernst Bolt, Hans Springmann, and Heinz Unger, and designers Gerhard Schröder, Fritz Plaschka, and Konrad Bamberg. They were constantly working on an alternative to Albrecht Graf von Goertz’s too-American ideas. They needed something more Porsche and less foreign.
In late 1958, the scale models and drawings began to shape up the outlines of a new Porsche and as the design evolved with lengthened and shortened wheelbase as Komenda trying to convince Porsche for a notchback style roofline offering room for four adults, but Ferry Porsche still wanted a fastback coupe with 2+2 seating.
In mid-October 1961, two profile drawings done by Heinrich Klie and Gerhard Schröder were revised by Erwin Komenda. What he did was walked up in front of Ferry Porsche, Butzi, designer Schröder, and engineer Kolb, who were reviewing the profile drawings, and changed the dimensions on the Klie Schroder designed 2+2. He then asked Ferry to choose one out of the two profile dimensions. Ferry Porsche struggled to choose between the two drawings and eventually settled on the profile of the fastback. From that day the 2+2 was chosen for mass production.
The decision for choosing the 2+2 fastback was due to the tensions that existed between Erwin Komenda and Butzi. Erwin Komenda was Ferry Porsche’s good old friend, and on the other hand, Butzi was his son and his heir apparent. Komenda considered his former student Butzi as his arch-rival, and since Butzi as the head of the design department was firmly in the decision to make a 2+2 fastback, Komenda saw this as a personal insult as his idea was rejected in front of others.
To keep the peace between Komenda and Butzi, since both were very important to him and his company, Ferry asked his longtime coach building partner, Reutter at the Reutter Karosserie to allow Klie and Schroder to finish their design and modeling work in a studio at the Reutter Karosserie which was basically next door. Ferry Porsche forgot that Reutter was an old friend of Komenda’s as well. The design changes continued behind the backs of Schroder’s, Klie’s, and Butzi’s.
Ferry Porsche recalled the incident years later when given an interview with Tobias Aichele, a Porsche historian. According to Ferry Porsche, Erwin Komenda was always changing the concepts styled by Butzi and his team and the direction represented by them.
Butzi as the head of the design department, Heinrich Klein as the head designer, joined Gerhard Schröder, Fritz Plaschka, and Konrad Bamberg along with Ernst Bolt, Hans Springmann, and Heinz Unger, and designers. They started work in Butzi’s department.
Later in the development, Reutter Karosserie backed away from the project claiming that they were not interested in spending money for new tooling. The Reutter Karosserie was for sale and since they helped Butzi and his team to develop the new Porsche 901, the company knew too much about it and about the internal designing secrets of Porsche, effectively forcing Ferry Porsche to purchase it.
Ferry Porsche’s investment in the new car was measured at more than DM 21 million by the time of the Frankfurt Auto Show including the DM 6 million it spent on purchasing the Reutter Karosserie and a new land 25 km away from Zuffenhausen to build a new design and engineering center.
Ferry Porsche set production start for mid-1963, but due to the technical issues related to the suspension system development and some engine-related issues pushed the date back.
Porsche 901 and Porsche 902
The first prototypes were available by September 1963 and were unveiled at the 1963 Frankfurt International Auto Show. These prototypes were designated as Porsche 901. A companion model equipped with a remaining four-cylinder Type 616/36 engine from a Porsche 356 C series was designated as Porsche 902.
Porsche 901 and Porsche 902 designations were chosen due to the agreements with Volkswagen regarding international parts distribution. Since Volkswagen anticipated a new car lineup with decades of parts ahead, they opened up the only available sequence available, starting with 900.