It’s a Sunday noon and I’m driving along the A10 in Austria with my mate, the sun is out, the road is almost empty. The grass is still green but the mountains are already covered in snow. It’s quite peaceful. It’s half an hour until we arrive in the small town of Gmünd and I have to call Mr. Helmut Pfeifhofer to let him know about our arrival. He is the owner of the private Porsche museum in Gmünd and even though it’s closed almost the whole of December, he was kind enough to open up the doors to his museum just for us. I really wanted to visit it for quite some time, because I sort of caught the 911 bug a while ago. But before I continue I’d like to tell you first how Porsche is tied to this place.
In 1944, during WWI, Ferdinand Porsche moved his factory to Gmünd in Austria, because it was much less likely for it being bombed there. He bought the premises of a small sawmill and set up shop there. At the end of WWII he was imprisoned by the French for almost 2 years, but in the meantime his son began the construction of the Porsche 356. So one year after Ferdinand was released from prison, in 1948, the 356 (known as Type 356-001) rolled of the “line” as the first car under the Porsche family name. Since the company couldn’t exist on the income from the cars alone, they also produced tractors, winches and cross-flow turbines for agricultural use, as well as button lifts. In 1951 the Porsche factory was moved back to Stuttgart in Germany and the buildings in Gmünd were abandoned and mostly torn down. But the most important fact remains – that this is the place where Porsche was born, here is where its roots lie.
As we’re leaving the autobahn it’s becoming clear why they chose this place. It’s completely inconspicuous. A small medieval town at the bottom of a narrow valley, lined with pine woods and through it flows a rocky creek running down from the surrounding mountains. It’s quite idyllic. We arrive at the museum, which is actually set up in a beautifully restored building which used to be the stable of the Count of Lodron. At the entrance we immediately notice the overhang above the door, which resembles the front end of a 356. It’s funny and kind of cool at the same time. But that is really the only key which gives away what lies behind those big old wooden doors. Well, beside that bigass 911 sign in the parking lot anyway…
Mr. Pfeifhofer is already waiting for us. A very friendly 75-year-old gentleman with the whitest of hair, kindest of heart and you can tell it beats for cars, because he owns 48 of them. That’s forty eight, yes. But not just any random cars. It’s mainly Porsche 356, 911 and some versions of the early VW beetle. Most of them he has restored himself. Not being egoistic, he wanted to share his collection with other people, so he decided to establish a museum. In 1983, after the former stable has been renovated for several years, he opened up the doors of the museum to the public.
To get you in the Porsche state of mind and to understand what it’s all about the first room is dealing with the history of Porsche, Ferdinand Porsche himself and his family. There’s also a range of air cooled flat four and flat six engines ordered by date, so you can see how it evolved through time. It’s quite interesting to look at all the details which were changed and improved in all these years. Some were quite dramatic. The most obvious change is of course the size. But you really should look for yourself and compare, also read the info boards, it helps.
Throughout the bottom part of the museum there is a lot of displays featuring many, many scale models. Most of them are toys. A few do stand out though. The small wooden replicas of wooden frames (on which the sheet metal would be laid and hammered into shape) and some of the 70’s race cars.
Round the corner there’s a cool feature which is a counter in front of a room with some fencing and it’s set up to look like a vintage workshop or spare part storage room. Some old rims on the floor, a vintage poster here and there, old shop displays of Bosch spark plugs a bunch of exhaust gaskets and a big vintage Porsche crest. Really neat. There is also a cross-flow generator exhibited which Porsche was fabricating at that time.
Next we have the two most amazing things to behold. A 356 coupe of the first series entirely stripped of its paint and completely original. And next to it the wooden frame on which it was build, painstakingly replicated from scratch and they did a good job too, because it looks marvellous.
A lot of photos in crippling and awkward positions have been taken so it’s time for us to move along. We are now heading upstairs to take a look at the “Sonderausstellung” or Special exhibition. As we turn around the corner and step over the last steps, we enter the room of treasures. This is the part of the former stable where the horses used to be, I guess some things never change. Horses still live here, except a different kind. And much, much more of them. Here lies only a part of Mr. Pfeifhofer’s collection, first because there would not be enough room and second, he and the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart have established an exchange program, called the “Museumsstrasse Stuttgart-Gmünd” which means that rare cars from the factory museum are exhibited here as well and vice versa.
I could list all the cars that are here, but that would only result in a bunch of dashes and numbers, besides, it would ruin the surprise for you lot. What I can say is that the range of cars spans from original early examples, restored classics, race cars and some of the later models. Hoonigans beware, there’s even a police car in here. Most of the race cars were added to the collection by Mr. Pfeifhofer’s son Christoph, who took over in 2001. But these race cars are not mere stationary blocks of rubber and metal, they are being regularly driven in historic races. And going by the number of award cups, successfully, I might add.
If I absolutely must pick out a favourite – which is hard – it would be the green 911 RSR. The massive rear wheel arches, the front oil cooler inlet, the deep dish rear wheels, that rear duck tail spoiler and the overall square stance of this thing… I just couldn’t get enough of it. My friend here absolutely agrees. Well come to think of it, it wasn’t hard to pick out a favourite after all.
I can wholeheartedly recommend you to check it out. It’s absolutely a must see for any petrolhead. Even if you are just happening to be driving through Austria along the A10 and need to stretch the legs a bit, don’t stop at a service station, pay this museum a visit instead. The admission is not expensive. If you’re on a schedule and the wife’s grinding her teeth with the kid’s kicking and screaming, leave them outside and if you don’t bother reading any info at all you can complete the tour in less than 10 minutes.
At this point I would just like to, once again, give a big thank you to Mr. Pfeifhofer for opening the museum for us on his day off.
More info here: www.auto-museum.at