Dreams can sometimes come true. All it takes is patience…
I’m not sure which came first, my first Porsche or my first book about Porsche. All I’m sure of is that they were both second-hand. The book wasn’t actually a ‘proper’ Porsche book, being the story of the creation of the Volkswagen. Its title was Beyond Expectation The Volkswagen Story by K.B.Hopfinger and when published in its updated second version in 1962 cost 18/6. For younger readers, and I imagine that’s most of you, that somewhat cryptic number indicated that the book cost 18shillings and sixpence in old money – ‘old’ money being the stuff that we used before the arrival in 1971 of the new metric currency.
But, back to the story: pencilled inside the cover is the secondhand price, 6/-, or 30p in today’s money. The Porsche, a ten-year-old 356A Coupé, cost me £350, by the way. Although the book was about Volkswagen, the greater part of it was inevitably about Ferdinand Porsche and, unlike today’s authors on the subject, K.B.Hopfinger was actually able to draw on personal interviews with the great man himself.
Perversely, most ‘car books’ back then didn’t carry many pictures of cars, the printing of photographs being the most expensive part of publishing, and when they did they were usually small. At the top of page 161 appears a tiny 7x8cm picture captioned ‘1938 - Porsche personally supervised the design and testing of the Volkswagen sports model.’ Frustratingly there was no other mention in the entire book of this extraordinary streamlined Volkswagen that looked more like a Porsche than a Beetle. It would take a couple more years and another book – and another Porsche – before I could discover more.
The book, again second-hand, was titled Porsche – the Man and His Cars, by Richard von Frankenberg, and translated from the German by Charles Meisl. The cover price was 50/- (£2.50) and the pencilled-in price is 33/- (£1.65). By comparison, the RHD Speedster that I had bought at approximately the same time cost £350 – it seems that the price of second-hand books was increasing considerably faster than that of second-hand Porsches!
The caption to ‘plate 32’ (how quaint we were back then) on the bottom of page 137 added a lot more information to my scant knowledge of the ‘sports VW’, ‘The very first Porsche-like car, built on a 1939 VW chassis for the Berlin-Rome trial, which did not take place owing to the war. It produced 40 bhp with a maximum speed of over 88 mph. Now owned by the well-known, one-armed Innsbruck driver, Otto Mathé.’ By now, I liked the ‘Porsche-like’ car a lot. I more than liked it, I was smitten by it. I sooooo wanted the Berlin-Rome car. But I didn’t live near Innsbruck, had never until that moment heard of Otto Mathé, and was sure that of all the people on the planet who coveted his car, I was the least likely to be in the running. So I dreamed on.
In 1981 Otto Mahté, brought his long-retired VWK10 to an ‘oldtimer’ race meeting at the Nürburgring where, displayed alongside 356.001, it was the centre of attention. In the flesh it was even more wonderful than I had imagined and my longing intensified, but by now the value of ‘old’ Porsches was on the up and (inexorable) up. Not long afterwards I had dinner with Ferry Porsche, who’d sold the car to Mathé in 1949, and I expressed my surprise that he had never bought it back for the museum. Ferry assured me that it would eventually return as Mathé had left it to Porsche in his will. So that was that then, the Mallett dream would always remain a dream.
Years later, so the story goes, Mathé trailored the T64 from Innsbruck to Stuttgart to present the car to the museum but the gateman wouldn’t let him in and he drove off in an understandable fit of pique, vowing that Porsche would not get his car back. Which they didn’t. Mathé died in 1995 and the Berlin-Rome car, now immensely valuable, moved on to a major collector.
And then, a year ago, rumours began to circulate that one of the long-thought-lost Berlin-Rome cars had been rediscovered and was being reconstructed. And then, I received an offer that simply could not be refused. The e-mail message read, ‘Delwyn, why don’t you come to Hamburg on Saturday and drive our T64?’ Suffice to say that, after almost half a century of aching anticipation, the thrill of driving the real thing was way beyond expectation. DM