Between the years 1962-1964, South African André Loubser worked for Porsche in Stuttgart. In Part I of this two-part mini-series, we saw how the author came to work for the Stuttgart manufacturer, and some of the humorous antics that he and his colleagues would get up to. In Part II, the author explains how his responsibilities grew which saw him rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s great names in the field of entertainment and motorsport.
Later that year (1963), and to my considerable surprise, I was asked to take over a division called Werksverkauf. This department could best be described as a VIP sales division which sold directly to royalty, the aristocracy, corporate heads, film stars, sports personalities and generally the rich and famous. It was established largely for publicity purposes, so that when well-known customers came to the factory to collect their cars they could be photographed and the event recorded in the house magazine, Christophorus.
As a result, I can honestly claim that I was responsible for bringing the entire assembly line to a complete halt in early 1964, when I took the delightful Elke Sommer on a conducted tour of the plant. She was at that time the only female German film star of note, and virtually the entire workforce rushed towards us for her autograph.
My assistant in Werksverkauf was the attractive 19-year-old Heidi Heft. Thus, this commercially and highly sensitive department was in the hands of a 23-year-old South African and a young girl just out of school! In the adjoining office was Lars-Roger Schmidt, a close associate and invaluable guide and mentor, who at a very young age headed the US export division.
In September 1963, I did my stint on the stand at the Frankfurt motor show when the 901 (later 911) and 356C models were introduced. History will tell us that the model name was soon changed to 911 as Peugeot had world rights to the central zero. It was displayed without an engine due to development delays. The engine was fitted to the show car only in March 1964. It was clear even then that the 911 was going to be an enormous success, but if someone had told me then that it would still be around some 57 years later, I think even I would have had serious doubts.
In fact, I was lucky enough to have been given permission to see the yellow show car in the secret department of the adjoining Reutter body plant as early as July 1963, which meant that apart from the immediate design and build team, I was one of the first people in the world to set eyes on what was to become the 911. I remember my surprise at seeing the car. It was startlingly advanced, and vastly different from just about anything else on the road at the time in particular the current jelly mould Porsches.
In the winter of 1962/1963 (the coldest and longest in Europe for 80 years), Butzi, Ferry Porsche’s eldest son, started work on the design of the 901 and 904. After the Spyders, the 904 was Porsche’s first real purpose-built racing coupé that would be successfully raced by both the works and privateer drivers. Production started towards the end of 1963 and, by July 1964, some 110 units had been built, 100 being the minimum number required for homologation purposes.
It was during the 904’s production run that I started working closely with Huschke, as several cars were allocated for delivery by my Werksverkauf department. Among my customers were Stirling Moss, Dickie Stoop, Spanish sports car champion Alex Soler-Roig, Belgian Leon Dernier (who raced under the pseudonym Elde), Italian-Argentinian Andrea Viannini, Hap Sharp of Texas and Scuderia Filipinetti of Switzerland. I monitored the build of my cars to such a close extent that I became familiar with just about every nut, bolt and washer. I’m sure I could have built a 904 in my sleep if I’d had to.
Huschke told me that if I allocated engines to my customers without consulting him I would be as good as dead. According to the homologation papers horsepower was given as 180. A strange phenomenon was that the engines assembled with the same components by the same staff would have different readings on the dynometer, i.e. from 173 to 179. After all these years, I’m sure I can tell a story out of school. Huschke decreed we would supply the lower-rated engines to wealthy amateur drivers who couldn’t drive a bargain let alone a racing car, and the top-performance engines to professional teams and drivers. Made sense…
Herr Kahnau was in charge of 904 production and there was an amusing incident involving Dickie Stoop’s car. One day a worried looking Kahnau came into my office, which surprised me as he was always too much in charge to be fazed by anything. The problem was that a car in British Racing Green, destined for Dickie Stoop, was missing a set of gear ratios and was due to race at Goodwood in about three weeks’ time. I was well aware of Stoop’s car, as it was the first 904 due to appear in England, and the whole British motoring press was raving about the new model.
Kahnau and I checked the paperwork and, to our horror, discovered someone had indeed slipped up badly. The special ratio gears had not been ordered, and if we were to rely on the conventional ordering system Stoop would not be racing at Goodwood. It was as simple as that.
Immediate action was called for, so I rushed off to gear manufacturer, Getrag, in nearby Ludwigsburg. I went straight to the managing director to explain our predicament, and he arranged for the gears to be cut there and then. I was asked to accompany him into the factory, where I was introduced to a lathe operator who immediately started machining the blanks while I watched.
Still hot off the press, as it were, the gears were wrapped in protective paper, and off I went at high speed with my precious cargo. The whole operation was completed in comfortably less than three hours, and I actually had the satisfaction of seeing Herr Kahnau beaming with pleasure.
But that wasn’t quite the end of the story. Two days later my boss, Erich Hirsch, called me into his office and said, ‘Goodness me, Herr Loubser! What have you done this time?’ I was often in hot water, for when logic dictated that problems had to be solved unconventionally, that was mostly the route I took.
Hirsch had heard about the gearbox saga, of course, and was most upset about what I had done. First of all, there was a rigidly-defined pecking order in German commerce at that time, and a young employee simply didn’t knock on the door of a managing director of an organisation such as Getrag. Secondly, all deliveries from Getrag had to be booked into the stores (from where they would later be booked out again) and I had the nerve to short-circuit the whole system!
I patiently explained that there was no time for normal rules to be followed, and if Stoop’s car had not appeared at Goodwood it would have caused Porsche no end of embarrassment. When I asked Hirsch what would have happened if I had not taken action, he replied, ‘You would have also been in trouble!’ I couldn’t win that one. Secretly, though, I think he was quite pleased with my initiative.
In November 1963, I received a telegram from Stirling Moss ordering a 904 for his SMART racing team (SMART was an acronym for Stirling Moss Automobile Racing Team). A few weeks later I spent Christmas in London with the family of English colleague and flatmate, Roger Holliday (son of Bob, for many years the editor of Motorcycling magazine).
I took the opportunity of my trip to London to meet my schoolboy hero to discuss the Porsche deal with him. He told me that his three race mechanics were South Africans – brothers Ed and Bud Rossler, and Piet van Asperen – and asked if I could organise a training session for them on the 904. This was eventually arranged with Huschke and, as can be imagined, much fun was had by four South Africans let loose in Stuttgart with Dinkelacker beer, our favourite tipple!
Reverting to the horsepower situation, when I stood at the dynometer one day, I saw the needle sneaking up to 181! Quick as a flash I sprinted over to Huschke’s office and gave him the news, and asked if I could allocate the engine to Stirling. After a dramatic pause, he said, ‘Hmmm, yes, Stirling is a good friend of the factory…Yes, I suppose you can let him have it.’ After another high-speed sprint to my office, I phoned Stirling with the good news. It was the highest rated engine off the production run with 179 having been the previous maximum.
Moss and his secretary, Val Pirie, arrived in January 1964, to check progress as the car neared completion. It was arranged that I would collect them from Stuttgart airport and deliver them to the front door which led to Huschke’s first floor office. There they would be received by Herr Porsche himself, Huschke, Edi Barth, and photographer Ole.
As I parked the car, Moss casually asked where the 904 was being assembled. Thinking little of it, I pointed in the direction of the assembly hall. In a flash, he was out of the car and, like an Olympic sprinter, headed for the hall. Knowing what had been planned I went after him in hot pursuit, leaving poor Val wondering what on earth was happening. It was then that I realised why Stirling was so good at Le Mans starts!
Moss quickly found his car and excitedly began to ask questions. The more I tried to drag him away, the more he drooled over the new machine. Eventually Huschke appeared and took charge. Later that day, when I returned from dropping them off at the airport, a highly irate Huschke remarked that if I wanted to take over the Porsche factory that was fine by him, but would I please be so kind as to inform him of the exact date. My explanation was eventually accepted.
Towards the end of February, the SMART Porsche was collected by Ed Rossler and Piet van Asperen, who arrived at the factory with an orange Mini panel van and a huge trailer. Some weeks later Stirling phoned to say that the car had been written off by one of the SMART drivers, BOAC captain Hugh Dibley, during practice at Silverstone. A few days later Ed and Piet were back with ‘my’ beautiful metallic green 904 taped together like some huge jigsaw puzzle. The car was nonetheless rebuilt just in time for the Nürburgring 1000 km at the end of May.
Sensation of the 1964 racing season was a victory in the Targa Florio for a Porsche 904 driven by Colin Davis (for more on this now little known driver, who subsequently lived in Cape Town, South Africa, for several years, whose father was Sammy Davis, one of the ‘Bentley Boys’ and for many years editor of Autocar, see Michael Cotton’s column in issue 41), and the Italian Baron Antonio Pucci. To add to the euphoria, 904s also finished in second, sixth and 11th positions.
Not quite so euphoric after the race was Huschke, whose holdall containing personal possessions such as passport, driving licence, cine camera and so on, was stolen from the pits. A few days later I was in the reception area and happened to look down into Porsche Strasse when a blue Beetle pulled into the car park below. Out climbed one Baron Antonio Pucci, with a holdall which he swung nonchalantly as he walked towards Huschke’s office. It was Huschke’s bag!
Evi and Thora later told me, with great glee, how a stern looking Pucci walked into Huschke’s office and dropped the recovered item on his desk. When an astonished Huschke asked how he had managed to find it, Pucci simply said, “Don’ta aska stupid questions!” I never did find out how he managed to retrieve the bag and its contents but he was no doubt ‘well connected’ on the island!
Ed and Piet were back to collect the rebuilt 904 a week before the 1000 km race at the ‘Ring. Just beyond the factory, at the end of the dual carriageway which led to the autobahn, Ed turned right and headed towards Heilbronn instead of left towards Frankfurt. Realising his mistake, and with the Autobahn stretching out endlessly before him with no exit in sight, he did an illegal U-turn. Unfortunately, a Ford Taunus appeared rather suddenly, braked and swerved to avoid the trailer, and was promptly hit from behind by a following car. Then the Polizei arrived and marched poor Ed off to jail.
A distressed Piet phoned to tell me the news, but said he had to get the car to the ‘Ring and would go it alone. I agreed and sought out Huschke, who gave me a not-unexpected lecture about bloody stupid South Africans who only know how to drive in the bush. After some diplomatic negotiating with the Stuttgart prison authorities by Huschke, three days later Ed arrived at the ‘Ring by train, in time for practice.
For the race itself, Moss had signed up David Hobbs and American pilot, Lucky Cassner, who had co-driven a birdcage Maserati to victory with Masten Gregory in the 1961 event. Early on the Sunday morning, Lucky suggested we should do a warm-up in the 904. The thought of a lap around the ‘Ring had great appeal so, with some 200,000 spectators already lining the famous circuit, off we went.
The gates leading to the track were closed, but Lucky persuaded a reluctant marshal to let us through. As the 904 had been warmed up in the paddock we rocketed towards the South Curve, and then behind the pits up towards the North Curve. Pinned to the seat, I noticed an imposing figure clad in a brown suit walking into the middle of the track with right hand raised, traffic-cop style.
Lucky braked hard and stopped the car with the nose almost against the man’s shins. The figure was none other than an incandescent Herr Schmidt, circuit manager, who ordered us out of the car and, in true sergeant major fashion, proceeded to give us hell in a loud voice, much to the amusement of the assembled spectators.
What we had done was absolutely verboten and in Germany you don’t mess about with the rules. To make matters worse, Schmidt threatened to cancel the entry, and once again it was Huschke who poured oil on troubled waters. But then he always was a very good diplomat! Somehow, though, I don’t think that Americans – or, for that matter, South Africans – were too popular at the Nürburgring that weekend! However, Lucky and David Hobbs finished in ninth position.
And that, perhaps fittingly, just about marked the end of my two years with Porsche. After the ‘Ring, it was aufwiedersehen Porsche, when I went off to England to join the Stirling Moss Paint-a-Car System in London. In December, 1966, I married my wife, Gillian (Gill) Scott, who at the time was secretary to the general sales manager at Rootes in Devonshire House, Piccadilly. At the end of 1968, after I had spent a year working on the Enfield electric car project in Wimbledon, Gill and I set sail for South Africa to found the Mike Hailwood Autospray System in Johannesburg.
Since then I’ve enjoyed a varied business life, with the usual ups and downs, with interests in toy manufacture, spin casting, various design projects, agencies, journalism, publishing and the manufacture of Ford GT40s. I wrote a book on the history of the original Kyalami Circuit (1961 to 1987) with Porsches, of course, featuring throughout (see www.kyalamithebook.co.za) (Ed – you can read our comprehensive review of this book here).
However, nothing can hold a candle to those two marvellous years spent in Stuttgart. Rest in peace, Huschke, or perhaps I should say race in peace. I can only thank you for these memories from one of the best periods in my entire life!
Click here to read Part I …
Words by: André Loubser
Images by: André Loubser and Porsche Werkfoto