The Porsche 356 on the road to Rome
Marc Lieb raises a piping-hot espresso to his lips, savours it, and revels in the moment. Its official licence plate reads WN-V2 – and in the world of motor racing, this car is a legend. In its day, it started in all the important European road races and rallies, including classics such as the Mille Miglia in Italy, the 1,000 Kilometres of Nürburgring, and the Targa Florio in Sicily.
Lieb is an overall winner at Le Mans and a former WEC champion. Herbert Linge as Steve McQueen’s double He was also Steve McQueen’s double in the driving scenes in the film Le Mans, found the land for the Weissach testing grounds, and received the German Federal Cross of Merit as the founder of the ONS Staffel (Oberste Nationale Sportbehörde crew) – an organisation dedicated to safety in motor racing and a part of Germany's motorsport governing body ONS, as it was known at the time. Linge knew all too well the importance of such efforts for greater safety in racing. “We drove Liège–Rome–Liège full bore, day and night, nothing was closed off – completely mad, and completely unimaginable today,” he says of the legendary rally. Later he contested this and many other road races together with his friend Paul Ernst Strähle. “You could only finish Liège–Rome–Liège as a good team,” says Linge. You had to be able to sleep in the passenger seat. I, on the other hand, barely got a wink of sleep.
Linge had been a test-driver for all of the early 356 cars. They knew that I had some previous knowledge from motorcycle races as well, which is why they entrusted me with it. In the early days, we built three or four cars a day. After the test-drive, I had to report to Ferry Porsche that evening which of them were okay and which ones had to go back into the shop. The factory racing and rally drivers caught wind of Linge’s skills as a mechanic, and by 1954 he was a sought-after second man in long-distance races. “They said to Herr Porsche: ‘When Linge’s on board, he takes care of everything.’”
“The synchroniser rings were tricky!” As a matter of course, Linge changed the brake pads four to five times over more than 5,000 km. “Before the mountain trials I would change the front ones at least. The car would pull when they were half-worn. We didn’t have disc brakes back then, but drums.” The venerable 125 PS, 1.6-litre engine with four overhead, vertical shaft-driven camshafts burned though spark plugs at a rapid clip.
Linge's friendship with Paul Ernst Straehle
When the bus broke down, he was pointed to the shop of the Strähle family in Schorndorf, and it was a lucky stroke: the junior boss Paul Ernst helped him get the vehicle back on the road. On this occasion, using his VW Beetle, Strähle pulled Linge’s and his friends’ motorcycles out of a mud pit in which the squad had gotten stuck during a rally. It goes without saying that Linge told Strähle to get in touch if he could ever be of service in Porsche matters.
With his 1.3-litre engine, he didn’t stand a chance against the 356 cars that were already sporting the Carrera engine out of the Porsche 550 Spyder. Strähle also knew that Porsche had a GS Carrera GT in the works.
Pre-series variant of the GS Carrera GT
But he knew Linge and found out that a rescue vehicle with the desired engine was for sale. But then Strähle asked Porsche for a replacement chassis, which was then ordered from Reutter with Ferry Porsche’s blessing. Thanks to the assent from the top, Strähle received a pre-series variant of the GS Carrera GT in his desired colour of Adriatic Blue.
After finishing work, Herbert Linge would head over to the Strähle workshop to tinker away. Many more would follow before Strähle stopped racing in 1964.
“Customer racing was always a priority"
Although Linge was not as well acquainted with every Porsche race car as with the 356 at that time, one thing is a point of emphasis: Customer racing was always a priority. Every racing car type had to be available for sale. We immediately built 20 or 30 units – even the Porsche 917 was a customer car. That was very important to Ferry Porsche. Advertising was forbidden. He always told us: ‘Our calling card is racing’. And racing is every bit as important for the brand today.
Even in retirement, Linge followed Lieb’s career, from a standout driver in the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland – which Linge had once headed – and then from customer racing to the factory team and, later, as he scored wins and titles all around the world. Lieb says, “I’ve learned things from Herbert every time we’ve met – his knowledge is an endless treasure trove.”
Development, motorsport and sales
It was with EMV that Lieb started his second Porsche career in 2017. “Just as it was for Herbert, it’s about a shared goal with the customers, and that is to win races.” The private racing drivers of today are, like Strähle was in his day, valuable ambassadors for the brand and have a direct line of communication with the company. And like satellites launched into the racing cosmos, Porsche engineers transmit the unfiltered customer feedback directly to Weissach.
Lieb points the 356 swiftly in the direction of the southern outskirts of the city. Lieb inhales deeply, as if he wanted to breathe in the more than 2,000-year history of the road. “500,000 km under the hood, the old seats, the cockpit – everything is different and yet so familiar. You drive off and feel immediately: this is a Porsche!”
Sep 27, 2021 at 07:54