Retrospective

Porsche marks 70th anniversary of U.S. arrival by telling the story of how it all began

Porsche is celebrating its 70th anniversary of selling vehicles stateside.

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

It's been 70 years since the first Porsche made its way to America. In the years that followed, Porsche has moved from an elitist sports car company to a more attainable luxury commodity. There's more than just sports cars now. There's acronym-ed models of many kinds - SUVs, PHEVs, and EVs.

The first Porsche got its road use certification in 1948. Germany, and the rest of the world, were still recovering from World War II, but enthusiasm in the evolution of the auto industry was running high.

Porsche 356 Max Hoffman

The Porsche 356 on display at Max Hoffman's showroom in New York City, which was designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

Austrian expat Max Hoffman had arrived in the U.S. on June 21, 1941, and in 1947, he opened a showroom on Park Avenue in New York City. Hoffman Motor Car Company began selling established European vehicles and the success of the company allowed Hoffman to take a chance with some lesser-known marques.

In 1950, a meeting between Professor Ferdinand Porsche, the founder of Porsche, and Hoffman led the German automaker to decide that it was time to try out the U.S. market. The two had known each other for years, dating back to when Hoffman was a lawyer in Vienna. However, it wasn't that relationship that was the keystone to the deal. That was thanks to a journalist named Max Troesch.

Troesch had driven a Porsche 356 and proclaimed: "I am sure this car will make a name for itself." When he traveled to America, he showed Hoffman photos of the car and encouraged him to connect with Porsche.

In early conversations, Ferry Porsche, son of the founder, told Hoffman he would be happy to sell five cars a year in America, to which Hoffman famously replied: "If I can't sell five a week, I'm not interested." Eventually, they agreed on a U.S. import contract of 15 cars per year. The first two 1.1-liter 356 coupes were delivered to Hoffman in the fall of 1950.

Porsche Taycan 356

Porsche celebrates 70 years in the U.S. with a photo of the Taycan (left) and 356 (right) outside its Atlanta headquarters.

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

For Hoffman, selling the Porsche 356 was going to be a challenge. Going by numbers alone, the Porsche was more expensive and had a smaller engine than the other models in his showroom. But, it had other things going for it.

The Porsche cars offered durability, track-bred agility, and daily driver qualities. Those were a unique combination in the American automotive landscape. But, Porsche didn't have the money to market it. It was up to Hoffman to get the public interested.

His marketing materials described the 356 as "One of the World's Most Exciting Cars" with "A new conception in handling, roadholding, suspension and safety never known before." The strategy gained traction, and by 1954, 11 cars per week were sold through Hoffman, equaling 30 percent of the annual Porsche production.

Ferry Porsche (left) and Hoffman on a rooftop in New York ca. 1952.

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

Another native Austrian, John von Neumann, welcomed Porsche into his showroom as well. Competition Motors, located at the corner of LaMirada and Vine in North Hollywood, California, sold the new Speedster model. The Speedster had a low $2,995 starting price making it an entry-level model. Neumann, who was well-connected in Hollywood, leaned on his celebrity customers, including actor James Dean, to build up the brand's influence on the West Coast.

Dean was driving his 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder he had named "Little Bastard" when he crashed it at the intersection of State Routes 41 and 46 after leaving Competition Motors on September 30, 1955 while en route to Salinas, California. The car was sold for parts and eventually wound up in the hands of famed car designer George Barris most known for designing the car used by the Munster family in "The Munsters".

James Dean gas station full-up 1955

James Dean was captured on-camera filling up his Spyder the day that he crashed it in 1955.

Photo courtesy of Don Ahearn

New reports indicate that portions of the vehicle, which disappeared in 1960 while being transported from Miami, Florida to Los Angeles, may have been found. Three permanently traceable components of a 550 Spyder Dean owned have been located in Massachusetts. These include the chassis, engine, and gearbox/transaxle. This transaxle is stamped with the correct factory serial number #10046.

By 1955, sales in the U.S. were so strong that the company decided to establish an independent distribution network. Sales continued to grow and by 1965, Porsche was selling 74.6 percent of the vehicles it produced in the U.S.

Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche were all under the same umbrella by 1969. On September 1, 1984, Porsche Cars North America was established in Reno, NV.

The 1990s were a time of setbacks for the company but with the successful introduction of the Boxster into the lineup, Porsche got back on track. In 1998, the company moved its headquarters to Atlanta, Georgia and expanded its line up in 2003 to include the Cayenne.

2018 Porsche Cayenne

Porsche introduced the Cayenne to the U.S. market in 2003.

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

The auto industry as a whole suffered in the wake of the global recession in 2010. The company once again rebounded by introducing the Panamera and Macan in order to reach a more diverse audience.

Porsche's new headquarters facility in Atlanta opened in 2015. The Porsche Experience Center (PEC) features a driver development track, fine dining restaurant, Heritage Gallery and more. In November 2016, a second Porsche Experience Center opened in Los Angeles, making America the first market with two PECs. Combined, the two PECs represent an investment of $160M – the largest Porsche has ever undertaken outside of Germany to date - and have welcomed more than 450,000 visitors so far.

Growing the brand

Porsche Taycan 356 Atlanta

The Porsche Taycan electric sedan is a big part of the future of the company - and sales are soaring.

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

Porsche hasn't let off the throttle. In recent years they've launched a new digital space and established and fine-tuned the Porsche Drive subscription service. Sales continue to hit new highs and bounce back following the COVID-19 shutdown.


Atlanta, Georgia.

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The IIHS may increase the speeds it uses to test advanced driver aids.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently announced that it is considering changing the speeds it uses to test vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention systems. The agency currently tests the systems at 12 and 25 mph, but says that the speeds don't accurately represent the types of crashes the safety tech is meant to prevent.

Front crash preventionwww.youtube.com

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is designed to notify of a possible collision and help respond with automatic application of braking. Just like a human using the brake pedal, it can stop the car, but higher speeds make it difficult to stop in time. The new tests would be conducted at 35 to 45 mph, which is the range where a large number of rear-end crashes occur. As Automotive News noted, an IIHS study showed 43 percent of rear-end crashes occur at speeds of 45 mph or less, so it's important to have a test that shows how well the tech performs at those levels.

A whopping 85 percent of 2022 vehicles earned a "Superior" rating in the current testing regime, so the IIHS will remove it from 2023 testing and Top Safety Pick award evaluations. Their view is that, since the majority of vehicles meet the criteria, it's no longer an accurate way of evaluating performance. In its place, the agency introduced a night test for automatic emergency braking systems that will begin next year.

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The Sport Classic comes to the U.S. for the first time next year.

Porsche

Porsche's bringing the 911 Sport Classic back to market, and it's headed to the United States for the first time. The car features distinctive styling, a rowdy twin-turbo flat-six engine, and plenty of go-fast gear from the 911 Turbo S upon which it is based. The car is scheduled for limited release late in 2022 as a 2023 model year.

2021 Porsche 911 Sport ClassicThe Sport Classic comes exclusively with a manual transmission and RWD.Porsche

The Sport Classic gets the Turbo S powertrain, which means a 3.7-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six engine producing 543 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. It's paired exclusively with a seven-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. Porsche says the combo makes the car the most powerful 911 with a manual gearbox currently on sale. The Sport Classic also gets a laundry list of parts from the Turbo S, including Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes, rear-axle steering, a sport exhaust, and an active sport suspension system.

2021 Porsche 911 Sport ClassicThe car comes with an interior not seen since the Porsche 918 Spyder.Porsche

The car' comes with Sport Grey Metallic paint with grey accent stripes, a carbon fiber reinforced plastic hood, and unique graphics on both sides. It rides on 20-inch wheels up front and 21-inch wheels in back, which are designed as reinterpretations of the old-school Fuchs design. In back, the Sport Classic gets unique bodywork that sets it apart from the 911 Turbo, such as deleted air intakes and a large ducktail spoiler. Inside, the 911 gets open-pore wood trim and semi-aniline leather upholstery in cognac and black. Porsche says the Sport Classic is the first car to get that type of leather since the iconic 918 Spyder.

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