Porsche proudly showed their first post war car, the 356, at the Paris Salon of 1950. Whilst Ferdinand, who with Rosenberger and Piech had founded the original company in 1931 as a consultancy, was spending 20 months in jail accused of War Crimes (He was never tried and was released in August 1947) his son Ferry was deciding that the company had to build their own car. This was to be based upon the Porsche designed Volkswagen. At that Paris show, as Ferdinand and Ferry slightly sheepishly accepted both plaudits and orders, Ferdinand’s old friend from the 1930s, French racing legend Charles Faroux was trying to get support for the only just re-launched Le Mans 24 Hours. Upon a hand-shake Porsche committed his company to building a competition version. He and Ferry had the hope that they could sell privateers cars to go racing with.
Five cars were built to “competition standard” and as the last weekend in June approached, four of them were written off in practice and testing incidents. The only car to take the start was number 46, driven by the all French pairing of Veuillet and Mouche. They achieved a class win in the up to 1,1100 cc class and managed to come home 20th overall out of thirty finishers. Behind them were such illustrious makes as Bentley, Panhard, Renault and Jowett. The competition seed had been well and truly sown. Veuillet had contested the first post World War two event in 1949 at the wheel of a Delage, which failed to finish, putting a connecting rod through the side of the block after 208 laps. From 1951, however, his next two visits, always in odd years – 1953 and 1955 were Porsche mounted. He secured his second class win in 1953, sharing with Duntov, this time in the under 1,100cc classification. It was in 1958 that Porsche really hit the big time in endurance sports car racing at Le Mans, however. A team of five car ran. Four of them finished, taking Porsche’s first podium in general classification with Hans Herman and Jean Behra taking third. Their teammates came home 4th, 5th, and 10th, securing both the 1101-1500 and 1501 – 2000cc class titles in the process.
It would be 12 years before Porsche took the first of their overall wins, but the intervening years saw the factory enlarge its operations in the competition shop to take the fight first to Ferrari and then Ford as the 1960s progressed, with unprecedented sums of money being expended in the pursuit of that ultimate accolade – an outright win at La Sarthe.
The picture shows Jean Behra having just come to a stop for his final pit stop of the race in 1958. The crowd could not believe that such a small car was going so well and leading all but the Ferrari Testa Rossa and Aston-Martin DB3S. The RSK/4 was giving away over 1,400 cc to those ahead of it, and leading Lotus, Panhard, Peerless, Jaguar, OSCA, AC and Ferrari entries at the end of the race. SVP will be returning to Le Mans this summer, naturally with a hugely historic Porsche. Keep checking back for news.