A blast from the past for Porsche’s Marc Lieb
The former works driver heads to Rome with two past masters of customer racing
In Rome’s Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi, Marc Lieb leans against the flanks of a very special Porsche 356. This A-Series Coupé is a rare 1600 GS Carrera GT, veteran of countless European road races and rallies including the Mille Miglia, the Nürburgring 1000km and the Targa Florio. And although its racing days are far behind it, this remarkable little racer now has over half a million kilometres on its odometer.
Its story began in earnest in 1959 on the 5000km Liège–Rome–Liège rally, one of the most formidable road races in the world at the time. From 104 starters only fourteen reached the finish, overall winners Paul Ernst Strähle and Robert Buchet driving a staggering 86 hours non-stop in the privately entered 356.
Today that same car has returned to Rome where Lieb, himself a Le Mans winner with Porsche and now customer racing manager, will meet his great role model Herbert Linge, who knows more than most about racing the 356.
Linge was born in 1928 and dedicated his entire working life to Porsche. After starting out as an apprentice in 1943, he became a race mechanic, a race-car driver, established the customer service organisation in the USA, and was ultimately a guiding light in development. 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.
Linge knew all too well the importance of such efforts. “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. In 1954, he won it with Helmut Polensky. 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. “We alternated about every three hours. You had to be able to sleep in the passenger seat. Strähle could do it. At control points I would sometimes put on his hat and sign for him—he never knew a thing. I, on the other hand, barely got a wink of sleep.”
Linge met Strähle by chance in 1952, having borrowed one of the VW support buses for a weekend. When the bus broke down near Schorndorf, a few kilometres east of Stuttgart, it was Strähle who helped him fix it at his local workshop. A keen amateur racer, Strähle later acquired a fire damaged Carrera and a replacement chassis with Linge’s help and the pair set about building up a bespoke 356 GT using the latest factory developments. “We always had the best material!” Linge remembers with evident glee. “Sometimes we were able to install parts that the factory hadn’t even finished testing. Shock absorbers and stuff like that.”
In 1957, the pair entered the car into the Mille Miglia and took a class win and fourteenth overall finish. Many more would follow before Strähle stopped racing in 1964 having enjoyed a fantastic privateer career in the care of Porsche and his good friend.
Today, Linge recalls the philosophy that has remained a central tenet for Porsche ever since: “Customer racing was always a priority. Every race-car type had to be available for sale. We immediately built twenty or thirty 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.’”
Following his retirement, Linge remained close to Porsche and its racing endeavours, following Lieb in Carrera Cup Deutschland, a series he once headed. He saw the talented young driver rise from customer racing to the factory team and later win races, and titles, all around the world. Linge has since been an invaluable source of guidance as the former Le Mans and WEC winner transitions from trackside to a managerial role in customer racing.
“I’ve learned things from Herbert every time we’ve met,” says Lieb, “his knowledge is an endless treasure trove. The philosophy is the same as it was then. It’s not just about selling cars; it’s about strategic project planning. Those who take an interest in a model—from the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport to the Porsche 911 RSR, as is used by the factory team—have more than just technical questions. They want recommendations for where to use it, they want to know which factory driver is available, and they want to know what technical support exists. Just as it was for Herbert, it’s about a shared goal with the customers, and that is to win races.”
Aboard the 356 Carrera GT, Lieb navigates Rome’s busy city streets, drinking in the history and atmosphere of one of Porsche’s earliest and most treasured customer race cars. “Everything we are is an evolution of the past,” he observes while negotiating a careful heel-and-toe downshift. “Five hundred thousand kilometres under the hood, the old seats, the cockpit – everything is different and yet so familiar. You drive off and feel immediately: That’s a Porsche!”