Mid-week long read: black pearl

How an ordinary-looking G-Series revealed a priceless past.

1y ago

To a Porsche collector like Walter Hoffmann, the black G-Series 911 he stumbled upon in 2008 looked unremarkable on first inspection. Save for the presence of a highly unusual acid yellow Recaro interior.

This was enough to encourage Hoffman to dig a little deeper, but an early delve into the car’s identity threw up more questions than answers. This was a 1974 model year car, but appeared to be running a later 3.0-litre engine. It also sported a ‘Turbo’ style rear spoiler, again not something Zuffenhausen had offered at the time. These elements could have been added later, but both looked original.

Not entirely convinced, Hoffman decided to buy the car anyway, with the intention of retro-fitting a period-correct 2.7-litre engine he already had at home in Hermeskeil. A deal was struck and he tentatively drove the car away.

Back in his garage, Hoffman began to do a little more detective work. The engine was indeed a 3.0-litre unit of the type Porsche launched in 1975 in the 911 Carrera 3.0. Making 149 kW (200 PS), this was almost as powerful as the legendary Carrera RS 2.7, but benefitted from the more efficient and reliable Bosch K-Jetronic injection system. This same engine also provided the basis for the 911 Turbo, which arrived in 1975 with that iconic whale tail rear wing. Could there be a connection?

In the early days of Porsche, when the company was still a very small concern, development mules were often deputised as company cars. After some further research, Hoffman established that the curious example before him was just such a car.

From July 1974 to January 1976, this very 911 was at the disposal of none other than Prof. Dr.-Ing. Ernst Fuhrmann – father of the famous four-cam racing engine and by then first Chairman of the Executive Board.

There could scarcely be a more illustrious former keeper. Fuhrmann was one of Porsche's first employees. Born in Vienna, he joined the design office as early as 1947, when it was still located in Gmünd in Carinthia. Together with Ferry Porsche, the young engineer worked on numerous external commissions, including the supercharged, all-wheel drive Cisitalia 360 racer.

In 1950, Fuhrmann earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering; the topic of his thesis: ‘Valve trains for high-speed combustion engines’. The following year, Ferry Porsche commissioned him to develop a high-performance version of the four-cylinder boxer engine that the 356 series had inherited from VW. The result was the famous vertical shaft engine, with radical design features such as two overhead camshafts per cylinder bank, twin spark ignition and a dry sump.

The 1.5-litre boxer engine, henceforth known as the Fuhrmann engine, shaped the image of Porsche in the 1950s. The complex aluminium four-cylinder design spun to 8,000 rpm, powering the 356 Carreras and a variety of race cars to prominent international racing success.

Fuhrmann's ambition as an engineer was unsated, however, and his passion so all-consuming that if the company coffers could not pay for certain components, he would sometimes source them at his own expense. Overlooked for the role of Technical Director in 1956, Fuhrmann left Porsche and joined the engine parts manufacturer Goetze, whose boss – himself a passionate owner of a 356 Carrera – soon entrusted him with technical development there.

When KG morphed into AG in 1972, Fuhrmann returned as Porsche’s first external manager, initially as Spokesman of the Executive Board and from November 1976 as Chairman of the Executive Board. He took over in troubled times, however, and drove the controversial development of both the 924 and 928 transaxle models, earning him an unfair reputation in certain quarters for wanting to bury the 911.

But it was Fuhrmann who, despite huge resistance, pushed through the production of the Carrera RS 2.7 and shortly afterwards advanced the original, era-defining 911 Turbo. Porsche’s first supercar would alter the automotive landscape forever, emboldened by its newly-developed 3.0-litre boxer and mighty, unmistakable rear wing. Walter Hoffmann’s blind purchase could hardly have been more significant.

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