Bernd Pennewitz is the Willy Wonka of Porsche, his home in the town of Lüdersfeld in the Schaumburg district of Lower Saxony a dream factory for children and adults alike.
Pennewitz was an avid collector of toy cars as a boy and, in 2000, he decided to revisit this passion on his own children. Two years in the making, after countless hours of highly skilled and laborious work, the result was a stunning silver Porsche 550 Spyder in a perfect miniature, measuring just 160cm in length.
Not only was Pennewitz’s Spyder a fastidiously accurate recreation – precisely scaled and detailed down to the tiny working instruments and ignition on the right side of the wheel (as it was on the original cars) – it was also fully drivable, powered by an electric motor.
The Spyder was originally conceived as a one-off, but encouraged by the response to his prototype, Pennewitz decided to produce a series. He set up a substantial workshop at his 120-year-old farmhouse in readiness for an initial run. The only remaining hurdle was the Porsche licensing department, who wanted to see not just one drivable sample within three weeks, but two. Why? “To make sure I could really do what I claimed and wasn’t just a dreamer.” But as soon as he presented his little Spyder in Stuttgart, the contract was in the bag. “I didn’t even have to unload the second model from my car.”
Pennewitz threw himself into his work. To help finance his start-up, he made the fairly monumental decision to sell his real Porsche 356. After that there was no going back.
The requisite technical expertise and craftsmanship were “essentially already there” thanks to past design work for trade fairs and marketing projects. He fashioned the initial shape of the 550 Spyder’s iconic bodywork from a block of rigid foam. “I set about cutting, grinding, cutting some more—first with a chainsaw, then with ever more precise tools.” Once half of the model was shaped, he used templates to transfer it to the other half. The chassis was designed on the computer, and its components and the baseplate were laser-milled from steel and aluminum.
What this one-man operation really needed for series production was a network of suppliers—all the more so when he developed a second car, this one modeled on the 356 Speedster. He found skilled manufacturers for the plastic body parts, but spent sleepless nights worrying about the paint jobs. “Painting plastic is a supreme skill in this industry. I spent years trying to find a company that could do what I needed.”
The search for turn-signal lights, wheels, and other special parts was no less time-consuming. Pennewitz and his wife managed to locate a number of items online that could then be adapted. But some things were impossible to find, like headlight covers. Pennewitz had to make the moulds himself to then have the bespoke thermoplastic parts cast.
Pennewitz does not advertise his products as children’s cars. For one thing, this would lead to problematic liability issues, but an astonishing number of buyers are adults who have simply fallen in love with his little labours of love.
“One of our first customers was a man who ran straight up to our stand at the Techno Classica fair in Essen and shouted ‘I want this, where do I have to sign?’” he recalls. Other interested parties turned out to be vintage Porsche owners who wanted to have exact miniature copies parked next to their originals. He has now made and sold more than 150 cars, including models of the 356, 550 Spyder and even the 904 Carrera GTS.
The critical question of what type of drive system to use for such iconic sports cars solved itself. For safety reasons, a combustion engine was out of the question. Mechanical pedals weren’t an option either because these low-slung racers were too close to the ground for kids to operate them. So Pennewitz sourced a suitable electric motor and set about the not inconsiderable challenge of melding it to his existing miniature mechanicals.
“A lot of precision work went into getting the drive system to harmonize with the mechanics. But of course I’m proud of the fact that I basically built the first series of E-Porsches,” he adds with a wink.