The Porsche 356 B 1600 GS Carrera GTL Abarth, that’s a mouthful. However, it is the complete name of the car that is usually baptized the Porsche 356 Carrera Abarth. And as you can see on the pictures in this article: this is not the traditional Porsche you are used to seeing. After all, just 20 of the Porsche 356 Carrera Abarth were ever built.
The decision to build a GT
Even though Porsche was in 1959 still working on the F1 program, the management was anxious to stay competitive and successful in GT racing. They started looking for external support and have the car designed by someone else. The Porsche 356 B 1600 GS Carrera GTL Abarth was designed to qualify as a production car for homologation as defined by the FIA ( Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile). September 18, 1959, Ferry Porsche and Carlo Abarth had the decisive meeting in a hotel in Frankfurt. It is told that Porsche was talking to Wendler and Zagato too, for building the GT car.
However, so far no written evidence has been found to prove the Wendler rumors. Zagato, an Italian coachmaker based in Turin prepared drawings before the meeting of September 18, 1953. Not that much later, the decision was made that Zagato would indeed finish the bodies. However, Zagato would not get the order directly. It was the Abarth Company that would always act as intermediate. Carlo Abarth believed 20 cars would be ready for acceptance by March 1960.
Project “Type 644 T5 (GT Wagen)”
The rush to complete the 20 cars was so big that only in November 1959 the project number was assigned: “Type 644 T5 (GT Wagen)”. October 1st, 1959 Porsche sends the first chassis and motor to the Abarth Company. Porsche wanted the first cars to be ready by the Turin Auto Show. However, soon they were told that would probably not be the case. More, in November 1959 Carlo Abarth sends a letter to Porsche to let them know the first 12 cars would be racing versions. That means, no high quality and with some defects, Porsche would never tolerate in a luxury version.
December 17, 1959, the Porsche marketing department sends out an announcement to all general agencies about the “Carrera GT Coupé (Spezial)”, in comparison to the Carrera GT Coupe built by Reutter. Delivery of the program was announced to take a start in March 1960 and end in May 1960. The original selling price for the Carrere GT Coupé (Spezial) was 25.000 DM.
Mid-January 1960 Erwin Komenda asked Carlo Abarth about the first 2 chassis. The body of the first car was ready (chassis 1001) and the 2nd (chassis 1002) was finished for 40%. However, lots of work was still to be done, and finalization was expected mid of February 1960. It was only March 1st, 1960 that the first car arrived at Porsche, without an engine. Late March wind tunnel tests were performed and Herbert Linge did some test drives at the Hockenheimring. The not so good results were discussed by both Herbert Linge, Erwin Komenda and Carlo Abarth. Approximately at the same time, another delivery program for the rest of the car was sent to Porsche with final deliveries promised by August 31, 1960.
Again, Abarth did not succeed in the fulfillment of that commitment. The 7th Porsche 356 Carrera Abarth was only delivered to Porsche by mid-July 1959. Deliveries then stopped, and only February 1961, chassis 1008 arrived in Zuffenhausen. A few months earlier, a Porsche engineer traveled to Italy to accept the bodies of chassis 1012 to 1017. By then, Abarth had switched coachbuilders from Zagato to Rocco Moto. That company on its turn used a subcontractor for 3 bodies. It was Siata that did the painting of the cars. The Porsche engineer, Klaus Steinmetz, noticed some issues that needed to be resolved before final acceptance could be done again a few months later, in December 1959.
In the end, it was only March 1961 that the final Porsche 356 Carrera Abarth arrived at Porsche. The project for a new GT car was a struggle and ended one year late. However, the race results of the Porsche 356 Carrera Abarth were impressive.
The sportive successes of the Porsche 356 Carrera Abarth
In total, the Porsche 356 Carrera Abarth participated in over 400 races all over the world, in the period 1960 – 1965. Paul-Ernst Strähle bought chassis 1002 and entered it in the 1960 Targa Florio and finished 6th overall. Not only was that the 1st official race entry for the Abarth Porsche, but the result was also good enough for a class victory. The 1st class victory for a Porsche 356 Carrera Abarth in a list of over 100 class victories during its race career. That includes the Daytona 1960, 1961, 1962, 1962, Targa Florio 1960, 1961, 1962 … On top of that, 46 overall victories are written on the results list too: Spa-Francorchamps 1961, International Avus Race 1961 and 1962, Zandvoort 1963…
We can recommend the book ‘Carrera’ by Steve Heinrichs and Rolf Sprenger for more details on the 4-cam engine and the Porsche 356 Carrera Abarth.
Pictures courtesy Porsche AG and Vintage Race Photography