The legend was a long time in coming.
Although Ferdinand Porsche designed the original VW Beetle in the 1930s, it wasnt until 1948 that the first car bearing his name was sold. And it wasnt until 1964 that the immortal Porsche 911, with its air-cooled, six-cylinder rear engine and spacy streamlined look, rolled off the assembly line.
Vroom! Instant classic.
Porsche went beyond the standards of the day, said Ken Gross, the auto writer and historian who curated Porsche By Design, an exhibit of 22 classic Porsches that opens Saturday at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
The original Volkswagen was commissioned by the German government as a car for the people, so the product Porsche designed had to fall within certain parameters, Gross said.
When Porsche wanted to make his own car, he wasnt limited by the price, Gross added. As such, they could build a better car.
And a better-looking one featuring an unforgettable curved roof line and a hood that was elongated for a car of its size. Porsches designs were all about aerodynamics meeting aesthetics, form following function, which can be seen in the Museum of Art exhibit.
Among the examples on exhibit are Steve McQueens 1958 Porsche speedster; a rare Formula One race car, one of only four ever built, that was driven to victory in the 1962 French Grand Prix; a 1949 coupe from the first Porsche factory; and a car in psychedelic colors on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum that was once owned by Janis Joplin.
The idea for the exhibit originated with NCMA director Larry Wheeler, a longtime admirer of the world-class collection of 35 Porsches owned by Durham resident Bob Ingram. Having seen that collection and how it represented a very high form of design collecting, I thought Porsche would be a great car to showcase design continuity through the century, Wheeler said. Theyve held onto a basic concept and a basic form based on the 911 and its iterations.
Even though this is NCMAs first car design show, exhibiting cars as examples of industrial design dates back to the 1950s. Earlier this year, Gross curated a show for the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville that featured classic 1930s Art Deco cars, like the Cord, Pierce-Arrow and Bugatti.
The notion of autos in a fine art museum is not a new idea, Gross said. These (Porsches) are wonderful examples of 20th-century industrial design; they are kinetic art, wonderful sculpture.
These cars are really interesting to see.
Even people not particularly interested in the automotive world will find the exhibit of interest, he said.
You can take it from an engineering point of view, a style point of view, and personality. Weve got you covered.