Porsche 356 SL

Porsche and Le Mans, these two terms undoubtedly belong together. In total, sports cars from Zuffenhausen have achieved 107 class victories at the 24-hour race and have finished at the top of the overall classification 19 times. The factory team of the then still very young brand first appeared at this world-famous endurance race in 1951. To mark this 70th anniversary, the Porsche Museum is showing selected racing cars from the company’s own Le Mans history in six parts. In the first episode, we look back at the Porsche 356 SL together with Le Mans winner Timo Bernhard. He presents this classic together with Fritz Enzinger, the head of Porsche’s motorsport department.

Porsche’s only model with the abbreviation SL

The “SL” on the 356 SL stands for “Super Leicht” (super light) and wasn’t used again in the brand’s history. Presumably because another brand from Stuttgart used this abbreviation for a sports car a short time later. By using aluminium for the bodyshell, hoods and doors, Porsche reduced the weight of the 356 SL by around 120 kilograms compared to normal 356s to 680 kilograms. In internal documents they reffer to this car as “Type 514 Porsche Sport for Le Mans 1951”, indicating its intended use even at the time of manufacture. Wilhelm Hild, a mechanic in the factory team at the time, called the car “Alubüchsle” (alu tin can). Bernhard and Enzinger took their seats in a sister car to the LM racer, built a year later. Porsche had even originally planned to use three cars, but two of them crashed beforehand and were unable to take part.

Driven to Le Mans and back again

At that time, it was still quite common to drive the racing cars to the events under own power. On June 16, 1951, Ferry Porsche therefore sent the 356 SL equipped with license plates on the eleven-hour journey to the northwest of France. At the race track, the French importer at the time, Auguste Veuillet, took over the steering wheel together with Edmond Mouche. Two drivers sharing the 24 hours was common. Even teams with only one driver could be found in the starting lists. In 1951, the silver Porsche with start number 46 covered a total of 2,840.65 kms with an average speed of 118.36 kph in the race. That was enough for 19th place overall and class victory up to 1.1 liters displacement. In the rear of the car, a boxer engine with only 46 hp was working. This achieved about four more hp over the race.

Further episodes in preparation

Meanwhile, Timo Bernhard and Fritz Enzinger drove the 356 SL from the factory site in Zuffenhausen along winding back roads to the in-house test center in Weissach. The motorsport department is also located there for many years. Timo Bernhard also met other Le Mans legends from Porsche here, who will be presented in more detail in further episodes. For this purpose, he expected also people involved with the car in question to contribute to the stories. Porsche is sending a roadshow featuring some of the winning Le Mans cars to 14 stops in ten countries starting this month and expected to tun until January 2022. In addition to the Porsche Museum in Germany, appearances are also planned in the UK, France, the Netherlands, the USA, the UAE and China.

Images: Porsche