- A rarely seen and obscure project from Porsche’s early years
- A capable, light military vehicle with selectable all-wheel drive and 356-derived power
- The 5th of just 22 military prototype examples produced
- Benefits from a complete restoration
PORSCHE’S FIRST OFF-ROAD VEHICLE
In 1954, nearly 50 years before Porsche introduced their brand-saving, coffer-stuffing Cayenne sport utility vehicle, there was the Type 597. This rarely seen and mostly overlooked project—which was undertaken in pursuit of a massive light truck RFP from the German Army—offers a truly fascinating glimpse into Porsche’s immediate post-war vehicle development process. With many components (recycled and newly developed) exhibiting a functional mélange of the marque’s expertise in both sports car and tractor production, the Type 597 is regarded by some as Porsche’s most interesting, and not entirely incongruous, creation.
NEW FOR SOME, BUT NOT FERDINAND
Even though this was the Stuttgart company’s first attempt at an offroad vehicle, the same could certainly not be said of its founder’s experience in the matter. It is important to note that some years earlier, Ferdinand Porsche was directly involved with the development of the ubiquitous Type 82 Kübelwagen and Type 86 Schwimmwagen light military vehicles which, of course, were based in part on his famous Volkswagen design of 1939.
It seems a fair assessment to say that Ferdinand’s previous experience in this arena of both offroad vehicle production and contract fulfillment for the German military gave Porsche a measurable advantage when the Bundeswehr released its pertinent RFP to the German Automotive Industry Association on 19 January 1953. Porsche’s competition for this significant contract were to be Auto Union and the Borgward Group. Rather strangely, the Volkswagen company to which Ferdinand Porsche ceded much of his earlier intellectual property was not involved in this bidding process.
THE TYPE 597
On paper, the design which quickly developed into the Type 597 was, despite its military application, still a Porsche in nearly every sense; it was lightweight, powerful, air-cooled, and rear-engined. A sufficiently rigid steel monocoque tub was underpinned by a fully independent torsion bar suspension with shock absorbers. Its 1.5-liter flat-four engine and four-speed manual transmission were derived from those used in the 356 sports car, though the motor was modified and tuned with a focus on reliability over peak performance, while an innovative front axle coupling provided the Type 597 with selectable four-wheel drive capabilities. The amphibious design’s tall ride height and high-silled tub meant that it could successfully climb hills and also cross bodies of water with relative ease.
Twenty-two prototype “military” examples were produced at Werk 1, alongside Porsche’s 356 Carrera and 550 Spyder orders, beginning in early 1954. At least the two first prototypes are reported to have had propellers and oars equipped for ultimate amphibious functionality.
Despite encouraging tests against its competition, Porsche did not win the contract. The Type 597’s doom was sealed by its high development costs, per-unit price, assembly time, and the company’s forecasted difficulty in concurrent production and distribution of spare parts. None of these significant challenges of the Type 597 were experienced by Auto Union’s winning DKW “Munga” design or the preceding Volkswagen-based Type 82 and 86, which it replaced.
Between 1956 and 1960, Porsche continued to market the model to foreign armies and domestic sportsmen, whereby it earned the nickname “Jagdwagen,” or “hunting car.” Just 71 examples of the Type 597 are believed to have been produced in total, and very few survive to the present.
PROTOTYPE NUMBER 5
Offered here is the Type 597 chassis 0005, the fifth prototype produced by Porsche between January 1954 and December 1955. Like the other prototype examples, it was most likely retained by the Porsche factory for some time after construction to be used in exhibitions for the Bundeswehr and other foreign militaries. A copy of its factory Kardex shows that it was subsequently sold to Löhr & Becker AG, the Porsche-Volkswagen distributor from Koblenz, Germany in late April of 1956.
This important Type 597 Jagdwagen Prototype benefits from a complete and professional restoration executed in Germany. Draped in the proper, period-correct Olive Green livery of the German military and fitted with a matching green interior, chassis 0005 is truly a spectacular and curious sight to behold. A set of canvas side curtains and convertible top have been fitted to assure ample all-weather protection. Powering chassis 0005 is a correct 356-based, 1.5-liter flat four-cylinder air-cooled engine and four-speed manual transmission complete with a selectable four-wheel drive system.
Having been lightly enjoyed under the consignor’s care, this incredibly rare and fascinating piece of Porsche’s earliest days as a manufacturer is a perfect complement to any collection which focuses on the famous Stuttgart brand.