Flash in the Pan: The 1960 and 1961 Porsche 356B Abarth GT/L…by Wallace Wyss

152Porsche is a proud firm. Considering they started out building cars in an abandoned sawmill in Gmund, Austria, they have become a major force in the sports car world, winning LeMans several times. Usually the Porsches are all-German, designed there, engineered there, built there. But in the Sixties there came that rare moment of indecision. There was this damn Austrian, Carlo Abarth, operating in Italy, making lightweight cars that were very fast despite the fact they often had unreliable Fiat drivetrains. Ferry Porsche, the son of Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, the founder of the firm, knew Abarth well because in 1946 the Porsche family had participated in the creation of an Italian car called the Cisitalia. Porsche thought, well, what the hell, let’s give Abarth the assignment to get some lighweight Porsches built and see if they are any better than the race cars we are building in Zuffenhausen. So they did…


There seems to be some ongoing discussion of just how many 356-B Porsches were bodied in Italy but it’s 20 to 21 cars in all, made from 1960 to April 1961. Porsche had an agenda. First of all they wanted cars they could use to ensure their continued dominance of the 1600 & 2000cc GT classes. Under 1960 FIA regulations, manufacturers were allowed to fit lighter bodies of a form different from their normal production cars, in Porsche’s case these being the series production 356B Carrera GT cars made by Reutter.


Porsche believed that, with Abarth’s demonstrated magic on other cars, they would have no trouble getting under the mandated FIA homologation weight of 840 kg by having a body made entirely of lightweight metal and employing a more aerodynamically efficient body shape as compared to the production 356B body. The body, by the way, is rumored to be designed by Italian genius Franco Scaglione but no drawings have been unearthed that can prove this.


These “homologation” special GTs did not need to be produced in any minimum number to be accepted into the FIA GT class as they were counted in the same production total as the Reutter 356B GT cars which already met the minimum number set out by the FIA. Some say Porsche only ordered 20 cars, others say they had planned on more but for reasons I’ll get further into below, they cut Abarth off from further orders.


Porsche’s other agenda was that they had an all new model, the mid-engined 904 model in development. So they needed something to run before the 904 made its debut. They sold the new model, called the Abarth GT/L for around $6,500.


But all was not happy in Deutschland when the Abarths arrived. First of all, they couldn’t be built by Carrozzeria Zagato who built most of the Abarth lightweights because Zagato was doing some of the cars that would compete against Porsche. So they were sent to a smaller shop that seemed to vary the cars’ styling from car to car, annoying the orderly Germans immensely.


Secondly, the body shape was better at penetrating the air but not that much better. And thirdly, they were only marginally faster than the Porsche 356-B cars Porsche was making.


One of the cars, the eighth one built, 1008, went new to Sweden (where two other GT/L’s also went) and was raced very successfully by Carl-Gunnar (nickname “Cee Gee”) Hammarlund, a radio broadcaster. But he succeeded so well in his job, he had to give up racing for a promotion and sold it to another owner—Richard Cederlund, more of a hobbyist who only raced it occasionally in local events.


Now the reason Americans didn’t know about the car was that it was in Sweden. And incredibly the Swedish owner advertised No. 1008 for sale in 1985 in Road & Track magazine with an asking price of $105,000 (US). This car’s first and second owners were Swedish after appearing in so many events #1008 was well known to Porsche enthusiasts in Sweden.


There may have been a third owner before the car was bought by an American who owned a restoration shop in California. An expert on Abarths wrote me saying, “The car was never truly ‘lost’ in that Porsche people everywhere knew where it was. It was just nobody knew it was for sale until the ad ran.” He speculates there was a third Swedish owner between the 1985 R&T advert (Cederlund) and when the Yank bought the car in 1992. So he’s saying it doesn’t qualify as a “barn find.” He’s being picky, I think it does. It was a barn find in so far as Americans not knowing where it was, until finally an American gets off his duff and goes there and buys the car.


That Californian resold it, or was buying it for a client with the client’s money. At any rate, the car occupies pride of place in a private collection. Now as to how was it found? Well, one rumor is that Swedish billionaire Hans Thulin was having his assets re-possessed, and that he was rumored to have had such a car in his collection. The rumor is that the American originally went there to see what cars the Thulin assets redistributors had but, once he got there, he discovered another Porsche Carrera Abarth, the Cederlund car, and bought that instead.


Excellence magazine ran an excellent story on it, saying that the car was bought around 1992. That Californian resold it or was buying it for a client with the client’s money. At any rate, the car now occupies pride of place in a private collecton. Now some may wonder, well, why don’t I just ask the American who bought the car? Well, truth is, some shops like to blast their name everywhere on certain cars but then play their cards close to their chest on others. I reached out. The phone didn’t ring. So be it. Call him Mr. Anonymous. Let’s say he has come a long way from selling stereo speakers at the Pomona Swap Meet (where I once saw him trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents)…


THE AUTHOR:  Wallace Wyss is currently looking for cars to include in the fourth book of his “Incredible Barn Find” series published by Enthusiast Books , Hudson,WI.

Photos sourced from: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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