With last year’s introduction of the Panamera and the huge Porsche presence at the Rolex Monterey Historic races, Porsche was really just gearing up for things to come. This year’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring had Porsche celebrating the 50th anniversary of their first win by Hanns Herrmann, the induction of Hurley Haywood into the Sebring Hall of Fame and many other great Porsche activities. Well, the story doesn’t end there.
In fact, this year marks the 60th anniversary of one of the most fateful and successful decisions in the annals of automotive history – Porsche’s decision to market cars in the United States. But the story of Porsche in America is really the story of the common vision of three men – Ferry Porsche, Max Hoffman and Johnny von Neumann.
From the beginning, Dr. Ferry Porsche saw the limitations of selling his 356 sports car in the Western European markets. He knew in order to sustain and grow his dream, Porsche would have to export its products to larger, more affluent markets like the United States, which had been virtually untouched by World War II.
This grand show opens in New York City
Enter Austrian expatriate and adoptive New Yorker Max Hoffman. Hoffman had already made a name for himself introducing exciting European cars to eager Americans. With the demand for cars running at a fever pitch after the sparse war years’ production, Hoffman scoured the continent for marketable products. He knew many returning G.I.s had developed a taste and a romantic fondness for the nimble, fun-to-drive cars they had been introduced to while stationed in Europe.
Hoffman, at the urging of Swiss journalist Max Troesch, accepted the Porsche franchise in the early autumn of 1950. Max caught the Porsche bug, declaring, “I was very excited. This was something completely new, out of this world. I was not 100 percent for Porsches. I was 1,000 percent for Porsches.” When Ferry Porsche said he hoped Max could find five American buyers a year, he responded, “If I can’t sell five a week, I’m not interested.”
In the fall of 1950, Hoffman took delivery of two 1.1-liter coupes and put them on display at his 430 Park Avenue showroom in New York City. While the 356 had only 44 horsepower and cost as much as a Cadillac convertible, he thought this little Porsche deserved a chance.
His faith in Porsche was justified. He imported 32 cars in 1951, and by 1954 he was marketing 11 Porsches a week, or 30 percent of Porsche’s production. At its peak, the United States would absorb up to 70 percent of Porsche’s yearly production.
Hoffman was also an astute marketer. In 1952 while dining in a New York restaurant, Max told Dr. Ferry Porsche all cars of some standing in the world have a crest. “Why not Porsche, too?” he asked. “If all you need is a badge, we can give you one, too!”
Ferry then grabbed a napkin and began to draw the crest for the state of Baden-Würtenberg with its curved stag horns. He added a black prancing horse from Stuttgart’s coat of arms and the word PORSCHE across the top and handed it back to Max asking, “How about something like that?” With a bit of refinement and color, the famed Porsche Crest was born and today remains true to Ferry’s original sketch more than half a century ago.
Porsche and the Hollywood connection
While New York would prove to be central to Porsche’s U.S. success, California, even in the early 1950s, was considered the ‘Car Mecca of the New World’. The Porsche foothold on the West Coast was established by another Austrian expat named Johnny von Neumann. Von Neumann was the scion of a well-known Viennese doctor and had emigrated to the United States in 1947 and had begun selling cars in the Los Angeles area.
In 1948, he opened up his own shop, Competition Motors in North Hollywood. The name was reflective of von Neumann’s primary interest, racing. While most of his business was focused on the repair and maintenance of sports cars, he eventually sold cars, as well.
On a 1951 vacation to New York, von Neumann decided to see his fellow Viennese Hoffman, whom he knew from before the war. “I stopped to say hello and being a ‘salesman’s salesman’, he asked me to take the car for a ride,” von Neumann recalled to a journalist. “I thought the car was way ahead of its time, so I bought one and drove it back to California.” It was the first Porsche ever West of the Mississippi.
After selling that first Porsche, von Neumann bought several more, firmly established Porsche’s West Coast beachhead, and continued to cater to the famous, the rich and the infamous. It was from von Neumann’s Competition Motors shop that James Dean purchased his first Porsche, a 356 Speedster with which he won his first serious amateur race. He then traded that Speedster for the Porsche 550 Spyder in which he famously lost his life while en-route to his first race in the car in Salinas, Calif.
California would become Porsche’s single largest market and, if broken out separately from all other U.S. sales territories, would rank as one of the largest markets for Porsche worldwide.
Porsche of America Corp. is born
By 1956, it became increasingly evident Max Hoffman’s focus on Porsche had shifted. In addition to Porsche, Hoffman was now importing a sizable portfolio of brands under the Hoffman Motor Cars umbrella. Because of this diversification, it was difficult for Porsche to maintain the support and distribution standards Porsche felt were critical for the growth of the Porsche brand in the United States. This was to be a recurring concern during the history of Porsche in America.
In response to this need, Porsche of America Corporation (PoAC) was established. With headquarters in Teaneck, N.J., PoAC took over and improved and expanded Porsche’s distribution network.
The Volkswagen years
For many years Dr. Ferry Porsche felt the only way to sustain the company in the long run and for it to remain an independent entity was for Porsche to develop a lower cost, higher volume model. While Porsche toyed with the idea of a less expensive 911 – the 912 was one such short-lived attempt – Dr. Ferry Porsche saw this could diminish the stature of the flagship 911.
In partnership with Volkswagen AG, Porsche developed the 914, a mid-engined, two-seat Targa-type sports car available in two configurations – the Porsche powered six-cylinder 914/6 and the less expensive and higher volume VW powered 914/4.
But the increased volume these two new cars were intended to generate could not be handled through the existing PoAC channel. And, as the volume 914/4 was to be powered by the flat four from the Volkswagen 411 and utilized many shared components, it made perfect sense to team up with Volkswagen of America (VoA). In addition, the Porsche family had long and close ties with Volkswagen, and in fact had used VoA’s distribution chain elsewhere for many years.
During the partnership, VoA and Porsche sold more than 250,000 Porsches in the United States.
The birth of PCNA
In January 1984, the 323 U.S. Porsche-Audi dealers were notified after August 31 they would no longer be receiving Porsche cars, parts or support from Volkswagen of America, but from a new entity, Porsche Cars North America (PCNA).
With the establishment of its plant in New Stanton, Pa., Porsche felt VoA, as a U.S. auto manufacturer, would be more focused on increasing volume of the VW model line-up. The new Porsche sales chief, M. J. Nedelcu stated, “the quality of the marketing organization could no longer develop in sufficient measure to suit our exclusive automobiles.”
With the termination of the distribution agreement, PCNA set up its operation in Reno, Nev. in September of 1984 to oversee all of the importation and distribution tasks formerly handled by Volkswagen of America. PCNA remained in Reno until March 10, 1998 when it relocated to its current home in Atlanta.
Today, PCNA is the exclusive importer of Porsche vehicles for the United States. It is a wholly owned, indirect subsidiary of Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG. PCNA employs approximately 180 people who provide Porsche vehicles, parts, service, marketing and training for its 200 dealers. The dealers, in turn, provide Porsche owners with best-in-class service.
PCNA, which imports the iconic 911 series, the highly acclaimed Boxster and Cayman mid-engine sports cars, high-end Cayenne sport utility vehicles and the four-passenger Panamera Gran Turismos, strives to maintain a standard of excellence, commitment and distinction synonymous with its brand.