Karl Ludvigsen is simply in his element when it comes to the history of the Porsche brand. This epic set of tomes is the most complete history of Porsche that has ever been written by anyone, bar none, end of discussion. Since I started here at FlatSixes, I've relied on the old 2008 edition of this book to provide historical context and deep dive information. It has been a critical resource and reference material for Porsche fanatics for decades, and has grown larger right along with the company it covers. Porsche has never really stopped doing new and exciting things in the automotive universe, and this massive piece of historical literature chronicles those things in excruciating detail.
(In the interest of full disclosure, Bentley Publishers shipped us this new set of four books to review free of charge. I have done my best to remain impartial in this review of the book. I purchased the old 3-volume set several years ago, and truly loved having it around.)
An entire book of information has been added to the history of Porsche in the last 11 years, and it's easy to see how. Think back to 2008. Porsche was still making the 997, had just jumped into the direct injection end of the powertrain pool, the Panamera was the new kid on the block, and the Macan was just a twinkle in the company's eye. Hybrid was still a new thing for Stuttgart, and a full BEV was still, well, 11 years away. How did Porsche get from there to where we are now. We all lived that era, but if you want to know the real details of how it all went down, this is the book for you!
And because I'm sure everyone wants to know, the old three-volume edition weighs 20.3 pounds, while the new four-volume edition is an impressive 25 pounds even! This isn't the kind of book you'd take to bed for a light nighttime read, or pack in your carry on for some in-flight entertainment. I wish I had a month to take off from writing, wrenching, and driving to consume every word of this story, but alas, I have to consume it piecemeal.
Book 1 - 1948-1971
As you might expect, this is perhaps the most important book of the four. This one lays the foundation for the other three, telling the story of how Porsche began. It's one we are all reasonably familiar with. Upstart engineering firm works on massive international projects, earns a huge state-run contract to help kick off the Volkswagen project, spins that into a tiny sports car manufacturer that really comes into its own post WWII. There are things in this book that the average Porsche wonk can't even fathom.
For example, did you know that Porsche helped engineer a rocket-powered land speed record car in 1962 that aimed to hit over 400 miles per hour? The project didn't pan out, but it's cool to know.
Have you seen these early 911 design studies? Now you have.
Vintage racing photographs? Lots of those in vibrant color.
And you'll learn about a lot of Porsche ephemera, like this 910-based street car one-off. I didn't know this existed, but I'm better off for having learned it.
And the illustrations! My god the illustrations! They're so good.
Book 2 - 1967-1989
This era was instrumental to Porsche's legacy, with the 911 coming into its own as an icon of the industry, the advent of Porsche's advanced transaxle cars, and its dramatic evolution in motorsport. This is the era that wrought the all-conquering 917, which would be enough on its own, but was later followed up with killer 911 racing variants before jumping back into prototypes in the late 1970s.
The chapters on 917 development are incredible to read, and influential to the company's success. For those reasons, this book might be my favorite of the four.
My favorite stories in Porsche's motorsport history involve early aerodynamics testing before wind tunnels were economically viable. Just tape some nifty pieces of metal together and send it!
Or develop a new nose for your iconic racer to create more downforce, then test it with little strands of yarn.
The ridiculously high ride height of these early Carrera RSRs has always struck me as odd, but somehow successful. Weird cars, these.
Speaking of weird cars, here's an early 924 design study that should have been brought to production. This is entirely excellent.
What other book will show you early sketches of Moby Dick's aerodynamic attitude? None that I know of!
Porsche's ill-fated aviation program is exciting and interesting. I'd never seen a shot of that wild gear box just behind the prop before. How very German.
Book 3 - 1982-2008
Book three covers Porsche's massive transition from tiny sports car maker to the monolith of the industry that it is today. The motorsport action continues through the late 1980s, with a handful of toes into the waters of international open wheel racing to little success. There are some really interesting stories there, but the real mega story is the sea change that came with the 986 Boxster and 996 Carrera. Porsche adopted Toyota's manufacturing systems, implemented massive cost controls, and reduced the per-unit cost to produce some of the world's best sports cars.
As a long time 944 guy, the GTR has always been a favorite.
Entire books could be written on the 959's development alone, but in this book it is just a small fraction of the amazing information you can learn.
Look how proud these folks are of the design which was to be the 944 S3 (later 968).
An all wheel drive 911? This was absolutely revolutionary in 1989, but seems commonplace today.
Not everything Porsche has done is good and successful. Just look to the V10 formula one engine for proof of that. Footwork who?
This early pre-Boxster Porsche Junior looks amazing and while it never came about, it helped influence the 986s silhouette.
I have always been fascinated with the Porsche Transport System roof rack for the 986 Boxster. Absolutely radical.
Jeez, these illustrations!
Book 4 - 2002-2020
Those first three books have gone largely unchanged from the previous volume, though a few chapters have been moved around. The new information is all in this fourth book, which could easily have been its own complete story. Porsche has completely revamped itself since 2002, and the result is the profitable, technologically savvy, and forward-thinking company we know today. This is where that shift occurred. In my lifetime Porsche has come from the verge of bankruptcy to world leading technology monolith.
These gorgeous Cayenne sketches really show off the Porsche lineage, and highlight the importance of the Cayenne in Porsche's history.
This early Cayman sketch is straight up wild. With influence from the 550A and a huge bulging nose cone it isn't quite what we saw with the advent of the 987C. I've always thought of the Cayman as a gorgeous Porsche, but knowing that we could have seen something retrofuturistic like this makes the one we got a little disappointing.
The chapter on Porsche's short-lived GT3 R Hybrid is among the most fascinating automotive stories ever told.
And the Hybrid racer's influence on Porsche's mega 918 Spyder just makes it so much better.
Remember when Piech was pushing Porsche into a joint project with VW to make a smaller and less expensive roadster? I'm still so bummed that we never got this.
AWW YEAH! 919 Hybrid was the best era.
And what's the culmination of all this hybrid tech? The new electric direction for Porsche. Learn all about the transition from Mission E to Taycan in this wonderful book.
In closing, this book rules. If you can carry 25 pounds of books and have over a foot of shelf space to house this thing (maybe have the shelf reinforced?) it's definitely worth buying. You can grab a set for just shy of $450, and knowing that Karl's entire life has gone into the creation of this book, it's worth every single shiny Lincoln you'll spend on it. If you want to know anything and everything about Porsche, it's in this book.
At least until the 5-volume set comes out in 2051.