My Car Quest

June 19, 2019

Where Is It Now Department? – The Bertone Porsche

by Wallace Wyss –

Some guys are way ahead of the curve.

I’m thinking John von Neumann, around ’65. Now I knew von Neumann, in my photographic memory, from seeing a picture of him in a GI uniform shot back around ’45 with him sitting proudly behind the wheel of a Nazi bigwig’s Mercedes, captured by the 101st Airborne on the way to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.

Bertone Porsche

When he moved back to America (where he had been before the war) he opened a car shop and got to be Porsche’s first car distributor on the West Coast.

Now Johnny wanted open cars to race and sell, damn it, and Porsche was not coming across with designs he liked. He even (egads) cut the roof off a Gmund so he could race in the California sun. He was a take charge get-it-done guy and those dudes in Zuffenhausen were a little slow to responding.

Around 1965, when he discovered Porsche’s new replacement for the 356 was not going to have an open air model at first introduction, he was appalled. California was the sunshine State (despite Florida’s claim to that) and he knew he could sell thousands if there was a convertible. He went to Carrozzeria Bertone in Italy and bankrolled his own Speciale…

As far as the styling, I think I recognize the hand of Giugiaro back then, but the trouble with that scenario is that Giugiaro was already with DeTomaso around ’65, doing the Mangusta so maybe it only looks Giugiaro-ish. But then again some wags have pointed out it looks like a slightly larger Fiat 850 Spider and who designed that for Bertone? Giugiaro.

The design is pretty good looking with the hidden headlamps closed but when you open them—horrors—it becomes downright ugly like seeing a beautiful woman with her lips closed, and then she smiles and reveals a row of snaggley teeth. But the side view is still pleasant. It would have sold if Bertone could have gotten the price down.

Bertone Porsche

Porsche, as it turned out, was less than enthusiastic. Why? Because they were still working on an open 911, and had several prototypes, some with rollover hoops (the targa), some without. They didn’t bother telling von Neumann about it-hell, tell one dealer you might as well tell them all. But truth be told, the real reason it didn’t get “green lighted” was that the Germans didn’t trust the Italians.

Only a few years before, Porsche had given Abarth an order for 21 Abarth Carreras to be built by Zagato and what happened? Abarth takes the job down the road to a lesser known bodybuilder who flees in the middle of the night leaving the job undone. Plus each and every one of them was different—whatever happened to following the plans, Luigi?

Some say Porsche sent the bare chassis of the one-off 911 to Bertone, but if so, that complicates figuring out who owned it. Porsche, as has been chronicled lately, has warehouses full of prototypes they had built, changed their mind, and put into storage.

This car would be in that stash if they owned it. I think Von Neumann ponied up for it, drove it around, got it in magazines and then it sort of went away. The nail in its coffin was that it could not be built en masse and still be profitable at around $8,000, which is the price it would have needed to sell for to be profitable. But even that would be a real stretch as the regular Porsche 911 sold for less.

According to some, it made quite a stir at the Geneva Auto Show, where it upstaged the Lamborghini Miura. But even though Porsche got inquiries, inquiries aren’t taken seriously unless they are accompanied by checks (as was the case with the prototype Dodge Viper decades later). And eventually Porsche had the targa done enough to show Von Neumann and when he laid his eyes on that he knew that the car he had done in Italy was history.

Bertone Porsche

The purists say it was originally red with Italian-made Campagnolo wheels. The powerplant was your box stock 911 2.0 flat six, but somewhere along the line, when the 911S was introed, it got the hardier engine. When I saw it, in the early ’70s, it was a maroon color, I think with black interior but when I saw it in one of Randy Leffingwell’s books (see “Porsche Specials”) more recently it has saddle leather and a very high quality black paint job. The wheels, at various points of time, have been the aforementioned Campys, steel Fuchs, and 914-6 Mahle “Gas-burner” wheels.

Back then, it was mentioned around the early ‘70s by an ace Porsche “finder,” the late Bob Raucher, and I think the price was $30,000. One former Von Neumann employee says John sold it to Morley Kasler who then gave it to Pete Kasler, his son.

Then an Orange County Porsche dealer with the unlikely first name of “Chick,” i.e. Chick Iverson, made an offer and became the owner and had it restored. This must have been before I first saw it because when I saw it, it was already painted maroon. he leather was replaced by Bill Colgan and Porsche factory rims installed. Now here’s where I lost the trail. That former employee says the “President of BMW” bought it before December 1984. But does he mean President of BMW in Germany or BMW USA?

I’d like to put this car right up front in my fifth Incredible Barn Finds book but need to hear from anyone who remembers seeing it advertised for sale (an ad in Competition Press, Road & Track or the LA Times?) or remembers what the price was back when it was just one man’s suggestion to Porsche and not a hot collectible? I remember $30,000 but my brain has ossified in 40 years..…thanks to any reader who can enlighten us…

Let us know what you think, or if you have information on this Bertone Porsche, leave a message in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is also a fine artist. His artwork can be seen on wallacewyssfineart.com.

 

 

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Summary
Where Is It Now Department? - The Bertone Porsche
Article Name
Where Is It Now Department? - The Bertone Porsche
Description
Here is another beautiful car that did not get made.
Author

Comments

  1. Wallace Wyss says

    The color, I hasten to say,is from Randy Leffingwell, who is the premier photographer and historian of Porsches. He is also the editor of a Porsche publication associated with Roads Scholars, perhaps the most focused of all Porsche classic car emporiums, obtaining the most significant cars. I will be reviewing his books as they become obtainable and a list can be found on Amazon.com

  2. I remember seeing this car in the show room of a small used exotic car dealer in Monterey about 20 years ago and was blown away enough to go in and see it. They were asking a lot of money for it then but nothing like what it would be worth today… It was insanely neat.

    • wallace wyss says

      Hey Jim:
      Scratch your memory to see if you can remember the price. That’s the crux of each chapter of my books
      — Incredible Barn Finds series. I sort of remember Bob Raucher saying $30,000 but I could be $10,000 off. Was it Al Mohr’s showroom in Monterey? If we could remember the showroom somebody else might remember seeing it. What color was it then? I think it’s only been black since being restored by its latest owner.

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