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Porsche 356 SL Gmund Coupé Le Mans. The beginning of Porsche Motorsport

Porsche is one of the most successful brands in motorsports. A record that saw its debut with the official team when at Le Mans 1951 it presented the Porsche 356 SL Gmund Coupé that won its class, also being twentieth in the general classification ahead of cars with much more displacement. The start of Porsche Motorsport.

It is very difficult to choose the Racing porsche more symbolic. In fact, we would say that it is an impossible choice. And it is that the Sttutgart brand has been in all or almost all possible racing modalities. For example, although in F1 it has not played as prominent a role as other manufacturers ... The truth is that from 1959 to 1962 it had an official team. In addition, on numerous occasions it has been a supplier of engines for such successful teams as McLaren.

A discreet role behind the scenes that contrasts with his strong presence in the World Endurance Championship, CanAm, rallies and various ascension races. All this punctuated with cars like the 909 "Bergspyder" -of 384 kilos and 275CV- or the 917, which in its evolution for the 1973 CanAm reached 1580CV. A dream panoply where the brand of the house has not been so much power as lightness, thus developing competition cars with approaches as effective as they are intelligent. However, which of them is responsible for starting this story? What was the first?

Well, to answer this question, the first thing to be clear about is the complexity of genealogies at Porsche. Something that worsens as we go back to its beginnings, defined by very short series and a handmade manufacture that made each unit unique. A labyrinth where even the most seasoned motor historians struggle to bring order, but in which two founding milestones are established. The first marks what we could call the prehistory of racing at Porsche. A time in which it was glimpsed what the brand was going to be, although it did not yet exist as such. There everything is defined by the Type 64 for the Berlin-Rome of 1939.

Prologue of what would be the post-World War II times, with Porsche already as its own brand with the 356 derived from the Beetle dominating the range. Moment in which we witness another fundamental milestone: the start of the official endurance racing team with the Porsche 356 SL Gmund Coupé.

PORSCHE 356 SL GMUND COUPÉ. LESS WEIGHT AND BETTER AERODYNAMICS

Between 1948 and 1954 the first series of the 356 was manufactured. A modest sports car, which with its small 1-liter four-cylinder engine had to make lightness its main virtue. In addition, to it also it considerably helped aerodynamics and behavior in curves, where its size became a virtue compared to the large GT. Thus, the 356 began to be claimed by a multitude of private pilots. Which honed the typical Porsche attention to private teams moving in its orbit.

Model opposed to the zeal imposed by Ferrari towards everything that goes beyond the Scuderia, which gave excellent results with the 917 at Le Mans. Nevertheless, the Porsche management was already considering the possibility of participating with an official team in the World Endurance Championship with Le Mans as the star race. For this, the chosen version of the 356 was the SL. Named for its quality "Super leggera", with which the weight of the street version was reduced by removing any applique, adornment or supplement.

An improvement that was taken further with the 356 SL Gmund Coupé, which reduced 90 kilos compared to the series model thanks to a large number of parts made of aluminum. A) Yes, the weight was only 635 kilos. And this despite having an aerodynamic study that forced the inclusion of new plates to careen the wheels of both axles. Everything to get the best possible potential from the bare 1'1-liter engine. Just the challenge that Porsche faced at the 24 1951 Hours of Le Mans with the premiere of its official team.

LE MANS 1951. FROM UNCERTAINTY TO VICTORY

The truth is that Porsche had few elements to be optimistic in Le Mans 1951. A premiere that already started badly when one of the two Porsche 356 SL Gmund Coupé crashed before the race, leaving the team with only one representative. Also, although the improvements in weight and aerodynamics presented by the Gmund Coupé were outstanding ... In power they had only managed to scratch between four and six extra horsepower from the boxer engine of the 356. This left the horsepower at a bare 46CV.

An unremarkable figure, but with just over 600 kilos and the transmission with long gears, it boosted the Porsche 356 SL Gmund Coupé up to 160 km / h. A good performance, although clearly below that offered by the Jaguar C-Type. Absolute winner in the edition of that year and with more than triple the displacement of our protagonist. A car that moved in categories very different from those defined by small displacements, where the 356 turned out to be a born dominator winning his class with no apparent problem.

In addition, it achieved position number 20 in the general classification, being ahead of cars with much more displacement. An unmitigated success that marked the first major victory for Porsche on the international stage. The spur to get down to business with the 550 1953 Spyder. A revolutionary car designed directly for racing with innovations as fine as its four camshafts mounted on the cultured, which revved the engine to 7.800 rpm to perform 110CV.

A winning path that began in 1951 with the Porsche 356 SL Gmund Coupé. The beginning of the successes for the official team of the brand.

Photographs: Petersen Automotive Museum

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Miguel Sánchez

Written by Miguel Sánchez

Through the news from La Escudería, we will travel the winding roads of Maranello listening to the roar of the Italian V12; We will travel Route66 in search of the power of the great American engines; we will get lost in the narrow English lanes tracking the elegance of their sports cars; We will speed up the braking in the curves of the Monte Carlo Rally and we will even get dusty in a garage while rescuing lost jewels.

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