Joe Lapin’s Porsche Odyssey

In February, 2013, attaining 66 years of age, I had an epiphany, and realized how very little time remains. I did not feel this in a morbid, pessimistic mood, rather, I am now more motivated to avoid procrastination, which I consider to be the scourge of most mens’ existence. In this context, I embarked on a unique adventure that ultimately satisfied several of my long held desires. I fulfilled special dreams!  

One day at my gym, after a strenuous leg work-out, I decided that if I was ever going to enjoy a European ski adventure, the time to do so was NOW! I had experienced skiing at Whistler, Squaw Valley and Utah, yet the Alps always beckoned. I knew of a tour guide, and in short order, I made arrangements to participate in a week long ski trip to Mayrhofen, in the Zillertal Valley of the Austrian, Tyrollean Alps. 
Since this prearranged ski trip landed in Munich, I decided to extend the journey, and enjoy some other long desired, automotive experiences. Munich is the land of BMW, and I was able to arrange a factory tour of this famous facility. As Stuttgart is barely 2+ hours from Munich by train, I decided to visit the Porsche Museum, and though difficult, I was fortunate to reserve passes for the Porsche factory tour as well. Both reservations were made online.
I have always been fascinated by cars, and spent much of my life reading about them, experiencing as many as my budget would permit. In the 70’s, I took great pleasure with two Porsche 914 sports cars, the ‘baby Porsche’ of the era. I began a commitment to the marque, visiting dealers and specialized garages, consistently reading Porsche literature, and researching all sorts of technical data pertaining to these exceptional cars. 
Though it took me 27 years to do so, in 2009, I finally acquired my own 911. I immediately joined Rennsport, the local chapter of the Porsche Club of America, where I enrolled in the Driver Education program, and I currently hone my driving skills on the race tracks of Mont Tremblant, and Calabogie in Ontario. To say that this activity has redefined much of my life, would be a severe understatement, and I can barely wait for the new track season to begin in May! I described this upcoming adventure to my pal Terry, an excellent driver I met at Porsche track events, and as an accomplished skier, and long time auto enthusiast, he immediately agreed to participate. 
After a glorious week of skiing in the Alps, we arrived in Munich for the second phase of our adventure. By 9 am, we left for the magnificent new facility of BMW Welt. It being Monday, the BMW museum was closed, but the main exhibition hall was open, displaying all of the BMW product range. Of course, the assembly lines were running, and we soon entered the actual factory. On entering the initial orientation area, I was impressed with a very clear statement acknowledging BMW’s shame and regret at having used ‘forced labour’ during the Nazi regime, and the efforts made towards reparations for the exploited. Obviously a clever public relations ploy, but at least the effort was made.  
We were mesmerized by an army of gracefully choreographed robots, meticulously assembling and applying the 5,000 spot welds of the BMW 3 Series body. We also saw the engine assembly process, marvelling at the assembly of cylinder heads and the various components therein. Most impressive were the robotic primer and paint applications, repeatedly perfect, four spray guns at a time! I was astounded to learn that final dust removal was accomplished using ostrich feather dusters! Every 60 seconds, a new BMW 3 Series rolls off the assembly line!

The Porsche tour was scheduled for 10 am,Tuesday, and rather than stress about arriving on time, we left for Stuttgart on Monday afternoon, booking a room at the nearest hotel in Zuffenhausen, barely 500 meters from the factory. Perhaps this was totally obsessive, but I had been warned that a late arrival would forfeit our places, so precluding any traffic snarl or geophysical upheaval, we took the train the night before. The hotel was modest, yet clean, and we were rewarded with an excellent Italian meal in the hotel restaurant. 

I slept fitfully, in anticipation of our projected adventure at the Porsche factory and museum. 

I awoke at about 6:30, performed a few yoga stretches, and then, anxious and impatient, I decided to leave for the Porsche facility at about 8 a.m. It was my intention to photograph the dramatic architectural qualities of the new museum, and some of the adjacent factory buildings, before the tour began.
As I walked down the hill from our hotel, in early morning rush hour traffic, I could see all the Porsche buildings, signs, flags, and the famous ‘assembly line bridge’ that crosses over the street linking the body fabrication area, with the assembly line. I knew I would be fascinated by the Porsche assembly line process, and of course, as a certified ‘Porscheholic’, the cars would provide that extra thrill. The excitement was intensifying, yet I knew how special this moment was, and I deliberately moved slowly, savouring the moment!
I was astounded to see a plethora of 911’s, Boxters and Caymans merely ‘lounging’ in the rain behind one of the Porsche buildings. Apparently, by government decree, only 7% of production cars can be used for road testing, and these particular cars were part of that fleet.
As it was grey and misty outside, it would have been impossible to adequately photograph the external essence of the very unique Porsche museum. However, just across the street, I discovered Porsche Zentrum Stuttgart, the Porsche factory sales division. 
It is probably the most luxurious Porsche dealership I have ever seen, filled with a complement of all the latest models, with many remarkable, fully optioned cars on display. Because of the 19% German sales tax, I believe the prices are actually lower in Canada. I wandered about, ‘killing time’ before the museum opened.

The adjacent streets were crawling with various 911’s having had routine maintenance performed. I saw a gorgeous 996 GT2 roll out of the service department, and stop ideally in front of the museum, while awaiting the traffic light.

Promptly at 9 o’clock, we entered the Porsche museum, the most pristine, Teutonic facility imaginable. Luxurious, with exquisite marble surfaces, the museum is truly a spectacular architectural facility. The subtle lighting is designed for photography, and to show every nuance of the cars’ design. In the hushed awe that the exhibit inspired, every visitor was rabidly clicking away!



We showed our Porsche Club of America membership cards and were given free entry, thus saving €8 per person. I later returned the money by buying two Metropole Blue Porsche key fobs!


Since the factory tour began at 10 AM, we had almost a full hour to preview some of the magnificent cars on display in the museum. The cars are shown in chronological order in the evolution of the Porsche product line. We saw the very first Porsche car, and all subsequent variants thereafter.







Promptly, at 10 AM, we met in a group of approximately 15 people, and before leaving for the factory, all of our cameras and cell phones were collected, and placed in a plastic container until our return. We walked through various security gates, and entered the original, expanded plant in Zuffenhausen. Quaintly, one of the early


Reuter brick buildings is still maintained as a historical site where production of the 356 took place, in the 50’s. As demand increased, the plant grew to its present size. It is now maximized, as the area surrounding the factory has become a residential area, and further expansion is impossible. As well, only two shifts are permitted in this urban, populated area. All 911 production takes place here, though there were a few Boxsters coming down the line as well. However, most Boxster variants are made in the larger, Volkswagen Osnabruck plant. It is well known that this unique ‘split model’ assembly line was initiated with the help of Toyota consultation, in concert with ‘just in time’ parts distribution.


We were not given access to the body production facility, a highly robotic, precise assembly line, nor did we see the newly integrated paint factory, a €200 M ecological masterpiece! These are best viewed on a series of YouTube videos!


In our group, I immediately connected with two British gentlemen of my age, one of whom had a Porsche GT3. They live in Stevenage, a town in the industrial belt of England’s midlands. In the 70’s, I spent much of a year in England, riding Vincent motorcycles, which were manufactured in this very town. This created an immediate bond between us, and we laughed and joked throughout the tour, enjoying their wonderful, easy-going British humour. 
As the tour was ending, they mentioned, that like us, they planned to visit the Mercedes Museum in the afternoon. I still wanted to spend more time in the museum with the Porsche cars, and they offered to return in one and a half hours, and we could drive to the the Mercedes Museum in their car. This was a divine opportunity for us, as the subway or taxi drive could take close to an hour, and since we had a 6 o’clock train to catch for our return to Munich, the visit to the MB museum would have been compromised. (more on this later!)
I had seen the Porsche assembly-line on YouTube, National Geographic MegaFactories. However, to witness the assembly process, literally within 5 feet of where I stood, was astounding. As an industrial designer and craftsman, I associated clearly with the design and fabrication process, and I have such respect for the engineers who conceive these very complex, well integrated pieces of machinery. The craftsmanship, the assembly sequence, and the multiple quality checks throughout the process are remarkable. Clearly, much of the elevated cost of these automobiles is the result of this extensive quality control.
Throughout the plant, robot sleds silently glide along the shop floor, ferrying parts to the various assembly stations. Each variant of car requires a specific collection of parts, and individualized baskets of parts are hand loaded in the general parts department. Once the sled is loaded, and bar coded, it follows the evolving car for which it is intended, supplying the unique parts as required, in precise sequence of assembly.
I marvelled at the engine assembly process. To see the bowels of the engine become enveloped in the crankcase, and all the attendant parts applied thereafter, was very dramatic. Watching the cylinder heads being assembled, with valves, springs, keepers and cams being inserted, was magical! It happened so fast.
It was fascinating to see the cars being created from the inside outwards, almost like looking at an exploded view parts drawing. All of the parts are pristine, dry, and free of fluids. The assembly is very logical, and one sees the ‘layers of the onion’ being created, gradually encapsulating the core of the automobile. The most dramatic moment occurs during the ‘marriage’ of the assembled body, and the engine, transmission and all suspension components, thus unifying the two separate assembly lines. Thereafter, a full car emerges, and moves down the line for further detail installations, as well as fluids, and eventual dynamometer testing.
As I watched this relentlessly moving line, I became very aware of the the reverse process encountered in the ‘real’ world. The ‘deconstruction’ of the onion!
Last year, one of the radiators on my car needed replacement. To access this part, the bumper was removed, with multiple clips and fasteners. There was some inner ducting to remove as well, thus exposing the air conditioner and radiator, both covered in road grime and organic detritus. Once cleaned, hoses were disconnected, fluids leaked, the heavy, fluid filled radiator was removed, and a new radiator was installed. Thereafter, the reassembly process began. It took over 3 hours to complete. Standing on the shop floor, five feet from the assembly line, as the next car approached, I saw a cart magically appear bearing a right and left radiator. Clean and light, the mechanic positioned them one handed, and inserted the bolts to hold them in place. It took less than a minute to do so! Imagine the enormous task a mechanic faces in removing an engine, and then rebuilding it. I now have so much greater respect for this skill and the difficulty of such a project.

While touring the factory, I was terribly frustrated by the ban on photography, as I knew this unique experience would soon end, and much of the exquisite visual detail would be forgotten. Fortunately, the museum had no such restrictions.


The Porsche museum is truly marvellous. To see the evolution of the iconic cars that evolved from the fertile mind of Ferdinand Porsche, and to witness the skill of the craftsmen who built them, one at a time, was really inspiring. The racing cars were magnificent. I have followed auto racing all of my adult life, reading Road & Track as a teenager. Though I was familiar with photos and models of many classic Porsches, to see and touch some of these famous, triumphant cars in their pristine physicality, was really a wonderful, magical experience.













As we left the Porsche facility, I was overjoyed, confident that the images of the tour are now indelibly etched into my memory. Furthermore, I am proud and grateful that I was able to overcome the inertia of inactivity, and make this long held dream a reality. My ‘bucket list’ is now shorter.
Joseph Lapin


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