Classic car auction house RM Sotheby’s is planning to auction off a remarkable piece of automotive history: the first official Porsche car. Expected to go for around $20 million at the Monterey auction, the car is the third Porsche Type 64, from around 1939. Its story is interesting to say the least.

Ferdinand Porsche’s design bureau started work on the then Volkswagen Type 60 K10 in the spring of 1939. Based on the KdF-Wagen, which was later to be developed into the Volkwagen Beetle, it was meant to compete in the Berlin to Rome Rally, planned for the autumn of the same year.

To make the most of the limited horsepower (35 BHP) provided by the 1,1 liter engine, Porsche had his technician Josef Mickl calculate an optimal aerodynamic shape. These calculations provided the basis for a design by Erwin Komenda. Characteristic of the design were the covered wheel-arches. The front wheel-covers were equipped with rollers on the inside, allowing the wheels to turn when steering. As in the later Beetle, the engine was in the back, behind the rear axle. To allow for the narrow roof, it was necessary to move the driver’s seat more to the middle of the car. This in turn meant a smaller passenger’s seat, offset to the back.

© Arthur Fenzlau / Technisches Museum Wien

For the Type 64, the engine’s power was slightly raised, to 40 BHP. The streamlined body was made from aluminium. Its relatively light weight, low drag body meant that the Type 64 is expected to have been able to reach about 145 km/h. However, because of the outbreak of WWII, the Berlin-to-Rome race was cancelled. Instead, the Porsche family used the cars themselves. One was crashed in 1939, another was kept in storage, yet another was used as a courier car – depending on source. What seems clear, is that of a possible three cars built, only one survived for any time after the war. It was this car, No.3 that was eventually to be the first Porsche car.

Porsche Types 64 built, fate and characteristics

Ferry Porsche, Ferdinand’s son, had the car restored in 1947, before selling it in 1949 to Otto Mathé as a Volkswagen Sport, type 64. Originally a motorcycle racer, Mathé lost the use of his right hand in an accident in 1934. Because of this, he had the car adapted to his needs. He raced it – hard – throughout the rest of the 1940’s and 1950’s, including a win in class in the Austrian Alpin Rally in 1950. He owned the car to his death in 1995, aged 88. The car then changed hands a couple of times, before landing on the auction block this August.

1950 June 24, Grossglockner, Austrian International Alpine Rally.
© Arthur Fenzlau / Technisches Museum Wien

Type 64 No.2, first bought by Mathé for parts, was later restored and now belongs in a museum. Unless you have $20 million in spare cash lying around, the best bet you have of seeing the prototype Porsche in real life is by going to Hamburg. There the 2011 ‘replica’ is shown in a very distinguished black.

It is rather pretty
Owner Mathé on the left. Note the engine behind the rear axle.
1951 June 16, Austrian International Alpine Rally. Mathé didn’t finish the rally.

For more automotive beauty pics, go to the Sotheby’s website. They don’t seem too keen on sharing them, but they are quite beautifully shot.