Few brands excite enthusiasts like Porsche. Constant refinement of its core product, and its ability to apply its DNA to new segments, means you don’t have to be a car person to appreciate what the brand stands for.
It also cashes in on its heritage like almost no-one else, calling on an overstuffed catalogue of legendary racers, road cars and concepts to create a steady stream of expensive, exclusive models that make collectors all frothy and excited.
On a recent trip to Germany with Michelin, one of Porsche’s long-running development partners, CarAdvice was given a chance to do just that, peeking behind the curtain at its factory in Stuttgart.
Any factory tour is interesting, but the chance to see how the magic happens at Porsche, how rear-engined dream machines are built, is something else entirely. Guide for the day is Martin Radi, a two-decade veteran of Porsche. Before becoming a tour guide, he worked in the engine shop on projects like the Carrera GT V10 (below) and 918 Spyder’s internal-combustion component.
He speaks fast and passionately, with his big hand gestures and unerringly positive tone giving his spiel the feel of a political rally. There’s no question he loves Porsche.
Stepping into the first building is like being granted access to Santa’s workshop. It’s a hive of activity, with autonomous trolleys jostling for position with red-shirted employees, tour groups and the occasional bike.
Some factories are dead silent and so clean you could eat from the floor. Touring the Haval and Great Wall facility in Baoding was a mostly silent affair, with workers shuffling wordlessly around cars. Porsche’s plant doesn’t have that feel.
Cars are assembled by teams of 12, and there’s a five minute production line stoppage every hour for staff to grab a drink, use the bathroom or check their phones. The entire assembly line grinds to a halt and takes a collective breath, before the machine starts rolling again.
There are two shifts, with the factory running from 6am to 9:15pm on weekdays, and everything that comes out is hand-assembled. There are 118 stations in total, and it takes around 7.5 hours to completely assemble a car. There’s no escaping once production starts, either – Radi uses the phrase “no way back, no way out” to describe the process. Ominous.
At the end of the first line, cars are picked up by a giant machine, rotated 180 degrees and dropped to a separate floor for the all-important marriage between powertrain and chassis. The body always faces forward during construction, suspended overhead as the corresponding driveline rolls beneath on an automated sled.
It’s incredible seeing the car’s engine and cooling system rolling along unburdened by a body, autonomously powered by an electric, self-driving trolley. It’s also amazing how simply the chassis is mated with the body, too.
Peer into a Porsche’s engine bay, and it looks like the engine is stuffed in there with barely a millimetre to spare. I’d imagined fitting it in would be a tricky affair, but the engine body drops smoothly onto the chassis, at which point teams of two set about connecting them with 55 screws.
Cars sweep overhead after the ‘marriage’. The wheels are installed, the electrics are tested, and cars are taken downstairs for a proper test. Protection is attached to the wheels and extremities, and test drivers take the cars out for a quick spin to 100 per cent confirm everything works correctly.
If the car requiring a shakedown is 911 GT3 or GT3 RS, Martin jokes, maybe that quick spin is a little bit longer. Even test drivers crave wheel time in the hottest Porsche models, apparently.
Interestingly, the GT3 (and RS) roll along the same line as the regular 911 and 718. The new Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder will be built in Zuffenhausen as well, but the Cayenne, Panamera and Macan are built at a facility in Leipzig.
There’s more to the Porsche plant than just the production line. There’s the engine plant, where the beating heart of every 911 and 718 is hand-assembled by a swarm of technicians, each fastidiously selecting parts from a trolley. Three trolleys go into every engine, for those playing along at home.
It’s quieter in the engine area. Maybe it’s because the task requires more focus, maybe it’s because engine-making Porsche engineers are less chatty than their car-assembling counterparts. Whatever the reason, there’s something immensely satisfying about watching people go about their work so carefully.
The day we visited, the target was 260 completed engines. The team was only on track to complete 251. I’d love to tell you if they rallied and got it done but there was more to see, and not much time to see it.
Next stop is the leather workshop. It smells like an expensive furniture store, but there are no snooty salespeople trying to sell you a new chaise lounge. Huge, dyed hides are draped over a rack, and a technician (a hide engineer? leatherworker? upholsterer? I didn’t ask for a business card) scans them one-by-one, marking spots that don’t meet Porsche’s standards on a computer program.
Only 50 per cent of the hide is considered good enough, apparently. The rest is recycled. I’m picturing Porsche engineers packaging it up, snagging a Sharpie and scrawling ‘Mercedes-Benz’ across the top, and then dropping it on the doorstep of head office on Mercedes-Benz Straße, in the hope they’ll use it. I never said it was a clever picture, or a good one.
Those bits are then cut from the hides with a high-pressure water cutter. It operates at 2000bar, Radi tells us proudly. What can we say, the man really loves Porsche. And high-pressure water cutters.
Once the leather has been cut, it’s over to another leather-working-person to actually make it into something usable in a car. The leather samples are like giant puzzles, and it’s their job to work out how to extract large pieces like a dashboard trim from a relatively small amount of leather.
Selected and shaped, the leather is then sent to people working at industrial sewing machines, who choose from a rainbow of colourful twine options and expertly stitch it through the leather. All of these things sound relatively mundane, but our tour group is transfixed throughout.
We’re all nerds, of course.
I could go on, and ramble about the windscreen laminating station and the robotic machine responsible for spraying glue on the glass and the new factory coming for the Taycan, but you get the idea. There’s enough nerdy details to keep even the most discerning enthusiasts engaged for hours, but time is tight.
Martin’s still telling war stories as we wander from the factory back to the Porsche Museum’s foyer, hands waving and eyes blazing. He’s a great advocate for the company, and the way it looks after its employees.
Apparently, anyone who’s good enough to make it through the internship program is offered a contract for life, and for a brief moment all four members of our tour group consider applying. It’s that sort of place.
If you’re ever in Stuttgart, make sure you get along to the Porsche factory. And try to track down Martin while you’re there. You won’t regret it.