Remembering the humble start to a Porche careerWritten by Roger Holliday Claudia Fischer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
What does a travel scribe do when he turns 70?
He thanks his lucky genes … and his long-suffering wife … for getting him here. He looks forward to a few more trips that he can scribble about. And then he peers back 50 years to the day when a genial German came to dinner at his North London home … and changed his life forever!
The guest was Wolfgang Raether, a cousin of my mother’s. He also happened to be the sales manager of Porsche, in town to attend the annual Earls Court Motor Show where the latest company cars were being displayed.
Porsche in those days was nine-years-old with a workforce of 1,300 that turned out just 30 cars a day. But due to some highly original styling, rear engine configuration, meticulous hand fabrication and a very successful racing program, it had quickly amassed a passionate following — especially among the U.S. sports car set.
On the day that my “Onkel” Wolfgang showed up in London, I was a year out of boarding school and working a seemingly dead-end desk job processing orders for an oil company.
So when, after a substantial dinner, our guest suddenly said that he might be able to use a British chap like me in his Tourist Delivery Department, I jumped at the opportunity.
Tourist deliveries, he explained, allowed Porsche’s overseas customers — Americans and Brits mostly — to pick up new cars at the Stuttgart factory, use them on a driving vacation and then ship them home as “used vehicles,” with significant savings.
Letters were exchanged. A job was offered. And three months later — February 1960, actually— I packed the pannier of my 125cc Lambretta motor scooter with some precious possessions, kitted up in my warmest duffle coat and woolen scarf, strapped on crash helmet and goggles and followed my parents’ car to the edge of town.
A quick tearful goodbye and I was off, headed for Southern Germany and a new life, some 600 tortuous miles away.
Even through the foggy prism of five decades, a few highlights of that “scoot to Stuttgart” still remain. I remember, how crisp and cool it was as I rode south through the countryside. Sheep grazed in green fields. Birds twittered in the hedgerows. And villages with age-old church spires punctuated a bucolic landscape.
I also clearly remember wondering what I was doing leaving friends, family and the comforts of home for life in a strange new land, and then fighting a strong desire to turn the bike around!
I recall pushing my little scooter into the bowels of a Silver City Airways freight carrier, looking down on whitecaps as we crossed the English Channel and slip-sliding on notoriously slick Belgian cobble stones to my first overnight at a Brussels youth hostel, where I slept fitfully with my passport under the pillow. I remember, too, incessant rain on the German autobahn, being blown sideways and drenched with spray by every passing 18-wheeler and riding, maxed out at 50 mph, throttle wound tight, while peering through a tiny hole in the rain-spattered windscreen.
And how absolutely lost and alone I felt.
Everything turned out well in the end, of course. But there was still one more small sting in the tale to come. Due to a customs snafu, a trunk containing my “dress-up” clothes hadn’t arrived from London and I had nothing even remotely appropriate to wear for that all-important first day on the job.
Unfortunately, the bright green suit, the brown silk shirt and the pointy shoes that my obliging landlord managed to dig up were not exactly what sales manager Raether had in mind for the meeting and greeting of his important Porsche customers, and I was summarily sent back to my dreary room to await the trunk’s arrival. Not exactly the way I had planned to start my new and glamorous career at the House of Porsche!