1951 Rolf Wütherich possessed the kinds of skills Ferry Porsche was seeking for his nascent business
A 22-year old mechanic and aircraft technician, in 1951 Rolf Wütherich possessed the kinds of skills Ferry Porsche was seeking for his nascent business. Within weeks he was part of a small group developing a new transaxle for Porsche’s own gearbox, a component urgently needed because the stock VW item was failing under the increasing torque of Porsche’s flat fours.
Total 911 recounts the story behind a famous picture from Porsche’s past…
As the first full-time employee of the racing department, Rolf ’s enthusiasm stood out and in April 1955 he was despatched to the US to assist Herbert Linge. There, like Herbert, he was soon involved in not just servicing and demonstrating cars, but in teaching drivers how to get the most from Porsche’s synchromesh gearbox. He was in the Spyder with James Dean when the actor was killed in a road accident. Rolf was badly injured and spent several weeks in hospital.
After four years in America, Rolf returned to Zuffenhausen in 1959. There, he met Peter Falk who had just joined Porsche from Mercedes. Despite their different backgrounds (Peter was a Daimler-Benz engineering graduate), bound by their love of racing the two became friends, working together in their spare time on competition cars owned by friends.
Rolf had amazing ‘feel’ for a car. It was said he could identify a mechanical fault simply by listening and it was as a race mechanic when he was happiest, working all night to rebuild a gearbox for his friend Günther Klass. Rolf was much involved with the 904’s competition career, riding as mechanic in the 1964 Tour de France where he and Günther came fourth, and in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally where he finished second with Eugen Böhringer. The above photo shows Rolf and Günther (at the wheel) in the latter’s 911S in the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally, where they came 1st in class and 17th of 73 finishers. Rally specialist and Mercedes works driver Eugen had been poached from Mercedes by Huschke von Hanstein. Afterwards, Rolf was able to give Porsche precise feedback and Eugen’s observations on his usual steed, the Mercedes-Benz 230SL W113 – a 911 competitor.
Rolf could be a difficult colleague. People said the James Dean accident, for which he needlessly blamed himself, had affected him. Today, he’d probably be diagnosed as a depressive. Rolf also had an eye for the ladies, but if a woman spurned him he could become aggressive, it was said. His impulsiveness would cost him his job when he was imprisoned for assaulting his second wife. His application on release to re-join Porsche was rejected and in angry disbelief he marched into Ferry’s office, only to be thrown off the premises. He subsequently disappeared, and it was only by chance that in 1981 Peter Falk spotted a local newspaper report that said Rolf had been killed in a road accident at Heilbronn. Peter was one of only three Porsche employees who attended the funeral of a man he calls “a tragic figure.