Mixing old style with a modern twist is a trend in the automotive world. Mini has based an entire brand on it, and just how many derivations of Fiat 500 are actually reminiscent of the original? Both owe their existence to originals designed to get their respective homelands mobile for cheap, but now cost hefty cash, no matter how you look at it.
One car that has managed to stay closer to its roots is the Porsche 911. Refined over nearly six decades, the 911’s engine-at-the-back, go-like-stink recipe remains one of the most intoxicating out there.
Of course, over those six decades it has evolved. You’ll stand a good chance of surviving a crash in the current 992-generation car, for example. You can use Apple CarPlay to keep up to date with chums on the move, there’s more space than before, and its handling is a little less tail-happy than that of early cars.
Porsche’s approach is to build on what’s come before, yet still make sure that it’s instantly recognisable as a Porsche. Pop the new 911 next to any of its predecessors and you can see they’re related, even if the latest car is larger than before. While Porsche’s famous flat-six engine remains, it now comes with turbo assistance to give more power and better fuel economy.
Yet it’s not just the 911 that has been given a thorough modernisation by Porsche. Its Leipzig plant, approximately half way between Frankfurt and Berlin, is at the forefront of pushing the company forward. It was originally built to produce the firm’s first Cayenne SUVs (widely credited with helping to save the company) and now kitted out for the Panamera saloon and Macan SUV.
That isn’t all it produces, though, for over the years it has been asked to help with other projects, some of which lie outside the automotive sphere. One of the most interesting being a church organ.
Naturally, this needed to be seen, so a 444bhp 911 Carrera 4S was procured and a 1,200-mile round trip to Leipzig planned.
UK motorways seem a little rough for it, with plenty of tyre noise finding its way into the cabin. Otherwise it’s comfy as you like. The Burmeister sound system wafts the dulcet tones of the Adam Buxton Podcast pleasantly, while the air con ensures the cabin is just so.
In Europe it happily cruises along, though, just going about the business of being ‘a car’. France, Belgium, and the Netherlands all trundle by punctuated by Buxton’s probing questioning of his various guests.
Germany is a different matter, however. Germany has the Autobahnen motorways where, as long as you don’t drive like a moron, you can go as quickly as you like without getting an earful from Das Plod.
With plenty of power on tap and a 190mph top speed, the temptation to stretch the 911’s legs proves a little too much to resist. Its turbocharged engine, mated to an eight-speed PDK gearbox, does the town and motorway stuff well, but putting pressure on it to fire you towards the horizon opens up another world of joy.
Flicking the drive select dial to Sport sharpens throttle and gearbox responses, priming the car to be angry. Flooring the throttle causes it to bolt forwards, seemingly incapable of running out of steam. High-speed fun done, it settles to a 120mph cruise with no issue at all. Funnily enough, the German leg of the journey passes quickly.
Porsche’s Leipzig factory is an impressive place. Spanning 1,000 acres, it produced 125,000 cars in 2018. It has an onsite Porsche Experience Centre, so clients and enthusiasts can sample the firm’s wares on its FIA-certified circuit. There’s a museum featuring some of Porsche’s most iconic models, too, so you can take a look at a Porsche Tractor between track sessions.
It’s all very impressive stuff, but what about this organ? Why did Porsche build it? Well, it was asked. When the factory sprung up around the turn of the century it invited locals to give it stuff to do, to ingratiate itself with the local community. Soon enough St Nicholas’ Church appeared and asked for an assist with its organ.
The Ladegast organ was originally built between 1858 and 1862 and is a huge centrepiece of the church. With 6,084 active pipes, five manuals and 103 registers, nearly 200 years of active service is going to take its toll.
Porsche donated €1.8 million (£1.6 million at current exchange rates) to the restoration, as well as a fair whack of time and labour to ensure the job was done correctly. It took three years and 45,000 man hours to fix and restore. This was not going to be any old refurb though; it was going to be a Porsche refurb.
Forget any image you may have of a traditional organ festooned with wood and tarnished pipes. This is what a Porsche would look like if it was, well, a musical instrument. The Weissach-designed console has a 911-hallmark five-dial display, is a picture in polished metal and sleek angles, and a perfect mix of Porsche design and musical heritage.
Unveiled to the world in 2004, it’s a good enough reason to make the trek to the church whether your deity is cars, Christ, or anything else.
The public can’t get close to the console, but from the church’s stunning floor they can easily see the array of pipes. The organ is the centrepiece of the church and it’s breathtaking to look at. With regular concerts performed by renowned organists from all over the world, Leipzig residents can hear it sing its finest on a regular basis.
After having a good look at the mix of old and new both at the Leipzig Porsche plant and St Nicholas’ Church, there’s plenty of time to ponder en route back to London. The 911, now festooned with mod cons to make life a little easier compared with its origin; the organ, shinier and smarter than before, yet still capable of rousing spirits in just the same way they did in times past.
Both old, yet both new. And both eminently impressive.
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