Chassis 300.057, now on display at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. Photos courtesy Porsche AG.
“What’s in a name,” Shakespeare asked, and in the case of the Porsche 901, the answer was a copyright dispute with French automaker Peugeot. The Porsche model was renamed the 911, but not until after a total of 82 cars—including pre-production examples—had been built. Among the rarest of early 911 models—even the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, lacked an example of a rebranded 901—chassis 300.057, a 901/911 “barn find,” forms the basis of the museum’s latest exhibit, after a three-year restoration.
In September 1963, Porsche showed a pre-production 901 at the Frankfurt Motor Show. A year later, assembly began in Zuffenhausen on September 14, 1964, and on October 3, the production version made its world debut at the Paris Motor Show. On the opening day, Peugeot sent a letter to Porsche, advising that it held a French copyright on the use of number “0” in the middle position of an automobile’s name. Porsche was free to call its new model the 901 in other markets, but as built and badged, it could not be sold in France.
The first solution explored was calling the car the 901 G.T., cleverly circumventing Peugeot’s copyright by simply extending the name. The lengthened moniker, however, would no longer fit on literature and marketing materials, prompting the decision to change the model from 901 to 911. Production was halted on October 10, 1964, and with the matter resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, it resumed on November 9. While some cars left the factory badged as 901s (including perhaps, a few delivered to retail customers), the remainder, like the example now housed in the Porsche Museum, were built as 901s and then rebadged in Zuffenhausen as 911s.
Chassis 300.057 was discovered in 2014 somewhat by accident, when a German television crew filming a program on antiques and collectibles stumbled across the car—and a second early 911—in a dusty outbuilding. Uncertain of what they’d found, aside from a pair of five-decade-old Porsches, the crew contacted the Porsche Museum for additional details on both vehicles. Research revealed that chassis 300.57 was one of the cars built before the name change from 901 to 911, making it a particularly desirable example for the Stuttgart museum. An offer was made to purchase both cars, and once in-house, a comprehensive restoration of 300.057 began.
As Flatsixes.com explains, restoring the 901 proved challenging, even for Porsche. Rust had eaten through numerous body panels, and subtle differences existed between the 901 and later production 911s. Before the car could be restored, it was necessary to determine what parts could be replaced from new old stock, what could be sourced from donor cars and what needed to be fabricated entirely by hand. Wherever possible, components were restored rather than replaced to preserve as much of the car’s originality as possible.
On December 14, 2017, the now-restored 901-turned-911 made its debut at the Porsche Museum, forming the basis of a special exhibit titled 911 (901 No. 57)—A Legend Takes Off, slated to run through April 8, 2018. For more information, visit Porsche.com/Museum/En.