Back when I sat down for a couple of pints of craft beer and an interview with Porsche tuner Magnus Walker and his wife Karen, there was a very rare Porsche on display resting nearby. While my focus remained on Walker and his wife, at one point I couldn’t help but pry him for some details on the little machine — at which point Magnus smiled at me and said I should probably go talk to the vehicle’s caretaker, Rory Ingram.
For those of you who are not familiar, Rory is the son of infamous Porsche collector Bob Ingram, who since the late 1990s has collected and restored Porsches in such a fervid fashion that the Ingram family now owns one of the most impressive private collections in the world. Luckily, I was able to catch Rory’s ear for a moment that day in order to ask a few questions about the 1961 Porsche Type 356B 1600 Carrera GTL Abarth Coupe seen here, which happens to be one of the rarest German vehicles in the world. After some additional research on our own end, here’s what we were able to gather about this insanely obscure slice of classic European engineering.
The Carrera-Abarth was an aluminum-bodied collaboration coupe that was based upon the Porsche 356B chassis. It was only manufactured from 1960-1961, and according to Porsche specialist Bill Ousler, came into existence as a result of an FIA racing loophole. Apparently rules at the time defined a car on the basis of its chassis and running gear, rather than basing everything on the definition of the body, so Porsche took the 356B chassis and running gear, a four-cam Carrera engine, and put a lightweight aluminum body in place of the stock steel shell. Today, Carrera Abarths remain some of the rarest Porsches of all time, with production runs only spanning serial numbers that ranged from 1001 to 1021.
Tale has it that when exploring the aforementioned racing loophole, that the project was brought to fruition thanks to Ferry Porsche’s friend Carlo Abarth, who ended up landing the coveted role as the car’s contracted project manager. A Scaglione design ultimately emerged as the winning body-style, and even though to this day no one really knows who actually built the 21 aluminum models, their flawless lines house both sensuality and swiftness all in one flawless form. The Carrera-Abarth supposedly only weighs 1,762 pounds, and once outfitted with a Porsche four-speed gearbox and a four-cylinder engine that produces around 140 horsepower, this little coupe began to own the track faster than you can say, “wunderbar!”
Early incarnations came with a Type 692/3 engine that produced around 115 horsepower from a 1.6 liter motor, which was later upgraded to a Type 692/3A unit that offered 20 more horsepower. To make the vehicle more aerodynamic, the rake of the roofline was reduced by five inches over the standard 356B, making the interior a tad cramped, and being a race car it was also quite bare bones. Unintended for anyone over six feet tall, the Ingram’s Carrera-Abarth features a few key interior focuses, like those well bolstered performance seats, an aluminum dashboard, Schroth racing harnesses, a wooden shift knob, and a beefy steering wheel for improved control on the track.
But upgrades aside, track prowess was already apparent at Le Mans back in the day when the coupe first emerged, as the factory entry placed eleventh overall and took the all-important class win after its first race. This feat was repeated both in 1961 and in 1962, thus proving that by significantly reducing the front-end drag coefficient the vehicle could be both reliable and swift.
The Porsche’s lines were reportedly influenced by both Abarth himself and famed Italian coachbuilder Zagato, even though little documentation exists showing who actually built the bodies. Featuring a sumptuously sculpted flare toward the back-end arch that feeds into a fully functional rear deck that is also equal parts aesthetic art, the Carrera-Abarth retains a strong emphasis on cooling due to its mid-engine design, even coming complete with an adjustable rear scoop for additional air induction. This last point I found particularly interesting, because for as rare as these little coupes are, at the end of the day they remain race cars and being purpose-built, the majority of them have been raced (and wrecked) over the past 55 years.
In person, it’s quite the captivating creation with its swooping lines, low roofline, heavily vented rear bonnet, and protruding 2-to-1 exhaust capturing the majority of attention. It’s no wonder that even back in 1960, famed German automotive journalist Heinz-Ulrich Wieselmann predicted that the GTL Carrera-Abarth was “already an enthusiast’s carriage of the first magnitude,” and that one day it would “only be found in a few isolated examples in the hands of real connoisseurs.” The long-deceased German went on at great length about the vehicle, with a quote of his regarding Carrera-Abarth ownership serving as an outro to this exclusive piece on Porsche history.
“They’ll care for it, polish it and drive it amongst everyday cars secure in the knowledge that they possess a product of technical delicacy that’s enveloped in romance.”