To many Americans, Stuttgart is not known for its tourist attractions, its US military bases, its rich cultural heritage, its splendid woods and parks, its wine festivals, or its tennis tournaments.

Rather it's celebrated as the home of two of the world's most famous and enduring sports car marques...Mercedes Benz and Porsche.

As a result, every year thousands of "motor-heads" flock to Stuttgart's outlying conurbations of Untertürkheim, Sindelfingen and Zuffenhausen to tour company manufacturing facilities and touch and smell the automotive icons...and, if their pockets are deep enough, to pick up one of the latest models.

Thirty five years ago, contributing editor Roger Holliday lived in Stuttgart, worked at the Porsche factory in Zuffhausen...and was caught up in the mystique...

...Stuttgart in the early sixties was a heady place for a 20 year-old Brit.

The city was hard at work rebuilding itself after almost total destruction by Allied bombs. And while day-to-day living was pretty tough - just enough D-marks left each week for a Dinkelacker or two at the local Hofbräu or a mystery movie on the Königstrasse - the Swabian well-deserved reputation for tenacity and frugality was turning things around...

"Work, work and build a house. Sell the dog and bark yourself!..." In the northern suburb of Zuffhausen on tramline #5, the workers at the House of Porsche were toiling, too. Handbuilding and selling 25 cars a day to a growing number of international clients.

Apparently a $3200 price tag and six months waiting list wasn't enough to deter real enthusiasts looking for a race-proven driver's car and German precision and quality.

Mine was the heavy responsibility of handing over these marvelous machines to Americans and other "foreigners" - very much a case of a cat watching a king, as monarchs and musicians, doctors and jet jockeys, artists and film stars, boxers and businessmen placed their famous posteriors in one of our bucket seats and drove out of the factory gates to further fame...or ignominy. I saw potentates like Hussein of Jordan and Juan Carlos of Spain, screen queen Elke Sommer, world boxing champ Ingemar Johansson, conductor Herbert von Karajan and actor Jose Ferrer.

For a youngster weaned on motor sports, the excitement of life in the firm was tangible. Not only did my duties include driving a 'hot works' Porsche to town every morning for registration and customs purposes (wow!) and demonstrating its handling characteristics to my customers on our autobahn and race track (whew!), but I was also in proximity to many of my sporting idols... Wolfgang von Trips and von Hanstein... Jo Bonnier and Dennis Jenkinson...Graham Hill and Dan Gurney, who married one of the secretaries in the press department...Eddie Barth and Stirling Moss..and even rally driver Rolf Wuthrich, who was James Dean's mechanic and with him at the time of his fatal crash.

But the real stars of those days were the cars themselves - the ultimate expression of German craftsmanship - with names and numbers that have become giants of automotive lore...Spyders, Speedsters, and RSKs and 904s, 356 Coupes and Carerras.

I went back to Zuffhausen again this year to see how much has really changed over the ensuing three decades.

Physically, much is still recognizable from those halcyon years. Even a few familiar faces. But Porsche is sadly going through tough times as the German economy tries to suck up and digest its newly acquired territory. Added to a world-wide recession, a bevy of Japanese rivals and some questionable boardroom strategies, Porsche sales have plummeted to unprecedented lows.

Given all this gloom and doom and rumors of imminent takeover, it was good to find that the spirit of the House of Porsche is very much alive and well.

You see it everywhere. In the neat precision of the assembly plant and body factory. In the rows of gleaming 911s and 928s and 968s awaiting delivery. In the sumptuous graphics of company brochures and magazines. In the museum that has expanded from four cars to 40. In the optimism of everyone from the gate keeper to the sales director.

I'm personally betting that this spirit will survive the current troubles and the genius of Ferdinand Porsche will continue to bring pleasure and excitement to new generations of sports car lovers the world over.

My question is... do the factory workers still down a liter of Dinkelacker for sour tripe still on the canteen menu...where in the world is Elke Sommer...and does anyone have a spare $50,000?

Visiting Mercedes and Porsche

It's possible to tour both the Porsche and Mercedes Benz factories and museums... even if you don't plan on buying a car.

The Mercedes-Benz Museum has a large and fascinating collection of antique and current commercial and passenger vehicles as well as race cars, record breakers, ship and aircraft engines. Admission is free.

Located at 136 Mercedesstrasse in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, the museum is open Tuesday-Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Mondays and bank holidays. Phone: 07 11/17 2 32 56.

You can also take a tour of the Untertürkheim factory beginning with a film that traces the development and production of the cars, followed by a bus ride through the most interesting parts of the manufacturing process.

The tour, which takes about 90 minutes, can be arranged through the Stuttgart tourists office at 0711/2228 236.

The Porsche Museum can be found in Porsche's Plant #2 in Zuffhausen.

Comprising some 40 cars, the exhibit traces the development of Porsche passenger and racing cars beginning with the very first type 356 Roadster built in 1948.

The museum is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1-4 p.m. Admission is free.

A visit to the museum could be combined with a factory tour which should be booked in advance through Porsche Press Department at 0711/827 5384.

Roger Holliday

November 1993