The era of off-road vehicles was started at Porsche by an order for the army. Today, the first off-road is a gem.
The Macan EV has been buzzing lately. It is not surprising, because together with the larger Cayenne, it is the best-selling model series of the Porsche brand. In short, sports brands that included SUVs in their portfolio saw an immediate increase in sales. Ferrari and Lamborghini could tell. Lamborghini had tried all-wheel drive and off-road bodywork earlier with the LM002, but Porsche had already developed the idea in the early 1950s.
Similar to the Mercedes G-Class, which also became the jewel of the brand, the first spark to start development was an army order. This time for the domestic Bundeswehr, which required a light all-terrain vehicle with high throughput and a simple design for easy maintenance.
On January 19, 1953, Porsche came out with the prototype 597, nicknamed the Jagdwagen (hunting wagon), for which the forest terrain was its homeland. It is interesting that both competing designs – Goliath Type 31 and DKV Munga, which won the contract – had almost identical shapes. Nevertheless, the Porsche 597 looks proportionally the most balanced of them all. Perhaps that’s why these shapes were pulled a decade later when the West German military needed a passenger car, which was then sold on the mainstream market as the Volkswagen Type 181 and “The Thing” in the US. But that’s another story. The Volkswagen 181 was produced in Wolfsburg, while the first batch of 597s were bodied by Porsche and later by Karmann.
At first, the car used the 1500 engine, later it received a more powerful 1600 from the Porsche 356 A with a power of 37 kW and a torque of 105 Nm connected to a modified four-speed gearbox. All-wheel drive went to assign while driving. This combination helped tremendously. Thanks to the short wheelbase, the Jagdwagen was able to climb hills with an incline of 65 percent at 1,000 rpm. During development, the prototypes drove about 5,800 km. Independent suspension with telescopic shock absorbers helped them off-road. The car weighed only 870 kg and carried a quarter of a ton of cargo. Thanks to the monocoque body with high sides, he was also a capable swimmer, so deep fords did not cause him problems.
In the end, Porsche did not win the contract. According to the commission, the interior was shielded and the rear-mounted engine with fuel tank did not give the impression of safety. Also, production costs were higher compared to the competition.
Although Porsche did not win the tender, the 597 was valued. It exhibited it at the Geneva Motor Show in 1955 and produced 71 examples between 1955 and 1958 – 22 for the military and 49 in civilian versions. This means that each specimen is extremely rare, but not incalculable. On August 20, one piece from 1955 was sold for CZK 15.26 million.