Porsches From the Past – The Solituderennen

Solitude. In English its meaning conjures up images of isolation and loneliness, however on the west side of the city of Stuttgart, Solitude is something else; a castle.  Schloss Solitude was originally built as a hunting lodge and retreat for the Duke of Württemberg around 1764, and as its name implies it was a place of reflection and quiet.

With the invention of the automobile and motorcycle around the turn of the 20th century, the peace and quiet of Schloss Solitude and its grounds were replaced with the sounds of screaming, high pitched engines.  Schloss Solitude became a racetrack!

For 30 years, the 11.3 kilometers “Solituderennen” south of the castle was used for World Championship motorcycle Grand Prix racing. During the brief period from 1961 to 1965, non-championship Formula 1 races were also held along with the motorcycle races. Drivers of the likes of John Surtees, Jim Clark, Dan Gurney and Jack Brabham all competed there.  At one point, during the heyday of the Solitude races, crowds of 288,000 spectators weren’t uncommon. In 1966 it all ended.

If you ever visit Stuttgart, you can still drive the route of the Solitude circuit since it’s all public roads.  Little however is left of the original circuit other than the timing and scoring tower “Zeitnehmerhaus” an oval shaped tower with Mercedes Benz and Bosch displayed on it, and the ghosts of racing legends blowing through the trees.

Porsche experienced great success at the race.  In 1956 German greats; Hans Hermann, Wolfgang Berghe von Trips, and Richard von Frankenberg campaigned the great 550 Spyder to victory.

The Timing and Scoring Tower

In 1961, von Trips driving the Ferrari 156 F2 beat Hans Hermann in the Porsche 718. In 1962, American Dan Gurney and Swede Joakim Bonnier each driving Porsche 804’s took first and second respectively. 1964 saw Dutchman Ben Pon and German Rolf Stommelen each driving Porsche 904 GTS’s  sweep first and second. The last race of 1965 was won by Gerhard Mitter in a Porsche 904/8 Spyder.  A wonderful series of victories for Porsche and in their own backyard.

With the checkered flag, it was all over.  The circuit became a victim of safety concerns for both the drivers and spectators.  It was simply too narrow with no run off areas.

The Solitude Circuit


1956 Hans Hermann in the Porsche 550 Spyder. Photo: Porsche AG



Porsches From the Past – The 550 Spyder at LeMans 1955

The 550 Spyder at LeMans 1955

Introduced at the Paris Auto Show in 1953, the 550 RS Spyder, was Porsche’s first model designed specifically for racing. The 550 wore a lightweight aluminum body and held a powerful 1500cc, four cam power engine.  Their successes lead to the moniker of “giant killers”.

The 550 first arrived at Le Mans in 1953 and returned en masse in 1955. The Spyder was awarded The Index of Performance for the car with best combined speed and economy in the entire race field in the 1955 race. There was a combination of factory or “werks” teams and several privateers at the race. To the great Italian marques, Porsche was a threat.  Their results of 4th, 5th and 6th positions overall and first in class against a field of more powerful cars won them respect and a bit of angst from the Italian giants.

The 1955 race was a tragic race.  It’s famous for one thing, the crash where Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes crashed into the crowd, killing more than 80. Mercedes Benz retired and quit racing for years as a result.  In this video you see the smoking wreckage in the background as shot from the Porsche garage.

The incident led to the widespread introduction of safety measures to protect both drivers and spectators, not only at the circuit but tracks worldwide.

We in the USA know the Porsche Spyder as the car actor James Dean was driving when he collided with a station wagon and died.  It’s a great car with a great and storied heritage.  Hopefully you can see one in person at the 59th Porsche Parade in Monterey this June.