The Porsches that time forgot

North Carolina may claim preeminence in the arts of pulled-pork barbeque, collegiate basketball and stock-car racing, but an order of Porsches served extra-rare will get the attention of even car-culture agnostics.

Porsche by Design: Seducing Speed puts 22 Porsche sports and racing cars inside the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA), in the state’s capital city of Raleigh, through 20 January 2014.

Any question of the suitability of automobiles to fine art museums should be long-settled. A concept inaugurated in 1951 by New York’s Museum of Modern Art, with its show 8 Automobiles, car-centric exhibitions have long since asserted their place in temples to aesthetics.

The NCMA exhibition includes a number of exceedingly rare cars, such as the sole complete example of the Type 64 of 1938. The 22 cars were specifically selected because they each reflected more than a single aspect of the company’s rich heritage, according to guest curator Ken Gross.

The cars are congregated in Raleigh, rather than a more obvious setting such as the Guggenheim New York (which created the hugely popular Art of the Motorcycle exhibit in 1998), because NCMA managing curator Barbara Wiedemann toured the local Ingram Collection of classic Porsches in 2010, and convinced the museum’s director to make the effort needed to attract the appropriate cars for an exhibition. Build it and they will come, as it were.

It helped that the Ingram Collection deigned to loan five cars for the display, but when Gross and Wiedemann were able to convince Porsche (whose US headquarters is in Atlanta, Georgia) to provide four more critical examples of the breed, it confirmed that this gathering would be one for the ages.

Consider that among the cars is the company’s progenitor, that lone Type 64, which was built for the 1938 Berlin-to-Rome race; the company’s first production car, the Type 356 Gmund Coupe (named for the Austrian village where the first Porsches were built); and the classic Type 550 prototype.

“Of all the cars in our exhibit, the one that excites me the most is the Type 64,” said Gross in an interview for the excellent short documentaries that accompany the exhibition. “It must have appeared like a space ship to people in 1938.”

Wiedemann is fond of  the mid-engine 904, a car that is often compared to the subsequent Ferrari Dino. “I can't look at the beautiful silver fiberglass-bodied 1965 Type 904/6 without wanting to caress it,” she said.

Ultimately, those classic founding members led to the 200mph 959 of 1988 and the low-enough-to-trip-over Type 980 Carerra GT of 2005.

These cars and more would make a pilgrimage to Raleigh an  order of necessity this winter, before the cars return to their owners. For those who cannot justify the trip, though, the museum has published an exhaustive accompanying book.