The Porsche 911 is an elite car with a distinguished racing heritage. One retired CEO, whose hobby of collecting Porsches has turned into something approaching an obsession, celebrates the car’s 50th birthday in an interview with The Financialist.
The Porsche mystique is an enthralling one. For automotive enthusiasts, no other marque matches it – and that’s due mostly to a single model celebrating a big birthday this year.
The Porsche 911, introduced at the 1963 Frankfurt Auto Show, has now been around for a half-century. The 911’s popularity owes a lot to its status as a real-deal race car that excels at endurance events for which top-notch engineering is just as important as speed and handling. Porsche claims its cars have won more than 30,000 titles in all kinds of events, including more titles at the Sebring, Daytona and LeMans endurance races than any competitor. One iteration or another of the 911 has won many of the world’s major racing events, including the Monte Carlo Rally. Aesthetics matter, too. The 911’s iconic body, which has remained relatively unchanged, is an enduring testament to the car’s original designer, Ferdinand A. Porsche, who insisted that “design must be functional, and functionality must be translated into visual aesthetics, without any reliance on gimmicks that have to be explained.”
Even for car enthusiasts who can afford any Ferrari or Lamborghini, the 911’s racing chops and everyday utility hold a special allure. The market for used and restored Porsches is as vibrant as the one for new models, populated by passionate collectors willing to spend as much as $100,000 for a used 911 with plenty of wear.
Bob Ingram, who retired in 2002 as president and chief operating officer of GlaxoSmithKline, is one such collector. His affection for Porsche might fairly be described as an obsession. (And a hereditary one: it has captured two of his three sons as well.) Since the late 1990s, Ingram and his family have assembled, restored and displayed Porsche cars. The Ingram Collection in Durham, N.C., comprising about 35 911s, 356s and other Porsche models, has grown into one of the finest privately owned collections of its type in the world.
Ingram, 70, was raised by a single mother in a small Midwestern town. He worked his way through Eastern Illinois University, keeping the books for the local Chevrolet dealer. “I loved cars from the time I was 7 or 8,” he said. “My big dream was one day to own a Corvette.”
A few years later, as a pharmaceutical salesman in his late 20s, Ingram was invited by his boss and mentor for a ride in the latter’s new Porsche 911T. Back then, he had barely heard of Porsche. “After a half-hour or so, he pulls the car over and says, ‘You drive,’” he recalled. “I was pretty intimidated. I put the car in gear and immediately stalled it.” But Ingram’s boss was patient. The young salesman slowly got the hang of driving the rear-engine 911T, realizing it required skill and practice to drive it well. “This man, John Shipley, had taken a personal interest in me and my career. He explained what made the car special. I respected him so much I decided to learn everything I could.”
Following that first drive, Ingram announced to his wife that someday, he intended to own a Porsche 911, too. More than two decades passed. Ingram flourished in the pharmaceutical industry, eventually rising to become CEO at Glaxo Wellcome, which merged with SmithKline Beecham to form the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline in 2000. His dedication to family and career, as well as extensive business travel, left no time for hobbies. “During that period we moved 19 times,” he explained, adding proudly: “I’ve never touched a golf club.” It wasn’t until 1992 that Ingram finally bought a new 911C4 Cabriolet – midnight blue with a light gray interior – for $100,000.
His enthusiasm might have subsided after that but for a 1998 trip with his youngest son, Cameron, to watch Porsches race at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in southern California. The two men fell in love with the 356, Porsche’s predecessor model to the 911. And they started snapping them up wherever they could find them.
The father-and-son trip to Laguna helped jumpstart the Ingram Collection and even motivated Cameron, who had studied metal sculpture, to take a job as an apprentice at a Porsche restoration business. He eventually opened Road Scholars, based in Raleigh, N.C., specializing in the restoration of Porsche and other German automobiles.
As Ingram’s collection of 911s and 356s grew, the family began looking for a place to store the cars. They found an old red brick Studebaker dealership in Durham’s historic tobacco district. Today, the building is a private museum, which hosts about 40 events a year for corporate clients looking for a striking, memorable venue to hold a meeting or entertain clients. “I just wanted to clean the building up,” Ingram said. “To my wife Jeanie’s credit, she turned it into a Ralph Lauren living room.”
Rory Ingram, the middle son who helps manage the collection, highlighted the 959 “supercar” which was never imported into the U.S., as one of the collection’s most remarkable pieces. The car, he said, is currently valued at between $800,000 and $1 million.
The collection is about evenly divided between 911s and 356s, with one notable exception: an original 1949 “Gmund,” one of only a handful of the first Porsche models that is still around today. The family also recently acquired a 911R, distinctive because of its ultralight aluminum-fiberglass body. The Ingram collection’s version is the 17th of 22 such cars built in 1967.
The car collection bug has hit other family members too. Michael, the eldest son, who lives on the west coast, collects Mazda RX7s, a sports car model that dates from the late 1970s. “In addition to enjoying the cars and admiring Porsche’s great history, the blessing is that we have done this as a family,” Ingram said.
Check out how the Porsche 911 has changed over the decades in the slideshow below.
Photos courtesy of Porsche.