The year is 1981, big blonde perms are all the rage (for girls and boys), stonewash denim is an essential part of your wardrobe, while Human League and Adam & the Ants dominate the UK music charts.
It all seems a long time ago now (for those of us who do remember), and it’s also the year Uwe Gemballa founded his eponymously named company to provide aftermarket parts for Porsche.
Some may be surprised to learn that Gemballa has been a part of the Porsche tuning scene for over 30 years now, but back in the Eighties they were absolutely in step with the times, producing some lurid creations.
Huge side strakes (think Testarossa on steroids) grafted onto ultra-wide bodykits were a core part of Gemballa’s visual identity, along with colour schemes that can be deemed a good idea at the time.
These cars were certainly eye-catching, and the names were memorable too: think Avalanche, Mirage and Cyrrus. Along with in-car audio company Pioneer using Gemballa cars in their Eighties marketing material, it all helped to firmly establish the Gemballa name in the minds of enthusiasts.
Back then it wasn’t just Porsche either, as Mercedes, BMW and Ferrari were all subject to the eye-catching brushstroke of the Gemballa aesthetic, but with the Nineties came a calmer, more refined visual identity and a focus on tuning Porsche exclusively thanks to heavy demand for tuning the marque.
Having established a name for itself with some sensationally exotic models in the Eighties (with prices approaching $375,000 – a whole heap of money back then!) this philosophy followed through the Nineties (indeed, Gemballa briefly held the road car Nürburgring record with a 600bhp 911 before it was trumped by the Carrera GT) and holds true today, with some of the most extreme modified Porsches around ensuring that Gemballa have always garnered plenty of attention from the media.
But these cars – the Carrera GT-based Mirage GT being perhaps the best known – have always been created for the few who can afford them, with their ability to get journalists raving a sweet added bonus.
From 2000 and beyond, Gemballa continued to create a selection of models mostly based on the 996, then 997. With a wide selection of tuning options to choose from, and seemingly plenty of customers happy to send their 911s for treatment with anything from an exhaust system to a full house 997 GT2-based Avalanche GTR800 EVO-R (with – you guessed it – 800bhp), things seemed rosy at Gemballa.
But then in 2010 came the news of Uwe Gemballa’s disappearance, and things took a turn for the worse as the company was briefly thrown into disarray without the direction of the enigmatic leader.
Fast forward to the present day, and we see a Gemballa operation lead by CEO of the newly formed Gemballa GMBh, Andreas Schwarz. 2010 was certainly a rocky period for the Gemballa name, but Schwarz saw too much potential in the brand to let it fall by the wayside, and so a deal was done to purchase the old company’s assets, designs and rights to the Gemballa name and restart operations at the Leonberg premises.
While the Gemballa philosophy lives on, the company was restructured and a serious amount of money invested in refurbished premises and new tooling, bringing with it a huge advance in quality.
Consequently, Gemballa now has the facilities to manufacture its own parts in-house, and to the very highest standards. As Schwarz puts it, “Our motto here is ‘No Compromise’, whether it is in aesthetics or technical solutions. Our products are not cheap, but they are worth the asking price.”
Looking over the lovely white 991 Cabrio that proudly sits at the front of Gemballa HQ, that quality is clear to see. The bodywork cosmetics match – or better – anything you’d expect to find in an OPC, while the interior work is immaculate, tasteful and very desirable.
Gemballa’s approach is to make the new parts fit the old fixings precisely, allowing owners to revert their cars back to a factory look should they so desire. Along with the immaculate fit and finish, this is just another example of the level of quality that Schwarz demands.
Those quality levels are in clear evidence throughout our tour of the impressive facility, where we find a 991 midway through a mild revamp (replete with stunning orange highlighted interior) flanked by a Cayenne well on its way to becoming a ‘Tornado’ (is 720bhp enough for you?) and a McLaren MP4-12C. McLaren?
Yes, Gemballa has expanded its portfolio to include other marques once again, but the focus is and always will be Porsche tuning. Indeed, the most popular cars passing through the operation currently are the 997 and 991, with Cayenne close behind.
With the 991 range expanding seemingly by the month, it’s safe to assume that the 991 will take the lion’s share. Indeed, we’re told to expect a successor to the Avalanche, based on the 991 Turbo, some time in 2014. We can’t wait to try it.
Further evidence of the quality pervading the Gemballa operation these days sees a current model Avalanche put through its paces on their own dyno as it goes through its final tune; all Gemballa tunes are accompanied by a digital printout to ensure that they deliver everything they should.
It’s this depth of quality that has helped build partnerships with top quality suppliers too, and Gemballa are proud of their bespoke brake and wheel packages, which are the lightest on the market.
It’s great to see Gemballa in such good hands. With a healthy, balanced business model generating turnover from a successful and expanding parts operation, a strong line in after-sales, a diverse array of tuning packages and, of course, building full-house conversions for those with wherewithal to put something different in their garage, all to OEM or better quality standards, Gemballa’s future looks as good as it ever has. I’m sure Uwe would be proud.
|Most famous 911 project?
|Gemballa Avelanche (based on a 930 SE)
|Most commonly fettled 911?
|Other interesting fact:
|Gemballa aren’t exclusive to Porsche, also producing some stunning McLaren MP4-12C examples this year.
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