While loads of people view Porsches as works of art, there was one particular artist and designer who actually turned them into artworks. Erich Strenger had a profound influence on Porsche’s image and marketing during 37 years of collaboration, yet his name is relatively unknown today even though many are familiar with his work.
Strenger was the visionary who helped launch Porsche with an evocative graphic style that is distinctive and unforgettable. His brochures and posters established the quirky German sports cars as something exceedingly special, and his many colorful racing posters boosted Porsche’s image as a winning brand.
A beautiful new art book, Erich Strenger and Porsche: A Graphical Report, is called by its German publisher the “first-ever comprehensive collection of his work” that was done during his time with Porsche, from 1951 to 1988. This is not a huge coffee-table book but a thick 7.5-by-10-inch hard cover that seems totally appropriate for the presentation of the Porsche/Strenger story, and for the many full-page prints presented on its heavy-paper pages.
On the cover is one of Strenger’s most-famous motorsports posters, a photo image of a driver’s hands in stringback racing gloves lightly gripping the steering wheel of a Porsche 356, superimposed with brightly colored graphics that convey the message of movement and speed. Simple yet striking.
The book starts with page after page of Strenger’s Porsche art even before you get to the index. You know immediately that this is primarily an art book. The text is stylishly presented in bold sans-serif type, alongside the art.
Sparingly written by Mats Kubiak, the storyline is one of artistic vision – that of Strenger and Porsche – and how Strenger seemed to effortlessly present Porsche in a manner never done before.
From his first bright 1952 drawing that launched the “bent windshield” Porsche 356 coupe to his extensive work with Porsche’s factory and fan-base magazine, Christopherus, and his huge assortment of racing posters touting the latest wins by the triumphant Porsche teams, Strenger’s work consistently displays a joyful ebullience.
Like so many great collaborations, the one between Strenger and Porsche was the result of a chance meeting. Oddly, it was in the audience of a Miss Covergirl beauty pageant in Stuttgart that Strenger met Richard von Frankenberg, a race driver and auto journalist hired by Porsche to advance the brand’s marketing efforts. Strenger, already an admirer of the sports cars, and von Frankenberg found they had a shared vision, and the young designer was soon commissioned to create the artwork.
Christophorus – named for St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers and adopted by Porsche as its own patron saint – was the first customer magazine from a German car company and became “the foundation on which the collaboration between Erich Strenger and Porsche was built,” according to Kubiak. The magazine showcased Strenger’s drawings, graphics and photographs, which served to create their own visual language for the Porsche experience.
Ferry Porsche, the company’s inspired head and son of its founder, eschewed the extensive advertising favored by most automotive brands in favor of auto show appearances, sales brochures and, of course, motorsports. His belief was that “good products would speak for themselves,” according to the text.
Strenger’s promotional art became key to Porsche’s success. Among his many contributions was the iconic lettering of the Porsche logo that continues today, his success in advancing the Carrera nameplate and his development of a comprehensive advertising concept called the Porsche Communication Strategy that mixed print, radio and TV.
And his legion of racing posters commissioned by Porsche after each major race, designed to be hung in showrooms and garages, and often finding their way onto teenagers’ bedroom walls, “infecting many a young man with the ‘Porsche bug’.”
Strenger worked closely with von Frankenberg, their mutual creativity melding as Porsche progressed through the years. Tragically, von Frankenberg was killed in a traffic accident in 1973.
The book also recognizes the contributions of Strenger’s wife, Ursula, who managed his design studio’s finances and administration because, as with many creative people, Erich Strenger had no head for handling money. A former fashion model, she also posed for many of his Porsche photos.
“Ursula Strenger, a stunningly beautiful and open-minded woman, was the driving force behind the unfailingly creative mind,” the book says.
Strenger had a major falling out with new management at Porsche in 1988, and he and Ursula retired to Majorca, Spain, where he continued his artistic pursuits, as well as indulging his love of sailing. He died in 1993, and Ursula still lives in Spain.
Erich Strenger and Porsche, published by Delius Klasing and Co. of German, is gorgeously illustrated with Strenger’s art in vibrant color, along with period photographs. Mats Kubiak is credited with the book’s “idea, concept, editing, design and lithography.” He did an awesome job.
Erich Strenger and Porsche: A Graphical Report
By Mats Kubiak
Published by Delius Klasing and Co., Bielefeld, Germany, 2017
Hardcover, 187 pages