The 1970s and 80s are culturally considered very wild and colorful. At that time cars were still supposed to be individual. But manufacturers were unable – or unwilling – to implement many fresh ideas of the time. Sometimes they failed due to the so-called NIH syndrome (more on this later), sometimes due to a lack of courage or simply due to lack of money. This is where a certain Rainer Buchmann and his company bb-Auto came into play.
Buchmann founded bb-Auto, which later became a world-famous think tank. His legendary company did not have to follow any corporate guidelines. bb-Auto offered exclusive equipment to solvent customers and could tailor and refine cars. In a very detailed interview, he told me, among other things, how the legendary rainbow Porsche came about, and what kind of weapons the major manufacturers brought to bear against the Frankfurt visionary.
When Rainer Buchmann welcomed me to his home in Frankfurt, he still seemed smart and full of drive. It dawned on me how, as a young man, he managed to do an internship at a bank while studying to become an industrial engineer specializing in electrical engineering and spending his free time painting cars for friends in the yard of his parents’ house.
It all started with this hobby paint shop in the 1960s. But even then it was clear to Buchmann where the journey was headed. He systematically worked his way up through a few VW Beetles, then Karmann Ghias, on to the Porsche 356 and finally to the 911. But where did his passion and the many ideas come from?
“My fascination with Porsche developed from very unemotional points of view – engines, quality, reliability. British cars at the time had great interiors and leather quality, but the engines didn’t last long and the electrics were undersized. BMW wasn’t ready either, and Mercedes wasn’t a sports car manufacturer. So Porsche seemed like the logical choice.”
“My fascination with Porsche developed from very unemotional points of view – engines, quality, reliability. “Rainer Buchmann on the question of what fascinated him about Porsche from an early age
But Buchmann also had bigger goals entrepreneurially. He took a liking to helping friends find cars, so he acted as a car broker. Even then, in the late 1960s, he recognized his customers’ penchant for individualizing their vehicles. The desire to stand out from the crowd was particularly pronounced among drivers of exotic cars.
Rainer Buchmann, a lifelong aesthete, saw the standard condition of a car as an invitation to optimize and cultivate it. His first conversions at that time were widened fenders. And these were the starting point for everything that was to follow at bb-Auto. By the way, the name stands for Buchmann and Buchmann, i.e. Rainer Buchmann and his wife Kathrin. Shortly after the company was founded, Rainer Buchmann identified other business areas.
“Hifi and electronics were not a topic in the automotive sector. I was into hifi, though, and installed speaker systems in cars,” Buchmann recalls bb-Auto’s beginnings. In the early 1970s, even a Mercedes 600 only had one pair of 4-watt speakers. So potential customers were plentiful. The oil crises also came to bb-Auto’s pass. “As a result, pure driving performance receded somewhat into the background. Instead, individualization and special additional equipment gained in importance,” Buchmann says.
But it didn’t stop there. bb-Auto built customers the cars they couldn’t get from the manufacturer. Its first big coup was a Porsche. In the 1970s, the Stuttgart-based company announced that the body of the 911 Targa was too soft for a Turbo Targa. For Buchmann, this was less a rejection than a challenge. After all, even back then, “I always wanted to have the fastest car. And it had to be a convertible.”
“I used the gaps that Porsche left. Their focus was clearly on engineering. Engine, chassis, and aerodynamics were always Porsche’s priority. Equipment, interior design, and quality came only afterwards.”bb-Auto-founder Rainer Buchmann
With various stiffening measures, for example in the windshield frames, Rainer Buchmann and his team at bb-Auto created a Targa body with a wider rear-end. Through an advertising cooperation with Polaroid, the car was given a legendary paint job with accents in rainbow colors. The Porsche 930 Turbo Targa, also known as the rainbow Porsche, was born. And by the way, motoring journalists also confirmed that the result was torsionally stiff enough. And it was only 60 kilograms heavier than the standard Turbo. At the time, the exclusivity cost DM 42,000 more than the DM 58,000 price tag of the Porsche 911 Turbo.
After the success of the Porsche 911 Turbo Targa, Rainer Buchmann continued to focus on Porsche conversions. He also penned the Porsche 928 Cabrio, for example. This was another model that Porsche itself had not offered. The most expensive Porsche in the world, a 911 Turbo Targa for a lottery owner from Curaçao, was also created at bb-Auto. This story, like many others, is wonderfully described in Gerold Lingnau’s Buchmann biography. But success came at a price…
“Porsche was still too small at the time, not self-confident enough. They felt attacked by bb-Auto”, Buchmann looks back. “From 1982 on, I no longer received parts from Porsche. I sent disguised employees to buy the parts in the Porsche Centers. So I had to pay the same prices as private customers”. This was a huge problem for Buchmann, whose main source of income had been converting German Porsches for the U.S. market at that time. The customers were mainly American soldiers who wanted to take their Porsche with them to America.
“Model policy is made in Stuttgart, not in Frankfurt”.
Even longtime companions, such as Auto, Motor & Sport, were forced to turn away from bb-Auto. Rainer Buchmann says today: “At the time, Porsche imposed a bb-ban on AMS. “Model policy is made in Stuttgart, not in Frankfurt,” I was told at the time”. Porsche employees who were available as instructors at driving events organized by Buchmann were threatened with dismissal if they continued to work for Buchmann.
Nevertheless, Buchmann didn’t let it get him down. At the end of the 1970s, his think tank developed a parking distance control system. Based on camera sensors from Polaroid, the distance could be determined with centimeter precision and displayed in the cockpit. A voice output was also already included. In addition, bb-Auto developed radio remote controls for the central locking system. No manufacturer (at the time) wanted to put this into series production.
bb-Auto was also the first to have a functional computer system with digital display of all relevant vehicle data and warnings in case of deviations in the program. Because of this digital information system, Volkswagen had ordered a series of 40 Polos from Buchmann. Even the multifunction steering wheel, a worldwide patented development from bb-Auto, met with rejection. Volkswagen considered the idea too expensive and feared too much distraction for the driver. Buchmann himself suspects the reasons lie elsewhere: “At the time, there was resentment among large manufacturers against anything that was not developed in-house, i.e. ‘not invented here’. That’s called the NIH-syndrome.”
Buchmann’s inventiveness even went so far as to develop a so-called swashplate engine with his team. The basic work for this came from Naxos Union. This allowed continuous changes in piston stroke, i.e. displacement, between 1.0 and 2.0 liters. Special development orders for manufacturers were also built in Frankfurt. For example, the BMW Futura, a fully faired BMW motorcycle with a boxer engine and a turbocharger. All these efforts, however, could not prevent bb-Auto from ultimately going bankrupt in 1986.
Although Porsche has undoubtedly played a part in the entrepreneurial rise and also failure of bb-Auto, the brand remains Buchmann’s favorite. “I once had a conversation with former Porsche designer Anatole Lapine. He asked me “Why does a young couple feel so comfortable in a Porsche but so distant in a Mercedes?”. The answer to this lies simply in physical proximity. That kind of a sizzling connection, you get in a slim-cut sports car just isn’t there in a Mercedes.”
“Manufacturers these days don’t have the courage to build something that’s novel. No one wants to take responsibility for a flop when in doubt.”Rainer Buchmann
When asked what Rainer Buchmann thinks of current design trends, he sort of waves it off. “Manufacturers these days don’t have the courage to build something that’s novel. No one wants to take responsibility for a flop when in doubt”, he answers bluntly. Instead, it is rather technical refinements that command his respect. “Citroën’s hydro-pneumatics in the 1950s were very innovative, as were internally ventilated brake discs or nowadays automatic high beams with matrix LEDs. Many innovations are unfortunately shot down internally.”
The last modern car Buchmann considers groundbreaking is the first-generation Mercedes CLS. “That’s a great-designed, four-door coupe,” he recalls after a moment’s thought. The question about the most beautiful Porsche of all time, on the other hand, comes out of the blue: “Porsche 930 Turbo, for sure! It was a real leap forward, if only because of the engine power. Porsche had made a real breakthrough with it.”
bb-Auto cars have always enjoyed cult status. Especially the exclusive Buchmann cars, such as the Turbo Targa are coveted. Anyone who has a bb-Porsche cherishes it. Even in the USA and Japan, Buchmann is still a household name to many. Among other things, he made it possible for many US soldiers stationed in Germany to take their beloved Porsche sports cars home with them.
But European bb car fans are also loyal to Buchmann. Regular screenings of the cult film Carnapping bring many of them together. The crime comedy stars Bernd Stephan as car thief Robert Mehring, as well as the rainbow Porsche and Buchmann’s biggest marketing coup, the CW 311. In any case, this affection is mutual. Because even today, Buchmann still offers individual body modifications, paint jobs and interiors for old and new Porsche sports cars.
Rainer Buchmann was often a few steps ahead of the times and especially the car manufacturers. He sensed trends and brought them to the customers. Even though he himself says that he mainly implemented ideas from among his customers, he was a true pioneer and trailblazer in the industry. Would you like to hear an example? Ten years after the appearance of the bb car Porsche 930 Turbo Targa, Porsche also presented a safety convertible with a turbo engine. With the Slantnose, Buchmann also anticipated the later Slantnose models from Porsche Exclusive. The history of Rainer Buchmann and his company bb-Auto is excellently presented in Gerold Lingnau’s book. It paints an accurate picture of the Frankfurt car fashion designer: creative, smart, obliging and extremely likeable. Absolutely must reading for every Porsche fan!
“Buchmann understood how to make things shine.”Harry Valérien
© Bernd Meyer (i.a. title image), Rainer Buchmann, Werner Kilian, Lies de Mol, Ralph Rosenberger, Peter Vann