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Your Porsche and mine 

As I walked from the parking lot to the North Carolina Museum of Art, I quickly reviewed what I knew about Porsche.

It's basically a German sports car company, I remembered, that lost some street cred—according to some purists, at least—when it produced an SUV. Porsche went even further astray with a four-door "sedan."

Still, with their prices well beyond my reach, neither the Cayenne nor the Panamera plays any part in my life, having done me no wrong and no right. I have no opinion about damage they did to the brand. For the traditionalists, the heresy deepened when Porsche opened offices in Georgia. Again, I remain nonjudgmental. Porsche lawn mowers made in Lizard Lick? Probably still runs fast, looks sleek.

The 911 is the sports car that seems most synonymous with the Porsche name. I assumed that it would be the star of the show, and I was right, sort of. The 911 shared exhibition space with Porsche racing cars, differently purposed but so similar in size and shape that I couldn't detect the difference from the street-ready model, no matter how much I studied the striking floor displays. Porsche AG wanted it that way, I supposed, to make it feel as if you could become an auto-racing star, too.

The cars in the museum are by no means numerous. I've visited small-town auto museums and privately owned collections offering much higher numbers, but such cars are not wrapped, packed and shipped around the country, as is this Porsche exhibit. If only eyeing the beautiful design of the cars, one can breeze through in 30 minutes or less—museums at sports-car speed.

But I took in the text and historical photos over the course of two hours. I learned the lineage of the company, particularly the names of seemingly everyone involved, beginning with Adolf Hitler. He hired a young Belgian to produce a "people's car." Once production was under way, the young man developed an interest in automotive aerodynamics and chopped down the odd-looking Volkswagen into an equally ugly speedster. Blind, I guess, to its aesthetics but enamored of his engineering efforts, he immodestly gave it his last name. The car company Porsche was born.

To save time, I started to skim the long lists of names—designers, engineers, technicians—but Zora Arkus-Duntov did catch my eye. Wasn't he the father of the Corvette? (Indeed.) The exhibit didn't answer my question; our subject today, after all, was Porsche. But on another wallboard, I learned that a modern-day engineer at Porsche lent his talents to Harley-Davidson to develop their latest biped.

Do Corvette owners really want to know that their cars contain Porsche DNA? Do Harley riders understand that their V-Rod engines now power the Porsches of the motorcycle world? Are today's 911 drivers able to handle the genealogy of their cars, no matter the names?

Just as in the parking lot, I remain without opinions, only more questions. All of this was above my pay grade. But as I drove home in my 10-year-old Japanese model, made in Indiana, I wondered if Porsche contributed, however minutely, to the development of this humble Subaru.

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