*porsche - 70 years of style
Max Hoffman + Lloyd Wright: The common bond between two of America’s most influential aesthetes.
Driving south through New York State, heading for Manhattan, cold Atlantic rain runs in rivulets up the windscreen and hammers along the taught canvas roof. Small, be-chromed wipers on a time warp 356 Cabriolet beat a furious metre, marking the rhythm of steady but rapid progress.
The two-hour drive along Taconic State Parkway eventually leads to Rye, in Westchester County, and to the gated community of Island Drive. No house numbers here, but the Porsche travels barely 100 yards before reaching its famous destination. A copper-trimmed fascia looms into view, hovering close to the ground. Prairie Gold glass set high in carved wooden frames runs the length of one wall, overlooking a simple courtyard. The car swings in, its headlights reflected back through the drizzle.
The house of Maximilian E. Hoffman || This is the house of Maximilian E. Hoffman: the wartime immigrant who brought European sports cars to America. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1955, the Usonian-style dwelling was one of the last works he created before his death in 1959. Lloyd Wright was a pillar of 20th Century design in the US, and became known for these ‘Prairie’ houses: low-profile buildings with gently sloping roofs and generous overhangs. Inside, they were usually open plan, another ground-breaking concept in the period. And all manna from heaven for Hoffman, himself something of a visionary, fascinated and enthralled by bold design and experimentation. Hoffman was born in Austria in 1904. His father owned a bicycle factory and adored the newly invented automobile. The young Hoffman grew up similarly devoted, eventually running an Amilcar dealership and selectively selling high-end sports cars to wealthy Austrians. But with Europe in turmoil in the late 1930s, he hot-footed it to Paris and from there to the sanctuary of America.
Settling in New York, he began making affordable costume jewellery, quickly growing the business to bankroll a return to his first love: automobiles. In 1947, he founded the Hoffman Motor Company and opened a dealership in Manhattan’s affluent Upper East Side. Hoffman was both mechanically adept and a natural aesthete. He knew good design and was an avid collector of art in all its forms. In 1950, a Swiss journalist called Max Troesch showed Hoffman pictures of the first Porsche 356 and he immediately ordered a pair. After driving the cars on their arrival in the US, Hoffman formed a plan that would prove decisive for all concerned. He travelled to the Paris Motor Show later that same year and met with Ferdinand Porsche. The pair shook hands on a deal to export 15 more cars, with Hoffman becoming the factory’s unofficial man in America.