The dark and grisly connection between South Africa and Porsche-tuner, Gemballa

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In a world of automotive corporatism, there are very few genuine individuals. Much less so, automotive dynasties. 

But 2020 could see the revival of a Porsche-related aftermarket specialist which ended in tragedy, with a grisly South African murder. 

Unless you are a dedicated follower of all things Porsche, you’ve probably never heard of Gemballa. From the late 1980s to 2000s, if you wished to have the wildest aftermarket Porsche money could buy, Uwe Gemballa was your contact person of destiny. 

The German tuner courted controversy due to the outlandish design upgrades he was willing to produce, which were never tasteful, but undoubtedly dramatic. Although he regularly raised the ire of Porsche traditionalists, Gemballa could never be faulted for his ambition or passion. 

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                       Image: Marc Phillip Gemballa

Looking for business in the wrong places 

After the 2008 global financial crisis, Uwe’s business suffered a considerable loss in demand. Loyal customers in emerging markets were no longer willing to pay a massive premium for his custom Porsches. 

The Gemballa company was forced to seek new revenue opportunities and that lead Gemballa to Africa. More specifically, South Africa. 

Recognising the country’s loyal and active Porsche customer base, Gemballa calculated there would be demand for his aftermarket conversions here. The lure of a Gemballa office in Africa was increased by the possibility of trading in oil-rich countries, such as Angola and Nigeria, where the Cayenne was becoming a popular model. 

READ: Gemballa pimps Carrera GT

The idea of a Gemballa 911 in Luanda or Lagos had always been laughable, due to poor road quality, but a Gemballa Cayenne would work a treat in those cities. 

None of these strategies ever came to fruition, as Uwe Gemballa was kidnapped at OR Tambo, in February of 2010. His body was only found in October that year

Gemballa might have been outwardly seeking to establish an agency for his business in South Africa, but events devolved into something a lot more sinister. Shortly after arriving in South Africa, Uwe phoned his wife, asking her to transfer vast amounts of money. 

A curious detail about Gemballa’s African misadventure was that he registered a second company, before his final flight, with his mother as the sole director. Gemballa also gave his wife power of attorney over his affairs, mere days before boarding that flight to South Africa.

Restarting the engines 

It is a strange legacy to revive, but Uwe’s son, Marc Philipp Gemballa, is now preparing to relaunch the family business. The 26-year-old has only released a teaser image of his new car project, which is understood to be an all-terrain performance car. 

Trading under the company name ‘Marc Philipp Gemballa’, this crossover performance car sources components from some of the most esteemed automotive suppliers. KW is confirmed as a suspension partner, and DS Fasertechnik supplies the car’s carbon-fibre. 

From the single teaser image, this new Gemballa appears to have a distinct Porsche 959 inspired design. Instead of being an aftermarket conversion, Marc Philipp Gemballa’s revival of the family business will be very much as a manufacturer in its own right. 

Will it be available in South Africa? That remains to be seen… 

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