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Many Porsche enthusiasts can say they’ve seen all the major models of the 356 family, from the Gmund to the C, but most would be leaving one out: the Porsche 597 Jagdwagen.

The Jagdwagen, which roughly translates to “hunting car,” came out of a NATO competition to create a light army-transport vehicle similar to the American Jeep. Porsche’s entry was a small, canvas-topped 4×4 that used stamped-steel body panels and a simplified 356 engine for power. Just like in the 356 itself, the engine was in the back, with Porsche using 1.5- and 1.6-liter versions of the air-cooled flat-four engine. The “top” 1.6-liter unit, fitted in later versions of the Jagdwagen, produced 50 hp, giving the vehicle a top speed of around 62 mph. With a weight of 2,182 pounds, the Jagdwagen was relatively nimble and put its horses to good use with the help of a five-speed gearbox — a lot of gears for something like this — and was also able to switch between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive on the fly. With generous approach and departure angles, the Jagdwagen offered plenty of off-road ability and could even climb gradients of 65 percent. The Jagdwagen was also a little amphibious, being able to float without taking on water when needed, but it would not have been anyone’s first choice for a whitewater rafting trip.

What happened to the whole project? The similar-looking DKW Munga beat entries from Borgward and Porsche in the competition, owing to even simpler engineering and build process.

1957 Porsche Jagdwagen engine

A simplified air-cooled flat-four engine was paired with a five-speed manual gearbox. Photo by Bonhams

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Normally this would have meant the end of the project, with a few prototypes stashed away in museum, but having invested 1.8 million Deutschmarks (a lot in those days) in developing the Jagdwagen, Porsche attempted to find other uses for its 4×4. And that’s where the Jagdwagen name comes from: Porsche decided to “rebrand” it for use by hunters, game wardens and forestry workers.

The automaker built about 71 examples of the Jagdwagen between 1955 and 1957 — not exactly a 24/7 production line — with 49 built to civilian spec and sold to owners. Sadly, precious few survive to this day, and recent auction sales have noted that only about 15 are now known to exist.

As much as we’d like to see the Jagdwagen make appearances in official Porsche videos introducing the 2019 Cayenne — cue grainy footage with a German-accented voiceover announcing: “Inzpired by zee original Jagdwagen” — the experiment had little lasting effect on Porsche’s lineup, perhaps aside from convincing the company it was financially advantageous to sell sports cars one at a time to private owners versus dealing with high-discount government contracts.

1957 Porsche Jagdwagen rear

Porsche tried to market the 597 to hunters and farmers, but very few found homes. Photo by Bonhams

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The “winner” of the NATO contract itself  — the DKW Munga — enjoyed a 12-year production run with a little over 46,000 units made, but DKW also had to work hard to sell the Munga to private owners in many global markets to make the effort profitable.

Fancy one of these scouts for your farm or as a hunting car? Despite its simplicity, the values of the 597 aren’t too far off from the best examples of the 356 — the 1957 model in the gallery above sold for $235,331 at Bonhams’ Goodwood auction a year ago this month. A 1958 example that belonged to Jerry Seinfeld sold for $330,000 (with a $350,000 to $425,000 estimate) earlier last year at Amelia Island. Sales are sporadic, but it appears that a quarter of a million is the minimum budget for one of these. The owner of the one in the gallery above parted with his, deeming it just “too precious” to use on his country estate. While that’s a depressing reason to part with one, this is one of those situations where continuing to use a classic off-road isn’t worth the stress.