Tuesday 19 February 2019
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CARL AND CECILE DORR : An adventure-filled life

story by Emily Burgess     photos by John Wollwerth
The stories flow freely, one into another, as Carl and Cecile Dorr reminisce about their life together. Cecile takes the lead in sharing detail upon detail and Carl interjects to fill in any gaps she didn’t cover. Their eyes dance and glow as they relive each experience. After 58 years of marriage, anyone would have stories in abundance, but for Carl and Cecile, the stories stem from a shared life stacked with adventure.
In his early life, Carl joined the Army Air Corps during World War II and attended pilot training in the eastern United States. He served with the B29 crew with the 19th bombardment group at Pyote, Texas, nicknamed the Rattlesnake Bomber base. His crew was scheduled to go, but did not ever see combat or make it to the Pacific as the war was over. While he enjoyed his time as a pilot, and to this day enjoys airplanes, his true passion was cars.
Carl and Cecile met at the Miami Springs Villas Club, the former home of the Glenn Curtis Family of aviation fame, after Carl moved from Buffalo where he claimed it was “quite cold.” Cecile had recently purchased a Renault 4CV which she recalls as “a cute little bug of a car.” Carl encouraged her to buy a more sophisticated car, the electron blue Alfa Romeo Gulietta Coupe.
“It was fast and beautiful,” said Cecile. “Still my favorite car, but Porsche is a close second.”
Carl’s love of cars developed from his career. He opened several dealerships in Miami selling a variety of cars of English, French, German and Italian makes.
In 1951, Carl purchased a Volkswagen (VW) from the manufacturing factory in Germany. His VW was one of the first to be shipped to America and he went on to have a long-term relationship with VW through his dealerships being one of the first to sell the cars in the United States. In 1956, the Volkswagen Company in Wolfsburg Germany brought Carl, along with a few others involved in the early days of VW, to Wolfsburg to honor them for their significant contribution to the promotion of Volkswagen around the world. Carl was recognized for his work with Brundage Motors and for his agency, Volkswagen International Motors, Inc. in Miami, Florida.
In September 1953, Carl visited the Porsche manufacturing factory in Zuffenhausen, Germany to buy an ivory Porsche 356. Carl recalls walking into the plant with a radio he brought along and requested that the engineers install the radio along with a rearview mirror on his Porsche.
“These German guys looked at me like I was crazy. They said, ‘you are buying the fastest car in the world. No one is going to pass you. There is no need for a rearview mirror.’ I told them, ‘yes, but I am taking it back to America, where there are speed limits,’” said Carl.
Carl wrote about his experience buying the Porsche and at the end of his account, full of details about the factory, the workers, and the cars, he wrote, “As we subsequently racked up some 6,000 miles over mountains and assorted roads without any difficulty or complaints, we came to the conclusion that it might be a small factory, but they probably know what they are doing.”
Among the many mementos and black and white photos they lovingly have as keepsakes, is the original receipt for Carl’s Porsche 356, totaling just over $2,300 and signed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche himself.
“We do need to clear up the American pronunciation of Porsche,” Cecile said. It is two syllables. Porsch-uh! PCA clubs have had shirts made to make it known. It is Dr. Porsche’s name right?”
Carl and Cecile have remained invested in Porsche throughout the years through involvement in local PCA (Porsche Club of America) clubs like the low country club. In 2011, the Porsche Parade, an annual event held in different areas of the US each summer, was held in Savannah. Cecile worked with the lowcountry chapter of the PCA as a volunteer in many areas, but had the most fun on the Gimmick Rally, in which drivers follow clues and distances to navigate the course. The planned course brought them to Beaufort and the Penn Center on Saint Helena. Carl and Cecile also had the opportunity to attend the Porsche 70th anniversary event held this past June at the Bluffton dealership.
His love of cars did not stop at purchasing the Porsche or in managing his dealerships. Carl entered into the world of sports car racing. He raced in many events including Bahamas Speed Week that was originally called Nassau Trophy Road Races, the Cuban Grand Prix, at the Sebring Raceway in Sebring, Florida, and many other sports car events.
His first race was in 1954 in his Porsche 356, at the first Bahamas Speed Week. He continued to race there every year and even attended the reunion for Speed Week in the early 90’s.
“We were at a race in Cuba the day it fell,” Cecile said. “It was quite scary. We were on the tarmac forever trying to leave.”
Cecile and Carl remember so many details about that time from staying in the same Hilton Hotel as Castro to the award that Castro was supposed to present to Carl and other racers, but never did. Instead, Che Guevara did the honors.
Carl brought Heinz Werner-Bade, a friend from Porsche, over to the United States in 1956 to work in his car agencies. Werner-Bade later became a notable and honored Porsche race mechanic for legendary racers Stirling Moss and Bruce Jennings.
“It was fun times for racing in the 1950’s. Arrive with a car and race. Today, racing is such preparation and takes lots of money,” said Cecile, who was right by Carl’s side during many of his racing days.
Carl raced for twelve years before deciding to quit. Cecile recalls that at the time, there had been quite a few accidents and racing back then did not have the same safety equipment and measures that are in place now. Several friends were killed in racing accidents and they decided it was the right time to step away as they were about to have their first child.
Carl retired and sold his car agencies in Miami and he and Cecile moved from Miami to Beaufort in 1967. Cecile said that they had never been to Beaufort before, but upon visiting the lowcountry, they were shown the hospital at Fort Fremont, which had been privately owned and was for sale. Another group was interested in the purchase and Carl and Cecile had one week to decide if they wanted to buy it.
“We had been looking for a summer place and Carl just happened to drive off the route to see Beaufort. At the Sea Island Motel, the waiter mentioned that he might like to see a ‘kooky’ house that was for sale. We were young and what an adventure with two babies and no family support. We became beachcombers and restorers and enjoyed every minute,” Cecile said.
Fort Fremont was built in the late 1800’s, in response to the Spanish-American War and defended the coaling station and dry dock at Port Royal Naval Station on nearby Parris Island. The hospital, which now serves as Carl and Cecile’s residence, was built around 1906, as a replacement for the original frame hospital. In 1930, the fort was decommissioned and the hospital has been privately owned ever since. On May 26, 1989, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Although the hospital has served as a private residence, great care was taken to preserve the original architecture and character, telling of the time it was built. From an administrative office turned guest bedroom, nurses station turned Cecile’s office and eight-bed ward turned sitting room, the original finishes remain, like the rounded out corners in the ward, so that it could be cleaned and sanitized properly to the exquisitely tiled ceiling.
Over the years, Cecile has worked closely with Friends of Fort Fremont, a charitable organization that raises funds and awareness for the continuance and improvement of the Preserve that is owned by Beaufort County.
Following his career in cars, Carl was asked to do sales research for a company that was a supplier of books to colleges and universities. He also continued to do other work for sales and computer implementation for a company in St. Louis, Missouri.
“His favorite work was done as a volunteer for the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, England restoring World War II aircraft,” Cecile said. “His engineering skills were finally useful.”
Carl and Cecile lived in England from 1997 to 2005, where Cecile happily worked as an Information Specialist, or librarian, for the Air Force at Lakenheath, United Kingdom. They spent their days visiting every air and car museum or show across Europe.
“Carl’s knees never hurt until we were visiting an art museum. Then he would literally fall asleep on a bench. Can you imagine? Monet’s garden and he fell asleep,” Cecile said. She and Carl both laugh at the memory.
The stories go on and on from staying at Fort Fremont during Hurricane Matthew where their basement was flooded and Carl injured his leg resulting in being air-lifted to MUSC to Cecile’s work with her garden club to bring a tree walk to the Beaufort area. No moment or experience small by any means.
Two lives packed full of incredible experiences and brimming with joy from their two daughters and seven grandchildren. Their days may be a little slower now, but for Carl and Cecile, there is still plenty of adventure to be had.