When people think of the creation of the first motor car, names such as Karl Benz and Henry Ford should be coming across their minds. But behind the scene, there was a particular man named Ferdinand Porsche who designed the first electric/gasoline hybrid and the Lohner-Porsche electric car in the1900. Porsche had many achievements such as developing Grand Prix race cars and working in many of the most famous car-making factories of the time.
Though Ferdinand Porsche was not the first man to create an automobile with a gas engine, his creation of the Porsche as portrayed in Porsche – The Man and his Cars by Richard von Frankenberg, was an incredible innovation in the history of automobiles.
Ferdinand Porsche was born on September 3, 1875 in a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now in the Czech Republic, to Anton Porsche and his wife, Anna Ehrlich. He demonstrated excellent mechanical abilities very early in his life. At the age of 15, he began to experiment with electricity and at the age of 18, he was recommended for a job in Vienna with Brown Boveri. Here he was able to sneak into classes at the Technical University. This became his only training as an engineer, but he was still able to became an important figure among German engineers. After about four years, he was able to become manager of the test department and first assistant in the calculating section.
Porsche’s name and abilities began to spread, and Jacob Lohner later hired him to be his designer. In Porsche – The Man and his Cars, it stated that Lohner specified that his designer should come from the electrical industry, should be young, and adaptable to new things (Frankenberg 9). At Lohner, Porsche designed the first gas-electric hybrid vehicle in the world, which was marketed as the Lohner-Porsche.
Later, he designed the Landwehr train, a four-wheel drive vehicle with motors at each wheel, used to provide supplies for German forces in World War I (Frankenberg 11). After his son, Ferdinand Anton Ernest “Ferry” Porsche was born, in 1923 the family moved to Stuttgart, Germany, where he worked with Daimler-Benz as a board member and technical director. As Technical Director and Board Member of the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in Stuttgart, Porsche designed the legendary Mercedes Compressor Sports Car.
The following year, the 2-litre race car won the Targa Florio race which made him a hero at DMG in 1924. He was invited to sign his name in the local “Golden Book,” the highest honor the city of Stuttgart could bestow (Kimes, 184). Porsche decided to stop working for Daimler-Benz at a board meeting in October 1928, when he was getting the worst of the discussion about economy-car development, and he lost his temper and resigned. This did not stop Ferdinand though, by 1931, he had opened his own engineering business.
In 1934, he was asked by Adolf Hitler to design the bubble-bodied "people's car" that became the Volkswagen Type 1, which is now known as the Beetle or Bug. His design came from the 1934 Chrysler Airflow, which broke new ground in construction and basic layouts (Nesbitt 9). He began building prototypes in 1937, with 197cc, 30 horsepower, which spell maximum and cruising speed of 112 km/h (Sedgwick, 98). Soon Hitler's armies converted the factory, and military vehicles were built instead. Porsche was included in the design of the Nazi Germany's Tiger I, Tiger II, Panzer and Elefant military tanks (Frankenberg 12).
When the war was over, he was put in prison for twenty months for his support of the Nazi. The New York Times reported, "The real reason for their arrest seems to have been an attempt to force them to collaborate with the French auto industry"(“Ferdinand Porsche Biography”). When Volkswagen went into mass-production in 1945, the factory was controlled by forces from England, and Porsche was no longer involved. He was released in August 1947, and in 1948 he began manufacturing the Porsche 356. Ferdinand allowed his son Ferry to design the car, but the design was based on the Beetle.
Early 356s were hand-built, and were the first cars having the Porsche nameplate (“Porsche History: Milestones”). The 356 was a four-cylinder, air-cooled, rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive car utilizing unitized pan and body construction. By March of 1951, Porsche had sold 500 of the new sports cars. Later in November 1952, Professor Porsche had suffered a stroke. He never recovered, and he passed away on January 30, 1952.
After Ferdinand Porsche died, Ferry Porsche completely took over the business. Ferry Porsche was an engineer similar to his father but as both a man and a manager, he was very different. But, like his father he worked hard and he was inspirations to others. He was known for his designs and skills, and made the Porsche association very successful. The four-cylinder Type 356 became a huge success.
Some of the lightweight aluminum coupes that were built constructed in Gmund, Austria were adjusted for racing around 1951. Prototype Type 550s were next in production in 1953 and by 1954, equipped with the Fuhrman four-cam Type 547 motors in them, the Spyders were winning 1500-cc class races frequently and winning overall every now and then (“Porsche History: Milestones”).
The Spyders were developed throughout 1962 when the Carrera Abarth was debut, with an Italian aluminum body resembling the 356 design, but “riced out”. By 1964 Ferry’s son, Butzi Porsche, was credited for the design of both the 904 and the successor street car of the 356, the Porsche 901/911(“Ferdinand Porsche Biography”). The 911 had a flat-six engine which had the capacity of 2.3 litres and was available in various states of tune, with either twin carburetors or fuel injection, and outputs from 130 to 190 brake horsepower (Sedgwick 123). In 1970, the 911 sold about17,000 units.
After Ferry, it became Ferdinand Piech’s turn to take over the company. Ferdinand Piech was the son of Anton Piech and Ferry Porsche’s sister Louisa. Piech took over the racing department for the 1966 season. Under Piech’s name, Porsche launched the tube-frame fiberglass 906, 910 and 907 which were all six-cylinder; two-litre or small bore eight-cylinder 2.2-2.3-liter powered cars (Frankenberg 206).
The 908 of 1969 was Porsche’s first attempt to create a car that raced for overall victories, not only class wins, with its eight-cylinder, three-litre boxer motor. The 908 won Porsche its first championship in 1969. Next came the 917’s of 1970 to 71, the 917/10 turbos of 1972, and the 917/30 of 1973, which led to a three year run of racing dominance untouched throughout automotive history.
The 917K coupe won Porsche’s first overall victory at LeMans in 1970 and World Championships in 1970 and 1971 (Kimes 235).The turbocharged 917/10’s and 30’s won the CanAm and the Interserie Championships in 1972 and 1973. After 1972, management of Porsche turned over once again but this time by the Porsche family to “professional managers”. The business continuously prospered and declined through the late ‘70s, the ‘80s and the early ‘90s.
Ferry was becoming old and had a little active role in management. His four sons did not have the strength of character or capability to succeed him, and Ferdinand Piech, left Porsche to run Audi and later Volkswagen. More worthy racing successes followed such as the RSR’s, 934’s, 935’s, and then the incredible 956’s and 962’s, but so did production car failures such as, the 914, the 924, and the 2.7-liter CIS engines.
They were usually unworthy designs or sometimes just commercial failures. In the mid ‘90s, their were rumors of Porsche selling their corporation to Daimler-Benz. As they began to intensify, Porsche regained life. The Type 993 which debuted in 1994, took sales of the 911 line to higher levels. The Boxster replaced the 944/968 models and was a sell-out when it was announced. After the superb sales of the Boxster, the future of Porsche as a self-sufficient car maker, seemed to be more secure than it has ever been in past.
Even though Ferdinand Porsche was not the first man to create an automobile with a gas engine, his creation of the Porsche as portrayed in Porsche – The Man and his Cars by Richard von Frankenberg, was an incredible innovation in the history of automobiles. Thanks to Porsche's son, Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche, who carried on Ferdinand's career of greatness, many of the most well known cars today such as the Cayenne still possess the name Porsche. The classic shapes of the Porsche 911, 928 and 959 still find a way to show Ferdinand Porsche's commitment to innovation, performance, and quality.
Today, Porsche is still self-sufficient and stands as the last independent manufacturer of sports cars. For example, Ferrari is part of Fiat, Ford owns Jaguar, and all the other famous names are no longer existing or functioning. Porsche surviving for 80 years independently clearly shows the might and supremacy of Porsche Automobil Holding SE.