with partners Adolf Rosenberger and Anton Piech.
Above: Ferdinand Porsche's birth home located at #38 Tanvaldska, Maffersdorf, Czechia. The property is now owned by Skoda and is presented to the public as a Porsche Museum.
Photo credit: Porsche AG.
1875 - 3rd of September - Ferdinand Porsche is born in Austria-Hungary, now Czechia, in the town of Vratislavice nad Nisou, otherwise known as Maffersdorf. The middle child of Anna & Anton Porsche, Ferdinand has two elder and two youger siblings. Anna and Anton jr. and Hedwig and Oskar respectively.
As a youth, Porsche works as a dedicated but uninspired apprentice in his father's tin smithing business. (Some accounts have his father Anton in the plumbing business and others have him as a panel beater.) Because of a workshop accident ending his older brother's life at age 15, his father looks to Ferdinand to take over the family business. That will not happen as Ferdinand's fascination is elsewhere. Electricity calls him. The family's home becomes Ferdinand's electrical lab. His father, not pleased with the seemingly dangerous in-house experiments, attempts to put an end to them but his son is persistent. Ferdinand continues in a secret place within the family's home.
While a young teen, Ferdinand's electrical capabilities are such that he’s managed to provide their home an electrical doorbell. Soon after, he wires the house and installs what no other home in Maffersdorf has: electrical lighting. Not yet 20 years of age, Porsche has proven himself a problem solving leader. It is a trait that will be his calling card throughout his professional life.
Right: Ferdinand, seated at bottom right corner, is 14 years of age. Photo is taken during his apprentice period with his father Anton, seated at the center. Other men present are employees of Anton's business.
Photo credit: Porsche AG.
Porsche at Bella Egger. Promoted to Test Center Manager, he's able to continue with his passion for electrical experimentation.
Photo credit: Porsche AG.
The world's first motor "car" is attributed to Carl Benz circa 1885. By current day standards, the noise and fumes this vehicle generated would be intolerable. In the day, it was a marvel. With no horse involved that may or may not wish to cooperate with the plans of the day, it was quite appealing to those that could affod it.
Photo credit: Carl Benz Archives
Porsche and his second employer, Ludwig Lohner, the individual who sets Porsche on the automotive track. The pair will have an 8 year run together with both their names becoming well recognized throughout western Europe.
Photo credits: Unknown.
1893 - Age 18, declining his father’s invitation to take over the family business, and clearly seeing his life beyond Maffersdorf, Ferdinand moves to Vienna, the capital of Austria. There, and with a referral, he gains his first professional employment at Béla Egger & Co, an electrical components manufacturer. At the same time, he enrolls as a part time student at the prestigious Imperial Technical University in Reichenberg (now the Vienna University of Technology).
Management at Bela Egger & Co. is quick to recognize Porsche’s ambitious ingenuity and quickly promotes him to Test Center Manager. While with Bela Egger & Co., Porsche supposedly* builds the company’s first electric wheel-hub motor. This type motor is not a new idea of Porsche’s. The first iteration is credited to Wellington Adams, an American inventor, his U.S. Patent for the wheel hub motor, 300,827 was filed 9 years earlier in 1884. Adams’ patent is followed by other inventors who make modifications to the idea allowing for subsequent patents. By the time Porsche gets to the concept, the electrical wheel hub has existed for a number of years in various forms. Porsche very likely referenced the existing patents and made sufficient changes for his own design to avoid infringement. Or, Bela Egger purchased a licensed use of the idea. It is not recorded but had Porsche created a new design, that would likely have been patented.
*There is conflicting historical reference in regard to exactly when Porsche creates his version of the wheel hub motor. Some accounts have him accomplishing this while with Bella Egger & Co., others accounts have him doing so at his next employment.
Personal transportation at this point in history is generally by bike, horse pulled carriage or tram. Horse pulled trams in Vienna began in 1840. Steam trams came into tram-fashion 43 years after, in 1883. The first electric tram has just come into use now in Porsche’s time, 1897.
Motorized carriages are in their infancy with both electric and gas powered vehicles being “explored.” What motorized personal vehicles do exist are few and far between. When seen, they are the possession of either the maker or extremely wealthy individuals. Being rare, the contraptions are usually viewed as spectacles of the "modern age." If you were a King, Duke of some notable rank, or a business tycoon, you would have at least one motorized carriage if for no other reason than to promote your status. One such wealthy tycoon is the patent owner for gas powered carriages, Carl Benz. His first 2-seater vehicle was driven in 1885, nine years ahead of this moment. Benz’s combustion engine is noisy, vibrates significantly, requires while-driving-maintenance, and the exhaust emissions are pronounced. Still, as status symbols, motorized vehicles are worth the unpleasantries. Horses of course have their own matters to be dealt with. If you owned a motor vehicle at this point in time, you certainly didn’t drive it yourself. An employee did that for you---it was no simple process to attend.
Porsche’s life will soon take a quantum leap forward with the person of Ludwig Lohner. Lohner has recently inherited his father’s carriage making company in Vienna, Hofwagenfabrik Jacob Lohner & Co. Lohner, 17 years Porsche’s senior, is ambitious and a smart businessman. Interested in making a name for himself, his vision is to motorize the horse drawn carriages his company makes. He's thinking to do this with electricity. Whether Benz’s gas powered vehicle patent has influenced Lohner’s decision in this regard is unknown. In any case, Lohner and Porsche somehow connect. (If Porsche did create the electric wheel hub motor while at Bella-Egger, news of this would likely have generated interest on Lohner’s part to know Porsche. Likewise, Porsche could have heard of Lohner’s interest to electrically motorize his carriages and sought Lohner out.)
1898 - After 5 years with Bella-Egger, Porsche departs them to work for Ludwig Lohner. With Lohner, Porsche is tasked with motorizing a Lohner carriage according to Lohner's electrical vision. Dauntless in the face of a good challenge, and given his electrical fascination, Porsche is surely agog with the mission in hand. The two men compliment each other quite nicely and will move forward together with their names increasing in recognition throughout Europe.
Within the year, Porsche has designed an octagon-shaped motor that drives the rear wheels by oscillating around the rear axle. A 12-speed controller is incorporated with 6 forward gears, 2 reverse gears, and to slow & stop there are 4 gears for braking. Obviously there's a learning curve for anyone wanting to make graceful use of this vehicle. Top speed is, for the time, a blinding 22 mph. Whether Porsche considered other available modes of transport in order to determine what speed would offer a competitive advantage is questionable. Given his progressive thinking, he very likely did so.
Depending on how Porsche's electrical carriage is driven, the battery supplies a 3-5 hour drive time. Range is approximately 50 miles---akin to motoring 2 times around the outskirts of Vienna at this time. The benefit to an electrical carriage is there being relatively no noise, no noxious fumes, and no dung left for someone to clean up. The downside is charging the vehicle. With no historical reference on this process, charging is an odd mystery. This absence of information suggests the process being no simple matter. Were it simple, that fact would have been highly publicized and so a matter of pronounced record.
In the face of these silent and apparently non polluting vehicles, Carl Benz has concerns for his own business. It was not yet clear whether transportation would take an electrical or combustion motor path. Both directions had problems that needed solving. As fate would have it, a number of factors comingled to devine the path that motorized transportation would take.
Lohner's C.2 Phaeton with rear wheel electric drive designed by Porsche who is now 23 years of age.
Photo credit: Prestige Electric Car
Porsche & Lohner’s C.2 is a marvel. Electricity, while a recognized source of energy at the time, still remains somewhat of a mystery to most. So, to see this and other vehicles moving in relative silence with no horses pulling it, it was worth a concentrated look as the motorized carriage passed by silently by. But like gas powered carriages, the C.2 has its own challenges. The battery in the C.2 weighs a cumbersome 1,103 lb (500 kg). With motor, chassis and components, the vehicle’s total weight is 2,977 lb (1,350 kg). By comparison, the motorized carriage Benz had patented in January of 1886 weighed a scant 265 lbs. (120 kg.) To “refuel” the C.2's battery, one must have access to the necessary electrical system. Exactly how this recharging was accomplished is, as mentioned previously, a mystery. Exactly what the challenge was to get gas at this moment is also questionable. Skill was absolutely necessary to operate the C.2. Of course, no one knew the technical systems of the C.2 better than Porsche. Because of this, no one was more capable of proficiently driving the C.2 than Porsche.
To create the C.2, Lohner has partnered with Vereinigte Electricitäts A.G. Advertising for the C.2 notably does not credit Porsche in any way. Instead, the motor Porsche designed is referred to as an “Egger Motor”---very likely the “Egger” from Porsche’s previous employment. This credit is probably due to Egger receiving Porsche’s design & engineering plans and they---Egger---building the motor. This practice of Porsche designing & engineering then handing over plans & specifications to a manufacturer will be the working format for the consulting company Porsche will launch 33 years downstream from now. In other words, Porsche's consultancy format is being forged within him right now while he is working for Lohner.
1899 - Early in September, Lohner enters the C.2 in the Berlin 24.8 mile road race, a competition exclusively for electric vehicles—Lohner & Porsche are not the only ones developing electrically powered vehicles. With Porsche driving, the C.2 finishes first, and does so an impressive 18 minutes ahead 2nd place. This being Porsche's first racing victory, he's now in new emotional territory given the adulation being piled upon him.
To Porsche's credit, the C.2 also takes First Place in the competition's efficiency test, achieving the lowest energy consumption in the urban traffic test. News media is quick to publicize the racing spectacle that just occurred! Reading between the dramatic headlines, there was clearly something advanced in the C.2---and driver---that made the combo so much better than the competition. Porsche and Lohner’s name recognition begins spreading generously throughout western Europe.
Being as smart as he is, Porsche surely sees the connection between winning races and the recognition derived from doing so. Given this, this 24.8 mile race in the C.2 may well have crystalized the desire Porsche had for dedicating his life to automotive engineering + racing. If so, then these moments in the Berlin race are the beginning of Porsche’s race-driven life---the beginning of PORSCHE as a race winning automotive brand.
The single remaining C.2 is displayed at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. Areas that were missing from the vehicle have been recreated in a semi transparent plastic.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Print advertising for the C.2 Phaeton. Porsche being an unknown at the moment, his name appears nowhere in C.2's promotions.
Ad agency: Unknown.
Part of Porsche’s genius develops from his ability to solve problems given whatever limitations and circumstances exist. Doing so, he’s not hampered by constraints that tend to debilitate other designers and engineers. In other words, he's adept at meeting challenges as a whole. And, what cannot be accomplished at the moment for whatever reason, Porsche recognizes and sets, mentally and functionally, in reserve. Given the opportunity, he’ll make the next iteration better than the current one by using “the reserve.” This discipline and progressive development practice will present itself throughout Porsche's career. It is one of the several characteristics that contribute to his greatness.
The next Lohner vehicle exhibits the savvy of Lohner to appreciate Porsche’s rising star status. Presented at L'Exposition Universelle De Paris, the most prestigious vehicle exhibition at that time, the "Lohner-Porsche" is the world’s first electric 4 wheel drive car. In place of the rear-wheel-axle-drive Porsche created for the C.2, this vehicle has the wheel-hub motors Porsche supposedly created while at Bella-Egger. Had Porsche created these hub motors while at Lohner, as some historical accounts suggest, the C.2 would likely have used them. But that was not the case. Exactly what transpired in this regard remains a mystery.
Far left: An exploded view of a wheel hub motor showing the inner rotor and the outer stator as presented at the Porsche Museum.
Photo credit: Porsche Museum
Near left: The Lohner-Porsche in 4-wheel drive configuration. Weighing in at more than 5,000 lbs., the vehicle needed a firm surface to drive on. Any dirt road that became wet was not passable as the vehicle would sink into the mud.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
Wheel hub motors are easily apparent due to the large hub-casing around the wheel’s center. (These motors can still be seen in public use today, mainly on bikes & light scooters.) Within the casing is the complete electric motor. With no drive shaft or differential, this type motor is very efficient in the use of the force it creates & delivers for propulsion—there is no wasted energy given to the shaft & differential.
The lead-acid battery to power the Lohner-Porsche is positioned in a casing above the chassis that driver & passenger sit over. To protect the fragile, 44-cell 80-volt battery from the often brutal unpaved road conditions of the day, the battery’s housing is mounted to the chassis with a heavy duty spring suspension system. By itself, this battery weighs a brutish 3,986 lbs. All four motors combined weigh another 1,280 lbs. Add ancillaries and this vehicle totals about 5,266 lbs. (For comparison, a 2020 Porsche 911 weighs in between 3,354 - 3,641 lbs. final weight depending on installed options.) The proverbial elephant in Porsche’s room is clear. It's battery weight. While media is denouncing Benz's combustion for noise and fumes, the denouncing factor for electric vehicles is the massive weight.
With the Lohner-Porsche comes a paradigm shift in vehicle body design. The horse drawn carriage-form that was present in the C.2 and other motorized vehicles of the time is gone. In its place, the Lohner-Porsche sports an elongated body that will set the precedent for vehicles to come. To what degree Porsche was involved in this body design is unknown. Very likely, the size & configuration of Porsche’s massive battery influenced the new vehicle’s form. It is also very likely Porsche was thinking of wind resistance and how this affected a moving object. Seated on the exterior of all his vehicles to date, he surely felt the increasing pressure of air against himself as the vehicle increased in speed. Being mindful of vehicle performance in multiple dimensions, Porsche must have realized early on that the form of anything passing through air had some relationship to that object's use of energy---the more resistance an object had as it traveled through the air the more energy it needed to travel. It’s also very likely Carl Benz’s motor vehicle weighing just 265 lbs. has been dancing disturbingly in Porsche’s head since the beginning. Lohner and Porsche surely had any number of discussions regarding battery weight, that being their overriding obstacle to surmount. What comes of this concern on their part is the world’s first hybrid, gas-electric vehicle—another innovative first for Porsche.
Porsche's design for the Semper Vivus is a hybrid electric-combustion system where the motor powers an electric generator that supplies electricity to the wheel hubs motors. In this configuration, placement of the motor is between the front and rear seats.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
The hybrid vehicle Porsche designs for Lohner’s company is the “Semper Vivus,” latin for “Always Alive.” What the name promotes is the fact that having two types of “fuel,” the vehicle could continue to run even if one fuel source was exhausted. The Semper Vivus is Porsche’s “test version” for the car that will be mass produced and sold as the “Lohner-Porsche Mixte,” the “Mixte” moniker representing the car’s hybrid power system. Compared to the Lohner-Porsche, Porsche has cut the weight of the Mixte by an impressive 1,000 lbs. (454 kg.)
Going the hybrid route represents Lohner compromising his initial premise for developing an electrically powered vehicle. With this shift in direction, the hand writing begins to appear on the wall for the decline of electric vehicles. The problem: technology at the time just didn’t exist for electrical system weight to compete with the weight of gas powered motors. Structurally, a battery as they were, also required the entire vehicle be made heavier to support the massive weight of the battery. Certainly Porsche, having an electrical background, must have dedicated himself to solving the weight of the electrical charged system. Also very evident to Porsche and Lohner is the fact that gas motors are seeing constant improvements making combustion powered vehicles increasingly appealing. Gas stations were also gaining in numbers adding to the draw of travel powered by combustion.
The Lohner-Porsche Mixte. In this design, the open cabin has the rear passenger seating now directly behind the driver's seating with the combustion motor located under an accessible hood at the front. In form, the car is born.
Named from left to right: Ferdinand's brother Oskar, father Anton, himself, wife Aloisia, and mother Anna.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
System Lohner-Porsche logo appears on the side panel below the front seat.
Porsche with Aloisia Johanna Kaes. The two marry in 1903. They will soon have two children, a daughter Louise followed by son Ferry. It is Ferry who will inherit what his father is in the process of creating---the name brand that will be PORSCHE.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
1901 - The combustion motor Porsche is using for the Mixte is sourced from Gotlieb Daimler’s motor company. As Porsche has configured the system, it matches the Semper-Vivus: the gas motor powers an electric generator. The generator then powers the wheel hub motors. A battery, smaller than the unit in the Lohner-Porsche, remains fitted for back up.
Porsche drives a front-wheel version of the Mixte in the 1901 Exelberg Rally. Top speed is 35 mph, a new Austrian speed record. Again, Porsche crosses the finish line with all others to his rear. More adulation and publicity follows for Porsche and Lohner. It’s questionable whether Lohner financed the racing as purely experimental, or whether he knew the publicity would create name recognition that he could capitalize on. Being a successful entrepreneur as he was, the latter was more likely.
1902 - Porsche is drafted into the Austo-Hungarian military service. With his well established automotive credentials, he is the chosen driver for Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria---the individual's whose assassination will contribute/lead to WWI.
1903 - October - At 28 years of age, Porsche marries Aloisia Johanna Kaes.
1904 - Porsche now has a new sort of race to run. This being with his first born child, Louise. Her destiny is to marry her father's future business partner, Dr. Anton Piech. Following WW2, While Ferdinand Porsche and Louise's husband Anton Piech are imprisoned by the French charged with war crimes, Louise will play a key role with her younger brother, Ferry, in launching Porsche into the car making business. The 356 being the outcome of their partnership. Louise and her husband Anton will also come to have the exclusive VW import business in Austria thanks to the post WW2 agreement her brother will negotiate with Heinrich Nordhoff at VW. More on all this later.
1905 - Porsche is awarded the Potting Prize honoring him, at age 30, as “Austria’s most outstanding automotive engineer.”
Up to 1906, Lohner’s company sells 300 Mixte vehicles. These are primarily 2-wheel drive for commercial use. Trucks, buses and fire-engines are among the most popular configurations purchased. A few four wheel drive buses are produced. For personal use, those that can afford a Mixte are society's elite---anyone with a good deal of expendable income.
As the first decade of the 1900’s comes to an end, so too does enthusiasm for electric powered vehicles. This shift in appeal is due to the progress that's been made in the combustion engine. Reliability and efficiency have improved. Add the convenience of quick refueling with increasingly available petrol and the prospect for electric vehicles is all but over, temporarily as we now know it.
In the U.S. a fellow by the name of Henry Ford has a vision for mass producing vehicles in order for them to be made accessible—price wise—to the masses. His vision embraces new systems & processes that lead to faster production and lower material costs. All of which serves to lower unit costs and increase profit margins. Ford is a wealthy man destined to become even more so. Porsche, constantly competitively driven, visits Ford a number of times in the U.S. What Porsche gleans from his discussions with Ford and his plant tours will eventually serve a company Porsche, and his offspring, will be deeply involved with. Volkswagen.
Boeing and NASA will reference Porsche’s wheel hub motors to aid in creating the Apollo program's Lunar Rover, those vehicles being electrically powered and wheel-hub driven. Throughout all the driven lunar excursions, there was never an issue with the drive system. What did fail was a rear fender during the Apollo 17 mission. That problem was solved by clamping laminated maps to where the fender used to be.
Photo credit: NASA
The Lohner E reconnaissance aircraft. First flight took place the 10th of November, 1913. Capable of 64 mph, the two-man craft could operate up to 13,000 feet.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
1906 - Porsche’s talent is recruited away from Lohner by engine & automaker, Austro-Daimler. Porsche is hired as the company's Chief Designer. Lohner knew this was coming. Lohner's comment concerning Porsche, "He is very young, but is a man with a big career before him. You will hear of him again." Following Porsche’s departure, Lohner turns the focus of his company to making reconnaissance aircraft. First for the Austro-Hungarian army. Then for the Spanish army. Years downstream, Lohner’s company will be acquired by Bombardier, a company founded by an individual similar to Ferdinand Porsche in his mechanical engineering drive, Joseph-Armand Bombardier.
Austro-Daimler already has a racing team by the time Porsche arrives. What Porsche notably does for the company is pioneer the use of aerodynamics for race cars. As a Porsche hallmark, he is ever mindful of being at the competitive edge. The value he sees in aerodynamics is being able to increase speed, not by adding more engine-weight & power, but by minimizing the resistance a car generates as it moves through the air. The two cars that result from this are Austro-Daimler’s Mixte and Maya.
Right: The Porsche-designed Maya is, at the time, a study in automotive aerodynamics. The car was named after a daughter of Emil Jellinek, an automotive entrepreneur involved with Daimler Motoren Gesellschgaft (DMG). Jellinek had a second daughter whose name would become a global brand, Mercedes. Jellinek would trademark her name in 1902. Father and daughter Mercedes are seen below.
Maya Photo credit: Porsche AG
Jellinek photo credits: Wikipedia
The Maya is named for a daughter of Emil Jellinek, a wealthy entrepreneur who is involved with Gottlieb Daimler. In addition to Maja, Jellinek has a second daughter, Mercedes. It is father Jellinek who, given his great admiration for this daughter, trademarks “Mercedes” in 1902. The name, together with that of Carl Benz, was first used to name a line of Daimler cars. So highly was the name thought of, the marque would transcend a car’s name to eventually become a luxury brand. Mercedes-Benz.
The evolution of early carriages to cars, the tug of war between electrical vs gas power, and the blending of power sources into hybrids… this all occurred due to the various individuals in the fledgling motor vehicle industry playing a sort of musical chairs with each other and technology. In this evolving and highly competitive arena, alliances shifted overnight and companies underwent went rapid changes in the quest for competitive advantage and wealth. As the game plays out, the cream inevitably rises to the top. Gottlieb Daimler, Carl Benz, and Robert Bosch were among the German auto, engine and component businessmen that were eventually leaders in their respective fields. Each man supremely dedicated to the process of engineering his own empire. Each taking a unique path. Then as now, patents provided the means for securing an idea and the potential fiscal rewards that would come from bringing an appealing product to market. These men managed patents with great panache.
Rudolf Diesel was also a name of repute at the time but he was not of the German automotive ensemble. He was French born. His creative work in the thermal properties of the combustion engine results in the motor that bears his name—a patented motor that ignites fuel by means of pressure rather than electrical spark.
Diesel’s life ended mysteriously on a steamer that sailed from Antwerp bound for London. In London, Diesel was scheduled to meet with Royal Navy representatives. The agenda being to discuss Diesel's motors powering British submarines. Diesel was last seen onboard the ship having dinner one evening. The next morning he could not be found. Days later, a body was discovered at sea. Some accounts have the body found on shore. In any case, Diesel’s son confirmed the dead man being his father, this according to the personal items recovered from it. Various theories arose concerning Diesel's death. Some speculate he committed suicide. Others believe he was murdered because he had refused granting German interets exclusive rights to using his invention. What genuinely happened still remains a mystery.
Early titans of the German auto industry. Left to right: Gottlieb Daimler, Carl Benz, and Robert Bosch. Below: Rudolf Diesel
Photo credit: Wikipedia
Porsche's Model 27/80 for Austro-Daimler is seen here during 1910 Prince Henry Trial (Race.) Not unusual for the day was passengers going along for the ride. For the Prince Henry Trial, 3 passengers were officially allowed to accompany each driver. Having a race seat, preferably in the rear, was quite fashionable---a mark of daring---and so eagerly sought after.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Prince Henry, brother of German Emporor William II and sponsor of the week-long racing competition that bears his name, The Prince Henry Trial.
Photo credit: Unknown
Ferry and Louise Porsche circa 1914. At the moment captured here, Ferry is 5, Louise is 10.
Photo credit: Porsche Museum
The most recognized of Porsche’s creations during his Austro-Daimler period is the “Prince Henry,” formally known as the Model 27/80. Porsche designed this car specifically for the 1910 Prince Henry Trial, named after the race’s organizer: Prince Henry. A career naval officer, Henry’s princely claim to fame is being the younger brother of the current German Emperor, William II. The link between Porsche and Prince Henry is the Prince's great interest in technology, and more to the point, cars & racing. The Prince’s name-sake race is a point-to-point timed competition. Taking a week to complete, the tour covers about 1,250 miles (2,000 km) through varied terrain and multiple countries. This race is akin to Rally racing as we know it today. Requirements call for production touring cars only. Race-made vehicles are not allowed. An acceptable car is to have four seats—three passengers are allowed. To the winner goes a model car made of 29.7 lbs (13.5 kg) of silver. While trophies are a beautiful thing, what Austro-Daimler and Porsche want is the publicity that comes from winning. The German Grand Prix will be the successor to the Prince Henry competition that Porsche has just driven, and won. In fact, there are three Model 27/80s in the race. They finish 1, 2, 3. Porsche's star continues to rise.
Prince Henry’s naval and other accolades aside, and there are many, he is credited with inventing—and patenting—the electric windshield wiper operated by a button in the dashboard. Albeit occurring in Germany, news of his invention could be found in the noon edition of The Day Book in Chicago, IL. (published the 13th of June, 1914.) A number of prior inventors, all with different versions of the same wiper idea, preceded the Prince’s electrical powered solution. The earliest version is credited to Mary Anderson, a U.S. inventor who in 1903, received the first patent for a hand-cranked wiper. She never managed to capitalize on the idea. Corporate prospects considered it “of no practical use.”
1909 - Porsche’s second child is born. Ferdinand Anton Ernst. “Ferry” as affectionately nicknamed by his parents. The Porsche torch will ultimately land in his hands. Assuming the role of his father, he will do so seamlessly and with considerable aplomb. Possibly more important than the technical facets of Ferry’s business life is his being the one—primarily responsible—for liberating his father and his sister's husband from French prison. This and more on Ferry’s life will be covered later.
1916 - Father Porsche has climbed the Austro-Daimler corporate ladder to be Managing Director. He is 41. His propensity to innovate beyond the imagination of most is increasingly his calling card. His accomplishments are such that the Vienna University of Technology—where he was once a part time student and never received a degree—bestows the title "Dr. Ing. h.c." the abbreviation for "Doktor Ingenieur Honoris Causa" on Porsche. Simply put, Porsche now has an honorary Ph.D. in engineering---not that he needs one but the title is something he will eventually put to practical use (when he launches corporate Porsche.) It’s possible the University was, while honoring Porsche, also seeking to surf the tsunami of Porsche's ever increasing acclaim.
1921 - Mercedes' Kompressor engine is developed with Porsche’s assistance. “Kompressor” is the name used by Mercedes to denote their supercharged engine. The man responsible for the German supercharging patent was Gottlieb Daimler—his patent was filed in 1885. Daimler’s design was specifically for the application to combustion motors. This was and still is used in piston aircraft engines to compensate for oxygen levels decreasing as altitude increases. Unlike a turbo that relies on exhaust gasses to spin an air pump (turbine) that forces more air into the cylinders, supercharging relies on the engine’s mechanical rotation to drive an air pump for the same purpose. Generally speaking supercharging creates more power and that power is instantaneous whereas a turbo generates less power and lags as the turbine takes some moments to spin up before boosting an engine’s intake pressure.
The first Porsche-related production cars to have a supercharged engine is the Mercedes 1.6 litre 6/25 and 2.6 litre 10/40, both of which began production in 1923. Any Mercedes car marked with “Kompressor” has a supercharged engine.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Camillo Castiglioni, the wealthiest man in Central Europe in his day. He made a fortune as an early investor in a number of successful aviation and automotive companies. Among them Austro-Daimler and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, (BMW.) He retired to Milan where he formed his own private bank and amassed yet another fortune. He is also credited with the ruin of the French franc due to his and a cohorts massive shorting of the currency in 1924. JP Morgan & Company stepped in buying the franc subsequently causing Castiglioni and partners to loose millions.
Photo credit: Stat Wien
1923 - Austro-Daimler is suffering financially. The wealthiest man in Europe at the time, a banker, financier, and speculator of some notorious repute is said to be the blame for the company’s fiscal chaos. He is Camillo Castiglioni. His character is such that together with a cohort, he shorted hundreds of millions of French francs to the extent that the franc’s valve dropped nearly 40% within one month. Following this act, he was labeled "the unscrupulous."
Whatever Castiglioni's financial participation is with Austro-Daimler, it’s not going well for the company. Porsche decides his time with the Austro-Daimler is over. He departs and moves to Stuttgart where he’s hired by Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) to be their Technical Director.
DMG was founded in 1882 as a engine production company by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach. The engines they produced were used in land, sea, and air applications. Daimler devised their logo based on this trinity. Hence the three-pointed star (left)—the symbol that remains in use today by Mercedes-Benz. The first car produced by DMG was sold in 1892 to the Sultan of Morocco.
At DMG, Porsche, now age 47, has responsibility for the car models of Europe’s largest automaker. Production vehicles aside, DMG fancies racing. Surely this fact was an enticing lure for Porsche. The company also has deep pockets. Porsche knows this. And DMG knows Porsche has a knack for designing winning race cars. This harmonic fit between the two results in DMG's supercharged Model SSK.
At right: In the 1920’s, the Porsche-designed SSK is the car to beat. Very few competitors accomplish this. A specialized passenger now sits beside drivers, the car's mechanic. Spare parts were kept in the trunk. If something broke during a race, the car pulled over and the mechanic's job was to make repairs usually at a break neck speed that proved as exciting as the race itself. Above: During the 1924 Targa Floria race, Porsche sits between drivers Christian Werner at left and Karl Sailer at right. Werner won the 1924 race in a Mercedes.
DMG's SSK photo credit: Porsche AG
Three men photo credit: fahr(T)raum
Ferdinand Porsche's Partners:
B. April 8,1900
D. December 6,1967
Son of a wealthy German-Jewish family in the cinema business in Germany, Rosenberger was one of Europe's leading race car drivers in the 1920's, notably for Mercedes-Benz where he met Porsche. As a founding partner with Porsche and Piech, Rosenberger participated with the company as the business and technical director. When Hitler came to power in Germany, Rosenberger was charged with "racial crimes" as a Jew and imprisoned at KZ Schloss Kislau near Karlsruhe. Following a bribe to the Gestapo by a colleague named Hans Baron Vyder Mahlberg, Rosenberger was released from prison and immediately left Germany. He first went to France and later to Great Britain representing Porsche in both countries. In 1939 he emigrated to the U.S. where in 1944 he became a citizen taking the name Alan Arthur Robert. California was home for him where he was active in motor sports and the in auto business. He died the 6th of December 1967.
B. Sept. 21, 1894
D. August 29, 1952
Born in Vienna, Austria, Piech studied law at the University of Vienna receiving his doctorate of jurisprudence in 1922. He remained in Vienna as an attorney in the late twenties representing Ferdinand Porsche in a contractural dispute with Daimler-Benz. In 1928, he married Porsche's daughter, Louise. As a founding partner with Porsche and Rosenberger, Piech handled the company's legal and contractual matters. Under questionable circumstances, he is credited with moving 10 million RM from Nejdek to Zell am See for the movement of a factory that never took place. What happened to the money in unaccounted for. He, Porsche and Porsche's son Ferrty were arrested and imprisoned after the war charged with war crimes by the French. Ferry was released in 6 months. Piech and Porsche were held for 22 months until a 1,000,000 franc bail was paid for their release. Piech and his wife Louise were the sole VW distributors in Austria under an agreement made by Ferry Porsche with Heinz Hordhoff. Piech died in Klagenfurt, Austria, on the 29th of August 1952.
Porsche's first office building in Stuttgart at Kronenstrasse 24 as it was when Porsche & company moved in (left) and as the building stands today (above.)
Photo credits: Unknown
An SSK driver that Porsche gets to know well is Adolf Rosenberger. This name will resurface later as a key player in the evolution of Porsche history. While at DMG, Porsche receives another honorary title, this being from the Stuttgart Technical University. Porsche is now a recognized “Professor.”
In 1926, Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft merges with Benz & Cie. The outcome: Mercedes-Benz. While the racing side of Mercedes-Benz suits Porsche’s competitive spirit, opinions begin to fragment concerning the future of the company’s car designs. Large & luxurious is pitted against compact & efficient. The Board wants the former. Porsche the latter. Differences in direction simmer. From Porsche's perspective, he did not see large luxury automobiles being intelligent design solutions. He viewed them being exceptionally wasteful in the energy they wantonly consumed due to weight. Weight also meant a car would not handle well. Porsche firmly believed a car should be compact and lightweight to make it efficient to power, fast, and nimble to handle. Of course there was no right or wrong about what type of car was correct. This was a matter of conflicting opinions that continued to simmer.
1929 - The rift concerning automotive direction between the Porsche and the Board at Mercedes-Benz eventually comes to a head. Porsche departs the company in Stuttgart and moves to join Steyr Automobile in Steyr, Austria. There, Porsche leads the design of a number of new cars and components. Thinking ahead of others in the field as is typical of him, he comes up with Steyr’s first detachable cylinder head.
Porsche’s move to Steyr coincides with the beginning of the economic downfall that is the Great Depression. Steyr, among many other manufacturers, is soon in financial trouble. Porsche’s position is eventually, by default, made superfluous.
Porsche departs Steyr and moves back to Stuttgart. There, an idea takes shape. One that will eventually have global prominence.
1931 - Porsche is now 56. The Great Depression is gaining momentum. Some 2 million Germans are out of work. In two years, the figure will reach 6 million—nearly a third of Germany’s working population will be unemployed.
Porsche, race car driver Adolf Rosenberger who drove Porsche's Mercedes SSK, and Porsche’s son in law, Dr. Anton Piech have been sorting through a bold idea. On the table between them is a business plan that to some, at this particular economic point in time, would have little appeal. That's not the case here. Whatever risk-to-reward analysis was done, there was apparently nothing that caused any of these men doubt enough to walk away from their plan and intended partnership.
Porsche invests 24,000 RM. Rosenberger and Piech each invest 3,000 RM. For this, some accounts have Rosenberger and Piech getting a 10% stake in a company, other records say 15%. The combined investment in the Porsche startup would, in today's USD, equate to $2,330,000. The business concept is a bold move given their needing to sell their idea to an industry that is entirely unfamiliar with their consultancy offering.
The justification to proceed with the business is very likely complex however, a number of basics are distinctly clear. First, Porsche has a proven record of innovative brilliance combined with competitive leadership. On the track, his designs are consistent winners. Without a formal degree, he’s both and Honorary Doctor and a Professor. He’s also been honored as Austria’s Best Automotive Engineer. All this was empirically known to Rosenberger as he had raced Porsche's creations, and won. And Piech, an attorney who is married to Porsche’s daughter Louise, he is a close family member, who like Rosenberger, knows Porsche and his accomplishments well. Porsche's name is also extremely well recognized throughout Europe. There is no reason Porsche has to sell himself to either partner. As an ensemble, the trio must see their combined talents being an exceptional fit.
Piech, as corporate attorney, officially registers the partnership in Stuttgart on the 25th of April, 1931 as “Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH.” The business is a “Konstructionsbüro für Motoren, Fahrzeuge, Luftfahrzeuge und Wasserfahrzeugbau", meaning the firm specialized in construction and consultation for engines, automobiles, airplanes, and motorboats. This business is notably not yet Porsche the car manufacturing company we know today. In simple terms, corporate Porsche begins as a design & engineering consultancy. Porsche’s first office is located at Kronenstrasse 24, in the center of Stuttgart. To staff the new company, Porsche hires only the best in their respective fields. The team Porsche assembles includes:
Karl Rabe — Chief Engineer (a)
Erwin Komenda — Body Design (b)
Josef Kales — Engines
Karl Fröhlich — Transmissions
Josef Zahradnik — Axles, steering and suspension systems
Franz Xaver Reimspiess — Engine, brakes, chassis (c)
Josef Mickl — Aerodynamics
Franz Sieberer - Archivist (d)
Emil Soukup - Patent Engineer (e)
Leopold Schmidt - Gears & chassis construction (f)
Leopold Jantschke - Engine construction (g)
Egon Forst - Engineering accounts (h)
View in the opposite direction than top photo. Porsche's office building is above the women in the foreground.
This photo is notably taken in 1951, 20 years after Ferdinand Porsche and partners began the company. It is shown here to present a majority of the ensemble that comprised corporate Porsche at its beginning. The individual seated second from the left is Ferdinand Porsche's son, Ferry. When this photo is taken, Ferry is leading the company.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
The first project by the newly formed Porsche company is the W-22 for Wanderer.
Photo credit: Porsche Museum
Under Porsche's subsidiary that is Hochleistungs Motor GmbH, a partnership between Ferdinand Porsche and Karl Rabe, the P-Wagon is developed as a purely speculative project---there is no buyer in sight. But one will come.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Corporate Porsche’s first project is for Wanderer, a German manufacturer of bikes, motorcycles, cars, vans and machinery. Porsche begins this first corporate project as #7 so Wanderer does not realize they are Porsche’s first client. The Wanderer project is listed in Porsche's project ledger as: “Chassis with 1.7 and 1.87 liter, 6 cylinder engine for the Wanderer W22.” Porsche’s services, while varied, generally included design, engineering, prototype making, and testing. Client’s with internal production capabilities would then manufacture the product per Porsche's plans & specifications, or via a third party usually with Porsche's oversight. During the design & engineering process, innovations that Porsche created were patented, then licensing or royalties fees provided corporate Porsche one stream of revenue among others. Consultancy fees were customized per project and client. Apart from automotive projects, and to give some scope to the firm’s range, Porsche dealt with: ski lifts, jet engines, water turbines, stationary motors, wind power generators, aircraft engines, amphibious cars, tanks, tractors and rocket engines.
1932 - On a speculative basis—with no client/buyer—Porsche begins designing a race car according to the Grand Prix Formula 1 specifications set by AIACR, the governing body at the time. The main regulation being a weight restriction. The car, not including driver, coolant water, fuel, oil and tires was not to exceed 1,650 lbs (749 kg.) AIACR’s intent was to limit engine size to around 2.5 liters. What comes of this is the design and engineering plan for Porsche's P-Wagon. This work is accomplished under a subsidiary company, Hochleistungs Motor GmbH (High Performance Engines Ltd.) This spec work is a gamble that will eventually pay off.
Josef Stalin, Soviet Union's dictator who authored a brutal rule of leadership from 1924 to 1953. He is credited with the murder of millions.
Photo credit: Films Media Group
1932 - Josef Stalin, the Soviet Union’s dictator, wants to meet with Porsche. Stalin has been in power for 8 years at this moment. Born Besarion Jughashvili, the name “Stalin” was given him during his revolutionary years with Lenin’s Bolsheviks. The name combines the Russian word for “steel” and “Lenin.” As a matter of fact, Lenin didn’t like him. He considered Stalin a “bully.” And that he was. The funds Stalin raised for Lenin's revolution was accomplished by way of robberies, kidnappings and protection rackets. Still, Lenin took the money to support "the cause." When Lenin died, it was the bully Stalin who intently managed to seize power. His rule was dominated by a viciousness lack of respect for human life. Estimates have him killing between 20 to 40 million people, many through intentional starvation. Anyone even remotely suspicious of opposing his authority, Stalin had murdered or sent to the Gulags he created. Gulags were prison camps where inmates served as slave laborers. In spite of his atrocities, Stalin was nominated, not once but twice, for the Nobel Peace Prize (1945 and 1948.) Of course his nominations were not made by anyone who recognized his atrocities for what they were, this was done on his behalf by individuals intent on climbing political ranks.
Porsche accepts his invitation.
To seal the deal with Porsche, Stalin has put together what appears to be a very attractive offer. The position Porsche will have is to be "Automotive Chief Construction Director for the Soviet Union." This heady title comes with a generous compensation, a villa, and the transfer of his entire Stuttgart staff. The best Stalin has saved for last… Porsche is promised “unlimited funding to build a small car.” For years, Porsche has believed personal vehicle transportation was best served by a compact, lightweight car. This configuration simply made the most sense in terms of energy and material use. Porsche was very practical in this regard. In Porsche’s mind, large, heavy cars were absurdly inefficient. Stalin’s research team, the KGB, had obviously looked into Porsche’s soul in advance to conclude where his soft spot was. On the surface, you’d think Stalin had just pushed all the right buttons. He didn't. While the proposal tabled is indeed very generous, Stalin’s research team missed something. The KGB had failed to recognize how important racing was to Porsche. While Porsche probably took some time to express his gratitude to Stalin for the generous offer the dictator had made, Porsche declines on the basis of the European Grand Prix circuit not competing in the Soviet Union. Porsche’s response, and the significance of who it was directed to, was not lost on any who knew Porsche. Porsche was admired for his self determined will and ability to say "No." It should also be recognized that Porsche had just turned down the potential financial security of a government job during the Great Depression. Also to consider here is the fact that Porsche had recently partnered with Rosenberger and Piech to form corporate Porsche. These men were likely consulted in regard to what decision was made. Whether the Grand Prix interest was genuinely true or the only "politically correct" way out of a situation is forever an unknown. While the exact circumstances are a mystery, Porsche certainly knew where the Grand Prix races were held in advance of going to meet Stalin.
1932 - June - The economic climate in Germany is such that automakers Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer are each struggling. Seeking to solve their individual challenges, these four companies merge into a complex corporate entity that is Auto-Union. Four interlocking rings (below) are adopted to symbolize the new company. Auto-Union will soon compete with Mercedes-Benz for German government subsidy contracts with Porsche getting involved in favor of one of these companies to the great dismay of the other.
German auto makers that, due to challenging economic times, merge to form Auto-Union. Eventually, Audi stems directly from Auto-Union and continues with the symbol of the 4 interlocking rings, each ring representing one of the original 4 companies that merged.
At this point in time, Germany is a country skating on thin ice. With so many people unemployed and numbers rising, there’s tremendous dissatisfaction within the populous. Steps are taken by the government to counter the economic chaos but that effort fails. And does so in a big way. Extremism steps through the open doorway… The National Socialist German Workers' Party’s charismatic leader is appointed Chancelor by Germany’s President, Von Hindenburg. It’s the 30th of January, 1933. Adolf Hitler has just been handed partial control of Germany but that’s not enough for him. With emergency powers given the Chancelor by Von Hinderburg, and Hitler creating the Enabling Act of 1933, Hitler has cleverly taken absolute control by getting rid of constitutional civil liberties and parliamentary rule. Germany’s democracy is now gone. In its place is a one-party dictatorship. Hitler’s persona oozes confidence, discipline, and extremist control. With Germany in economic freefall, many are convinced Hitler is the right man to sort things out. Many others don’t see it this way.
As fate would have it for Porsche, Hitler is a car fanatic. This, even though he has never learned to drive. While Hitler was in prison—he served 9 months for a 5 year sentence for treason related to the Beer Hall Puch—the entertaining banter among inmates has much to do with cars and racing. Hitler was an avid participant in this auto-rhetica. When Hitler is released from Landsberg Prison, a now famous photo was taken of him standing in his vehemently brisk manner next to the Mercedes of the photographer friend who picked him up.
Adolf Hitler as he was supposedly just released from Landsberg prison. In reality, this is a bogus image that endured for years until the photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, who was picking Hitler up, advised the truth in his biography. In fact, Hoffmann was preparing to photograph Hitler at Landsburg when a prison guard advised Hoffmann that if he persisted to take a photo, he would be loosing his camera. Hoffmann kept his camera and convinced Hitler to recreate the scene at the town’s entrance. Hoffmann excused himself saying the town's entrance gate looked appropriately similar to a prison.
Photo credit: Heinrich Hoffmann
Among Hitler’s visions for Germany is unifying the country via an interconnected highway system. The Autobahn. To make use of the highways, Hitler wants to create the “people’s car”---a simple car that most German people & families can afford. He also wants Germany to dominate auto racing. For Porsche & company, there’s nothing but good news in this.
Soon after Hitler comes to power, he begins subsidizing the racing interests of Mercedes. Auto-Union is left out. Porsche intercedes with Hitler on Auto-Union’s behalf leading Hitler to split the budget between Auto-Union and Mercedes. Mercedes is not pleased---they have plans put in motion based on the original dole. Given the situation, Mercedes now has some measure of an ax to grind on Porsche. For Porsche, Auto-Union buys the P-Wagon design plans along with the subsidiary Porsche company that it was created under. For this, Porsche receives a reported 75,000 RM ($5,700,000. in today’s USD.) Whether this deal was contingent on Porsche’s successful lobbying with Hitler is unknown. While Porsche was a brilliant engineer, he was also an astute businessman.
Porsche’s P-Wagon design is brought to life at Auto-Union’s work shop in Zwickau, Germany. Porsche’s contract calls for him overseeing construction & testing—typical practices given the standards of precision Porsche's technical plans call for.
Hans Stuck sitting behind the wheel of the record holding streamlined version of the P-Wagon. In 1935, Stuck managed a speed of 199 mph in this car.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
The man who saved millions of lives, Nils Bohlin. Before working with Volvo, he was an aviation engineer with Saab where he worked on ejection seats. Restraint was of course integral to his thinking.
Photo credit: Unknown
In this era, the early 1900's, personal safety equipment worn by race car drivers is minimal. Goggles and a leather cap & gloves were the general extent of it. Some drivers took to wearing football or firefighting helmets. Seatbelts, while first invented in the late 1800’s for glider pilots, were not yet parcel to race cars. In the event of an accident, drivers preferred to be thrown from their car. The option was being trapped in one that was crushed, or, that caught fire—fire being driver's greatest fear. The first mass produced auto racing helmets would not be introduced until 1954 by Bell Sports. At the end of the ‘50’s, full face helmets were adopted. In 1959, Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin invented the 3-point seat belt for production cars. Volvo gracefully left the patent open so any car manufacturer could freely use the idea. Race car driver Jackie Stewart is credited with leading the driver’s crusade for improved safety standards in the 1970’s. F1 rules began requiring drivers to wear seat belts beginning in 1972. Driver, pit crew, and spectator safety has received increasingly more attention so that improvements are being constantly made for the benefit of all. Still, the sport is deadly by its very nature.
1955 - Images from Le Mans and the worst racing accident involving spectators. Above, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR being driven by Pierre Levegh is seen just after driving over the left rear end of the Austin Healy driven by Lance Macklin. Visible here is the bend in the track that has drivers making a slight turn to their right. Levegh's car seen here---airborne---is now headed directly toward spectators including the photographer. In less than a second from the moment captured in the photo, the car traveling over 120 mph impacts a concrete stairwell and disentegrates sending large and small fragments of the car balisticaly into the crowd of onlookers. When the rear of the car lands, it explodes into a ball of fire. Unfortunately it takes a tragedy like this to make improvements that can prevent such circumstances. This is noted with respect for all who perished, were injured, and whose lives were terribly affected this day, the 11th of June, 1955.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
Of the many deadly racing accidents, the worst occurred the 11th of June, 1955, at Le Mans. It is the second hour of the race. Three cars approach the spectator and pit area with the lead car on the right slowing to enter the pits ahead of the 2nd car who reacts by moving left. A 3rd car, going faster than the 2nd car, rides up onto the 2nd car from behind which launches the 3rd car into the air. As the 3rd car goes airborne and off the track at over 120 mph, it hits a concrete stairwell and breaks into parts. Because of a slight bend in the track to the right at the point where the car’s had made contact, the trajectory of the flying car and resulting debris is directly into a mass of spectators. 80-84 onlookers are killed. 120-178 are injured. Some calculations have these published figures being conservatively inaccurate. Blame immediately points in multiple directions. In spite of what had just happened, the race continues. Mercedes, running first and third pulls out—a decision that was suggested to Mercedes in the pits by the partner of the driver of the 3rd car who had just been killed. His comment to Mercedes suggested that no matter if they won or lost, it would be a public relations disaster for the brand were they to continue racing. The decision to withdraw came down from the highest level of Mercedes. The company would not compete again until 1987.
The fact that the race did continue was later met with fervent outrage given the loss of life and injured. The celebrations that concluded the competition decidedly wrote off the tragedy as part of the danger & risk that drivers and close onlookers must accept in order to participate. Others found the festivities appalling. Robust criticism was levied against the organizers for continuing the race following what amounted to a massacre. The official response was that stopping the race could have led to a mass exodus of spectators that would have blocked the roads preventing ambulances from reaching and departing the scene. Following a formal investigation, it is determined that no driver error was made. Many had mixed opinions concerning this determination. In support of the conclusion, it was added that the cause of the accident was the track itself and the speeds the cars were traveling at directly towards onlookers. Major safety improvements were initiated at the Le Mans track as a result. Other circuits followed suit. This event prompted the halt of major racing events for the year ahead while many sought to make sense of the future and what needed to be done to preclude a repeat performance.
Under Auto-Union’s command, Porsche’s P-Wagon would see 3 evolutions. With each iteration, more HP is added. These advances were due to Auto-Union’s stiff competition with Mercedes Benz. The two German team cars differ primarily in engine placement. The P-Wagon engine placement is to the rear of the driver. The W25 of Mercedes, the engine is placed ahead of the driver. Aerodynamic body styling is evident in both cars.
P-Wagon HP advancements:
1934 Type A: 295 bhp
1935 Type B: 375 bhp
1936/37 Type C: 520 bhp
Between 1934 and ‘39, the Auto-Union P-Wagon and Mercedes W25 were the cars to beat. Because both teams were in the silver car livery color of Germany, and given their winning speeds, the press began calling both the team's car’s the “Silver Arrows.” (Italy’s livery is red. England’s, green, and France’s, blue.)
Above and at right: the "Silver Arrows" of Auto Union and Mercedes respectively. Both cars represent Germany's technical prowess as Hitler intended. He had funded both companies for his propaganda purposes.
Photo credits: Audi and Mercedes-Benz
Ferry Porsche with Dorothea Reitz.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
1933 - Porsche’s son Ferry, now 24 years of age, marries Dorothea Reitz. The couple met at Daimler some years ago. Their union will eventually see four sons into the world. Of them, Butzi, the eldest, and Hans-Peter will work with corporate Porsche until the company goes public. Butzi will then use the recognition he gains from being the credited designer of the 901/911 to start “Porsche Design,” a company focused on high-end design and Porsche-name licensing applied to a range of products. Hans-Peter will join Butzi in Porsche Design. More on all the brothers later.
1934 - Hitler and Porsche meet. The specifications for the “people’s car” Hitler wants made are laid out for Porsche. Among the requirements, the car must accommodate two adults and three children. It should be able to maintain a top speed of 61 mph (100 kmh) on the highways Hitler is building to link all of Germany—the autobahn. Fuel consumption should be better than 33.6 mpg (7L/100km). Parts for repair should be readily accessible, inexpensive, and easy to replace. The engine should be air cooled to eliminate the use of water that would freeze in winter. (Radiator antifreeze was only used in aircraft at this time.) Most importantly, the price point is not to exceed 990 RM (250 USD at the time. Average income for a German worker is 32 RM weekly. 1,000 RM is what the price of a motorcycle is so Hitler is aggressively pushing the fiscal boundaries in favor of the public.) Porsche instantly recognizes Hitler’s price point being untenable as he knows from experience that production costs per unit will be higher. Rather than tell Hitler it cannot be done, Porsche takes on the challenge to see what’s possible given the restraints as they exist. This style of accepting limitations and solving inherent problems as a whole…typical of Porsche's approach to problem solving.
Porsche presents a scale model of the "Type 60" elaborating on every possible detail to an enamored Hitler. Hermann Goring, in the dark suit at right, is the second most powerful man in Germany at the time. Known as an ego maniac, Goring typically wore a uniform in a color/tone opposite to the one Hitler wore in order to stand out from Hitler.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
1935 - October - Porsche builds the first Type 60 prototypes in the garage at his home in Stuttgart. There’s a V1 coupe and a V2 convertible (cabrio.) V stood for “test car.” 30 subsequent test units were built by Daimler-Benz. These units underwent a reported 1,800,000 cumulative miles (2,900,000 km) of testing and numerous refinements before being deemed suitable for mass production. Obviously there was a great deal at stake for Porsche. With the “people’s car” being Hitler’s auto-brainchild, even a small flop would represent Hitler in a big way. Of course everyone involved with the car was extremely focused.
The engine Porsche is going with is a flat, boxer type 2 cylinder. Various engines were made and tested including two and four stroke and 2 and 4 cylinder options. Meeting Hitler’s fuel efficiency requirement was found to be more difficult than anticipated—combustion efficiencies at the moment are not what they are today. Porsche and his team were learning a great deal from the new boundaries they had to push into. Doing so was not unusual as the team was used to innovating and exploration that this called for. Production costs were not good news. They were not meeting Hitler’s stipulated price point of 990 RM as Porsche anticipated from the beginning. Porsche reached 1,400 RM. Having already squeezed everything tightly to get to this figure, there was nothing left to squeeze. Apart from the challenge of designing a car that satisfied all Hitler’s target specs, Porsche faced political problems instigated by various German automakers as well as others that generally opposed Porsche. The kind admiration Hitler was affording Porsche was simply too much to bear for some.
Ferdinand Porsche was no man to take lightly. Just as on the race track, he knew his off-track competition well—their strengths & weaknesses. He’s also a clever business strategist with a decisive will to win. It should be no surprise that all of the antagonists Porsche is now dealing with eventually end up eating crow.
1936 - January - Porsche takes Hitler for a test ride in the Type 60. Porsche advises Hitler that production costs are not meeting the target Hitler has set. Porsche's straight forward, no-nonsense style had gained Hitler’s respect and trust. Hitler was also fond of perfection and Porsche was known for this---the fine tolerances he insisted on, his attention to detail, and intolerance for sub par craftsmanship were legendary in his own time. Hitler knew all this. His subsequent reply to Porsche is that the car will be made for 990 RM no matter what it took. If necessary, compulsory price reductions in raw material costs would be implemented. Hitler had a will of steel to a fault regardless of the path he chose.
Following another presentation of the Type 60 in Obersalzberg in July of 1936, Hitler commits to manufacturing the car but not with any existing German car maker. For the most part, the “luxury crew” of manufacturers are very pleased with this news as they prefer the problems of this unappealing compact with a ridiculous price point not be theirs. Hitler decides a new factory will be built. One that is exclusively dedicated to producing the Type 60. To help finance the car, the government has established an individual savings plan that Germans are, in order to buy the car, required to pay into. Some pay in but the plan inevitably fails. To get on with it, the German government---Hitler---steps in to subsidize the program.
As directed by Hitler, the company behind Porsche’s car is the Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens GmbH - “Company for the Production of the Volkswagen.” Established the 28th of May, 1937, in Berlin, the business is managed by the German Labor Front. Construction of the manufacturing plant in Wolfsberg begins in May of 1938. Hitler is there at the laying of the cornerstone. In September, the company’s name is shortened to Volkswagenwerk GmbH. “Volkswagen,” as we know it today, is born. The factory, specifically created to build Porsche’s Type 60, is opened on the 26th of May, 1938. To demonstrate what Hitler thought of Porsche, Hitler suggested to Porsche the Volkswagen factory be named after Porsche. Coming from the man across the table, it was of course worth a pause to consider. For whatever private reasons Porsche held, he declined the offer suggesting to Hitler it be named for what it was, the “Wolfsberg Volkswagen Factory.” And so it was. Porsche moves to Wolfsberg to attend his contracted responsibilities concerning factory management and production oversight of the Type 60. When he does this, his son Ferry assumes authority for the Porsche consulting office in Stuttgart.
Within the Porsche consulting team, Erwin Komenda is the chief body designer and so the one that might actually be most credited for the Type 60’s quirky look. That said, there were any number of individuals providing design ideas for the car. Even Hitler made some sketches. Some openly opposed Porsche’s authorship for the car. Bela Barenyi, Josef Ganz, and Tatra the car company being among the known discontents with Porsche taking/getting the credit.
Barenyi is a Hungarian automotive engineer who is, like Porsche, Ganz, and Ledwinka at Tatra, small-car focused. In 1953, years after the fact, Barenyi took his case to court where he was able to prove the designs of Porsche’s Type 60 infringed on his earlier drawings and patents. Barényi won the claim and was subsequently legally credited with being the first to conceive the basic design for the Beetle. More, Barényi later sued Volkswagen in 1955 for copyright infringement. Once again, his ‘contribution’* to the Beetle's design was formally recognized by the court. What financial compensation Barényi received, if any, is unknown. Legal wrangling aside, Barényi is widely accepted as the father of passive safety given his several crash protection inventions. His crumple zone design being the most notable. He held over 2,000 patents—twice as many as Thomas Edison.
* Exactly what ‘contribution’ means is subject to the standards of legal jargon.
Joseph Ganz was also an automotive engineer who wanted credit for the Beetle. Prior to his editorial days with Klein-Motor-Sport publication (where he used the magazine to hack away at Germany’s large, luxury car makers and to promote his own vision of small-car benefits) he was employed by Daimler. There, he met and supervised Porsche. Like Porsche, Ganz favored compact, lightweight cars. In 1929, Ganz was hired by German manufacturers Zündapp, Ardie and DKW to create a “small, people's car.” In 1931, the outcome was the Ardie-Ganz, nicknamed the“Maikäfer,” --- "May-Beetle.’" This car was presented at the 1933 Berlin Auto Show where Hitler took an interest in it. Soon after the Auto Show, Ganz was arrested by the Gestapo, supposedly on charges of blackmail against the German auto industry. It's possible his editorial days had caught up with him. Or the charges could easily have been trumped. Later released, he fled Germany in 1934. One month after Ganz was arrested is when Hitler made contact with Porsche. Later in his life, Ganz authored a book to promote his VW Beetle authorship. He is not on record for having filed any legal action supporting his assertions.
Tatra, the car company, claimed infringement concerning the VW design and sued Porsche for damages. Porsche offered to settle with Tatra but Hitler put a stop to it. Hitler said, “I will settle the matter.” Tatra later dropped their claim. Years later, Tatra sued Volkswagen for patent infringement. Volkswagon settled this claim out of court in 1965 paying the Ringhoffer family 1,000,000 DM.
Whether Porsche intentionally, or otherwise, used any design aspect from others for his Type 60---the VW Beetle---is not a conclusion that’s sought here. Rather, this part of Porsche’s life is considered to demonstrate the tightrope he & company had to walk—creatively—within the automotive industry. Every idea had to be rigorously checked to see if anyone or company held a patent or copyright on it. If so, there were determinations of whether there was or was not infringement being made. The problem with this process is there always being a grey area which defies always arriving at a clear conclusion. Bottom line, it is not as simple as it might appear to design anything for commercial purposes. Given is the fact that engineers—any creative individual for that matter—then and now, looks at the work of others in order to know what’s going on in the marketplace. And for inspiration. Porsche said it himself concerning the dispute with Tatra in regard to their designer and someone he knew, Ledwinka; "Well, sometimes Ledwinka looked over my shoulder and sometimes I looked over his.” In the end, Porsche---not someone easily taken over---and his family received a royalty on every Beetle produced/sold.
1939 - WW2 begins. Racing halts. The Volkswagen plant in Wolfsberg has been in existence for little over a year. Progress on the mass production of Beetles for civilian use is stopped. When it does, only a limited number of units have been made. Some accounts say only 200 have been made. Other accounts have the number at 500+. In any case, these first VW’s are distributed for the personal use of German officers.
By default, the priority of many German factories shifts to war-related goods, the Volkswagen plant included. Porsche & company likewise become dedicated to designing & engineering vehicles and aircraft that support the Germany war machine.
Hitler has just climbed into his vision---"Das volks wagon." ----"The people's car." Porsche is standing behind the car, his head just above the windshield. Even with little space in the rear seat, Hitler takes that as opposed to sitting in either front seat.
Photo credit: Unknown
Top down: The first VW factory under construction in Wolfsburg, Germany circa 1938.
As German workers depart the factory site to attend the Atlantic wall, 2,500 Italians arrive within 3 days to continue building the factory.
Damage seen at the factory railhead, shed 3, he result of allied bombing on the 8th of April, 1944
The Wolfsburg VW plant prior to the stacks being added.
Photo credits: Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft
Known formally as the Type 60, it being corporate Porsche's 60th logged project, it was also referred to as the KdF-Wagen. KdF stands for "Kraft durch Freude" --- "strength through joy." Above, an advertising photo promotes the good life with a family focus, the KdF supporting this lifestyle. Later, due to the shape of the car, it would acquire and keep the "Beetle" moniker.
Photo credit: Volkswagen AG
Those who contested Porsche taking credit for the design of the "Beetle." Left to right: Bela Barenyi, Joseph Ganz, Hans Ledwinka of Tatra.
Photo credits: Unknown
The Kubelwagen (top left), Tiger (top right) and Panzer tank, flying bomb (bottom left), and Tank Destroyer / Elefant (bottom right) are some of the war-time projects Porsche is involved in.
Allied bombing raids over Germany eventually reach Stuttgart, the city where Porsche’s office is. In total, 53 bombing raids turn Stuttgart into rubble. Not only is Porsche property at risk from being blown up or burned during this time, confiscation by the allies is another threat. In 1945, for the safety of personnel & property, Porsche moves the Stuttgart office, in part, to Gmund, a location in Austria about 345 miles (555 km) east of Stuttgart. The rest is moved to Zell am See, 20 miles into Austria from the southern German border. Porsche had purchased a farm home here four years earlier. This home would eventually become a retreat for generations of the Porsche family. To further protect corporate interests & assets, work at the new locations proceeds with a measured level of secrecy.
View of post-war Stuttgart. Had the decision to relocate the company to Austria not been made, Porsche history could have ended here.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
Above: British Major Ivan Hirst manages the transition of the VW factory out of its post-war ruin choosing Heinrich Nordhoff (at right) to continue in his footsteps. Nordhoff is an excellent choice as he leads Volkswagen to be a global player among automakers and the Beetle to be a worldwide phenomenon.
Hirst photo credit: Rex Features
Nordhoff photo credit: Alchetron
1945 - WW2 officially concludes on the 2nd of September,1945. The Volkswagen factory in Wolfsberg is mostly in ruin. Henry Ford II is offered the demolished factory. It’s free. Even so, Ford declines. When the British enter their “zone of occupation,” including Wolfsberg where the VW factory is, a 28 year old Major is handed command of the factory. He is Ivan Hirst. His responsibility is managing the transition of the demolished armaments production facility into a functioning manufacturing plant that will pick up Beetle production where it left off. As it turns out, he’s so good at what he does that the British, with Major Hirst as figurehead, will be credited with resurrecting the foundation on which today’s Volkswagen Group stands. More, it is Hirst who leads to Heinrich Nordhoff being hired in January of 1948. Nordhoff will prove to be a powerhouse leader for Volkswagen. His presence reduces per unit production man hours from 400 to 100, he develops export markets and overseas manufacturing facilities, all leading to the quirky looking Beetle becoming a global sensation.
WW2 being over, it would seem things would take a turn for the better for Porsche. They don’t. On Sunday, the 16th of December, 1945, Porsche, his son Ferry, and his son-in-law Dr. Anton Piëch, go to a meeting with French individuals in Baden-Baden, Germany. During this meeting, the three men are arrested by French authorities and taken to the allied prison there in Baden-Baden. They are charged with war crimes. The allegation: French people were used for slave labor in Porsche-related production facilities. Also suspect by the French is Porsche’s close working ties with Hitler and the Nazi regime. Porsche is indeed on record having been part of the SS. So too was Piech. In this regard, some accounts say Porsche was forced into this. Other accounts say he volunteered. Piech was known to be involved with a number of German parties that were not favored by the French. In any case, the three men are held without trial. For their release, French authorities want 1,500,000 francs (500,000 francs per person.)
An accounting of this arrest & imprisonment has the men being pawns in an international automotive political scheme. What’s at stake is whether VW’s are, under some authority of Porsche, manufactured in France or not. Some want this VW business in France. Others, including some French automakers notably led by Jean-Pierre Peugeot, do not. A number of powerful French Cabinet members also do not like the idea—the opinions of these members are rumored to have been paid for. To sabotage the VW plan coming to France, the idea is supposedly simple: take the heads of the Porsche organization out of circulation. The VW plant in France does not happen. Renault is noted to be using Porsche and Piech for consulting while the two are held captive. It is said that Porsche and Piech serve Renault willingly. The truth may be something else and certainly private to each man no matter what is publicly said.
Ferdinand Porsche, his son Ferry Porsche, and Dr. Anton Piech’s imprisonment marks a turning point in Porsche history. Ferry shall now become the focal point... click here to continue
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