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Ferdinand Porsche

 

 

1875 - 3rd of September - On this day, Ferdinand Porsche is born in Austria-Hungary, now Czechia, in the town of Vratislavice nad Nisou, otherwise known as Maffersdorf. The third child of Anna & Anton Porsche, he has two older siblings, Anna and Anton, and two younger, Hedwig and Oskar.

      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.) A workshop accident ending his older brother Anton's life at age 15, his father looks to young Ferdinand to take over the family business. That will not happen as young Porsche's  fascination is elsewhere. Electricity calls him. The family's home turns into his lab. His father, not pleased with Ferdinand's seemingly dangerous experiments, attempts to put an end to the electrical home-lab but young Porsche is persistant. He proceeds in a secret place within the home. While a young teen, his electrical capabilities are such that he’s managed to install an electrical doorbell in the family's home. Soon after, he wires the house an installs electrical lighting—the Porsche home is the first in town to experience this convenience. Ferdinand Porsche has just proven himself an innovative leader and he's not yet 20 years of age.

      

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.

Right: Ferdinand, bottom right corner, is 14 years of age at this moment. Photo is taken during his apprentice period with his father who is seated at the center. Other men are employees of his father's business.

Photo credit: Porsche AG.

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Porsche at Bella Eggar. His innovative skill leads to his being promoted to Test Center Manager.

Photo credit: Porsche AG.

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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, 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 promotes him to Test Center Manager. While with Bela Egger & Co., Porsche supposedly* builds the company’s first electric wheel-hub motor. This 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 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 roughly 10 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 this at his next employment.

 

Personal transportation at this point in time 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 to promote your status. One such wealthy tycoon is himself 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 and the exhaust emissions are pronounced. Still, as status symbol, motorized vehicles are worth the unpleasantries. Horses had their own issues 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.

     Porsche’s life now takes a quantum leap forward with the person of Ludwig Lohner. Lohner has recently inherited his father’s carriage making company in Vienna, the Hofwagenfabrik Jacob Lohner & Co. Lohner, 17 years Porsche’s senior, is looking to make a name for himself by motorizing the horse drawn carriages his company makes, doing so with electrical power. 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 motorize his carriages and sought Lohner out.)

 

1898 - After 5 years with Bella-Egger, Porsche departs them to work for Lohner. With Lohner, Porsche is tasked with motorizing a Lohner carriage using only electricity. Dauntless in the face of a good challenge, and given his electrical fascination, Porsche is surely agog with the mission in hand.

     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 is a learning curve for anyone wanting to make proper use of this vehicle. Top speed is 22 mph. Whether Porsche considered other available modes of transport in order to determine what speed would offer a competitive advantage is questionable but very likely given his progressive thinking. 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 2 laps around Vienna. The benefit to an electrical carriage is there being relatively no noise, no noxious fumes, and no dung to clean up. The downside is charging the vehicle. Because there is scant historical commentary on the topic of charging, this would suggest the process being no simple matter. Were it simple, that would have been highly publicized and so a matter of clear 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 avenues had problems that needed solving.

Porsche and his second employer, Ludwig Lohner. Porsche's star is just about to rise with Lohner as his nearest witness and commercial beneficiary. The pair will have an 8 year run together with both their names becoming well recognized throughout Europe for their motor vehicle accomplishments. Lohner being the entrepreneur that supports Porsche's inventive genius and aggressive racing. 

Photo credits: Unknown.

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The world's first motor "car" is attributed to Carl Benz circa 1885. It is noisey and emits a good deal of smoke that is very unpleasant to breathe. There is however, no horse involved that may or may not wish to cooperate with the goals of the day. And being drawn behind a horse, that was not always pleasant.

Photo credit: Carl Benz Archives

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Lohner C.2 Phaeton with rear wheel electric drive designed by Porsche. He is 23 years of age.

Photo credit: Prestige Electric Car

Porsche & Lohner’s motorized carriage is called the C.2 Phaeton. For its time, the carriage is a marvel. Electricity, while a recognized source of energy at the time, still remains somewhat of a mystery to most. So, to see a vehicle moving in relative silence with no horses pulling it, it was worth a look as it passed by. But like gas powered carriages, the C.2 has its own challenges. The battery in the C.2 weighs a burdensome 1,103 lb (500 kg). With motor, chassis and components, the vehicle’s total weight is 2,977 lb (1,350 kg). For 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 a mystery. Given the gearing and braking system, one could not simply step on to the carriage and expect to stylishly drive off. One had to learn how to operate the levers and pedals in a coordinated manner for the carriage to make progress. Skill was equally needed to come to a neat stop as intended. Of course, no one knew the technical systems of the C.2 better than Porsche. Because of this, no one wasmore capable of proficiently driving the C.2 than Porsche. His skill and the quality of his ideas would soon be race-tested.

     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---buiding the motor. This practice of Porsche designing & engineering and handing over specifications and plans will be the working basis for the consulting company Porsche will launch 33 years downstream from this point in time. 

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 in charge of the complex controls, the C.2 finishes first. As he does, race spectators are surely in some state of suspense. Porsche exits the C.2 and begins speaking with those nearby… with… no other racers following him. Eventually 2nd place does arrive…18 minutes after Porsche. As Porsche's first racing victory, the adulation he’s experiencing is certainly unfamiliar territory for him. 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 news lines, 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 spreads generously through Europe. It's possible these 24.8 miles coupled with the win and subsequent adulation Porsche receives is the beginning of Porsche’s race-driven life.

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

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print advertisement for c.2 phaeton

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 create 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. What cannot be accomplished at the moment for whatever reason, Porsche recognizes and sets, mentally / 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. 

     The next Lohner vehicle exhibits the savvy of Lohner to appreciate Porsche’s rising public 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—an absolute spectacle. 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.

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Far left: An exploded view of a wheel hub motor showing the inner rotor and the outer stator. 

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 sunk 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. depending on options.) The proverbial elephant in Porsche’s room is battery weight. While the media harps on the noise and fumes of combustion driven vehicles, the denouncing factor for electric vehicles is the massive weight. Again, there is no reference for how the early electrical vehicles were charged.

     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 pressure of air against himself. And being mindful of vehicle performance in multiple dimensions, he knew 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 for some time. Lohner and Porsche surely had any number of discussions regarding battery weight, that being their overriding obstacle to surmount. What comes of this is the world’s first hybrid, gas-electric vehicle—another innovative first for Porsche. 

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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. 

Photo credit: Porsche

The hybrid vehicle Porsche designs for Lohner’s company is called 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” of the car that will be mass produced & 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 some 1,000 lbs. (454 kg.) Going the hybrid route represents Lohner compromising his initial premise for developing an electrically powered vehicle. With this, the hand writing possibly appeared on the wall for electric vehicles. The technology just didn’t exist for electrical component weight to compete with the weight of gas powered motors and with the fact that those motors were improving. Gas stations were also increasing in number adding to the appeal of combustion powered vehicles.

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Semper Vivus as a test bed eventually becomes 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.

Photo credit: Porsche AG

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Porsche with Aloisia Johanna Kaes. The two marry in 1903. They will soon have two children, a daughter followed by the a son who will inherit responsibility for corporate 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, the gas motor powers an electric generator. The generator then powers the wheel hub motors. A battery, smaller than the prior vehicle's version, 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 Lohner & Porsche. It’s questionable whether Lohner financed the racing as purely experimental and/or he knew the publicity would create name recognition that he could capitalize on.

 

1902 - Porsche is drafted into the Austo-hungarian military service. With his automotive credentials established, he is the chosen driver for Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria---the individual's whose assassination will contribute/lead to WWI.

1903 - At 28 years of age, Porsche marries Aloisia Johanna Kaes.

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 sold. A few four wheel drive buses are produced. For personal use, those that can afford a Mixte are Kings, Dukes, and likewise 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 being made in 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, ever competitively driven, visits Ford a number of times in the U.S. What Porsche gleens from his discussions with Ford and his plat tours will eventually serve a company he, and his offspring, will be deeply involved with. Volkswagen.

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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. There was never an issue with the drive system during any rover mission. What did fail was a rear fender during the Apollo 17 lunar excursions. That problem was solved by clamping laminated maps to where the fender used to be.

Photo credit: NASA

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 for the Austro-Hungarian army. Then for the Spanish army. Years downstream, Lohner’s company will be acquired by 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

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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, trademarkes “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. In this evolving and highly competitive arena, alliances shifted overnight and companies underwent went rapid changes. As the forces of competition play out, the cream inevitably rose to the top. Gottlieb Daimler, Carl Benz, and Robert Bosch were among the German auto, engine and component leaders that were eventually leaders in their respective arenas. 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 idea to market. And these men did so.

     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 lead to the Diesel motor—a (patented) motor that ignites a 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, Deisel was scheduled to meet with Royal Navy representatives. The agenda was to discuss Diesel's motors powering British submarines. Diesel never made it to London. He 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 body being his father according to the personal items recovered from it. Various theories arose concerning Diesel's death. Some speculate he committed suicide. Other believe he was murdered because he had refused granting German forces exclusive rights to using his invention. What genuinely happened still remains a mystery. 

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Early titans of the German auto industry. Left to right: Gottlieb Daimler, Carl Benz, Robert Bosch. Below: Rudolf Diesel 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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Porsche's Model 27/80 for Austro-Daimler. Car's photo is taken during 1910 Prince Henry Trial (Race.) Run through multiple countries and varied terrain, the race was a timed tour from point-to-point that, in total, lasted about a week. 3 Passengers were allowed to accompany the driver.

Photo credit: Porsche

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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

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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.

     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 this 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.”

 

1904 - Porsche, age 35, now has a new sort of race to run. This being with his first born child, Louise. Her destiny is to marry Porsche’s future partner and corporate attorney, Dr. Anton Piech. Following WW2, While Ferdinand Porsche and her husband Anton 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 that they will begin in Austria. The 356 being the outcome of that. Also in Austria, Louise and her husband Anton will come to have the exclusive VW import business thanks to the post WW2 agreement her brother will negotiate with Heinrich Nordhoff at VW. More on this later.

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 Piech from French prison. This and more of 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. 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. It 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. 

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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

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Camillo Castiglioni is 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 dubiously credited with the ruin of the French franc due to his massively shorting the currency.

Photo credit: Stat Wien

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At right: In the 1920’s, the Porsche-designed SSK is the car to beat. Very few competitors accomplish this. Typical of the day is the driver being accompanied by a specialized passenger, 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:

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Adolf Rosenberger

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.

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Anton Piech

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. 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.

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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

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 his financial participation is with Austro-Daimler, it’s not going well. Porsche decides his time with the company is over 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—the symbol that remains in use today for the Mercedes brand. 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. DMG fancies racing. Surely this was an enticing lure for Porsche. The company has deep pockets. Porsche knows this. And DMG knows Porsche has a knack for designing winning race cars. This harmonic fit results in DMG's supercharged Model SSK.

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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. This made it efficient to power, fast, and nimble to handle. Of course there was no right or wrong about what type of car was correct, it was a matter of personal opinion.

 

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 moves back to Stuttgart. There, an idea takes shape

 

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 them 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 proposition 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’s 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 man. As an ensemble, the trio must have recognized 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 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)

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(a)

(b)

(c)

(d)

(e)

(f)

(g)

(h)

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

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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 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 with #7 so Wanderer does not realize they were the firm’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.

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Josef Stalin, Soviet Union's dictator who authored a brutal rule of leadership. He is credited with the murder of millions.

Photo credit: Unknown

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 nothing less than viciousness. 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 this was not by anyone who knew what he was doing, this was done on his behalf by supporters intent on climbing 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 report 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.

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Audi's logo evolves from Auto-Union.

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 country. 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.

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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

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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 creative type, 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 technical plans call for. 

porsche history 1934 porsche with driver hans stuck standing behind P-wagon at brno grand

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

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. The company 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.

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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

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Of the many accidents involving spectators, 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. The 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 heads 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 broke apart, the trajectory of the flying 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 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 this propaganda purpose.

Photo credits: Audi and Mercedes-Benz

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Ferry Porsche with Dorothea Reitz.

Photo credit: Porsche AG

1933 - Porsche’s son, 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, will carry on with corporate Porsche until the company goes public. He 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. More on Butzi and his brothers later.

 

1934 - Hitler and Porsche meet. The specifications for the “people’s car” Hitler wants made are laid out for Porsche. 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 greater. 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.

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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 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. As such, the car was not like any other car to create for Porsche.

     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. Production costs were also not meeting Hitler’s stipulated price point of 990 RM. Porsche was looking at 1,400 RM at best. Having already squeezed everything tightly to get to this figure, there was nothing left to squeeze. Aside from the problem of designing a car that satisfied all Hitler’s target specs, Porsche faced political challenges instigated by various German automakers and others that generally opposed Porsche. The admiration Hitler was affording him was too much to bear for some.

     Ferdinand Porsche was no man to take lightly. Just as on the race track, he knew his competition well—their strengths & weaknesses. He’s also an analytical business strategist with a decisive will to win. It should no surprise that all of Porsche’s antagonists eventually end up eating crow.

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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. Hitler's 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, 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. Hitler says to Porsche he thought the Volkswagen factory should be named after Porsche. Coming from the man across the table, it was of course worth considering. For whatever private reason 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 the factory and production oversight of the Type 60. When he does, his son Ferry assumes authority for the Porsche design office in Stuttgart.

     Within the Porsche 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. Bela Barenyi, Josef Ganz, and Tatra the car company being among the major discontents with the fact that Porsche was taking top billing for the design. Barenyi is a Hungarian auto 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 that 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. 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 promote his own vision of small-car benefits) he was employed by Daimler. There, he met & 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. 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 but Hitler put a stop to it. Hitler said, “I will settle the matter.” Tatra later dropped their claim. Years later, Tatra sued Volkswagon 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 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 vehicles and aircraft that support the Germany war machine. 

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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 either front seat.

Photo credit: Unknown

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Top: The first VW factory under construction in Wolfsburg, Germany circa 1938.

Next: As German workers depart the factory site to attend the Atlantic wall, 2,500 Italians arrive within 3 days to continue building the factory.

Next: Damage seen at the factory railhead, shed 3. It's gthe result of allied bombing on the 8th of April, 1944

Bottom: 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 and familyassociated with owning a KdF. Later, due to the shape of the car, it would acquire and keep the "Beetle" monicur. 

Photo credit: Volkswagen AG

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The Tiger (top right) and Panzer tank, flying bomb (bottom left), Tank Destroyer / Elefant (bottom right), and Kubelwagen (top left) 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 relocation sites proceeds with a measured level of secrecy. 

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View of post-war Stuttgart. Had the decision to relocate 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 to 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 to become a global sensation. 

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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 as intended. Renault is noted to be using Porsche and Piech for consulting while the two are held captive. It is said that Porsche and Piech do so willingly. The truth may be something else and certainly genuinely private to each man no matter what is 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... continue

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