with partners Adolf Rosenberger and Anton Piech.
Ferry Porsche next to the acclaimed "four cam" engine designed by Ernst Fuhrmann. Not only did this engine upgrade the power of the 4 cylinder engine Porsche was using but the bearing configuration made it exceptionally durable---perfectly suited to endurance races like Le Mans and similar.
Photo credit: Porsche AG.
Karl Rabe. He and Ferdinand Porsche met while they were both employed by Austro-Daimler. The two men also worked together at Steyr. When Porsche and partners founded corporate Porsche in 1931, Rabe was offered & took the position of Chief Designer. Letters found after WW2 revealed that Rabe had wanted to become a partner in Porsche. Why this failed to happen is unknown.
Photo credit: Porsche AG.
Right: From Porsche's sequential project manifest, Type Number 350 is highlighted. It shows the "Business Plan" logged for what will be Porsche the car manufacturer. The company will be formalized as Porsche Konstruktionen GmbH and formed in Gmund, Austria, in 1947.
Montluc prison in Lyon, France was notorious for its harsh, medieval conditions. Built in 1921, it fell into disuse and was closed in 1932. It was reopened in 1939 and used by the French for military prisoners. When the Germans took over France, the gestapo took control of Montluc in February of 1943. The French liberated the prison in August of 1944. In 1947, it was once again used as a criminal prison.
Photo credit: Unknown
Ferry Porsche, his father Ferdinand, and Ferry's brother in law, Dr. Anton Piech are, following WW2, in French prison. Charged with war crimes, their bail is set at 1,500,000 francs. During the men’s imprisonment, corporate Porsche has remained in operation. Porsche’s Chief Engineer, Karl Rabe, is the person with the greatest authority in the absence of the others so it is likely him who has been leading the team. Rosenberger, the third founding partner in corporate Porsche, has been in the U.S. since 1939, and no longer involved. Within 6 months of the men's imprisonment, 500,000 francs has been raised by the Porsche family. This allows for the purchased freedom of one man. The decision is taken for this to be Ferry. While there is no record indicating who or how this decision is made, it would very likely be Porsche senior’s call. Given Porsche Sr. being in his seventies, this decision would seem symbolic of him passing the proverbial torch of corporate Porsche on to his son. In effect, it is time for Ferry to lead corporate Porsche forward. Senior has just, informally, retired.
With the three men having been arrested and imprisoned in December of 1945, Ferry’s release in 6 months occurs mid 1946. It’s now of interest to reference Porsche’s Type Number catalog. Doing so, it’s evident that there have been approximately 25 projects launched during the first half of 1946. Then comes project #350. This project is not for any client. Rather, it is clearly an internal corporate project titled: “Business plan for Porsche KG.” While it cannot be concluded from the Type Number’s log exactly what day project #350 is logged, given what the project represents, it is highly likely that only Ferry would take authority for this “Business plan.” Given the number of projects cataloged ahead of #350 in 1946, that count would fit with Ferry’s release mid year and more to the point, his immediately beginning the business plan. The purpose in considering the timing of these events is to grasp what Ferry is and has been doing.
Project #350 is a pivotal moment in Porsche history. With it, Ferry’s vision for the company is being scripted and Porsche, the company, will soon dramatically alter course. The existing German company, Dr. Ing. h. c. F. Porsche GmbH, founded by his father in 1931 with Rosenberger and Piech as partners, exists as a dedicated consultancy. Project #350 is the business plan for Porsche the car manufacturer. Legally formed in 1947, the company is “Porsche Konstruktionen GmbH” --- ”Porsche Construction.” This new corporate entity is formed in Austria with Ferry and his sister, Louise, as legal partners. Anton Piech is supposedly involved but this may be related to Louise’s legal participation (Anton being her husband.)
Following project #350, there are only 6 project #’s between that plan and the launch of the first production car, Type Number 356. The speed at which events occur offer insight to what is transpiring in Ferry’s life concerning his responsibility for carrying the business of Porsche forward. What is of interest here is Ferry’s transition from being under the influence of his father’s corporate vision to now having the freedom to express his himself. With this freedom, he also assumes the burden to make his vision become successful. On his shoulders is the reputation his father’s life has created. The loftiness of the Porsche name is such that for Ferry to fail, as surely must have crossed his mind at moments, would be a tragedy of no small measure. How heavy this matter weighed on Ferry is of course his private domain.
Considering when Ferry was released, when the “Business plan” was launched, when the construction company was formed and when the first 356 project was initiated, the proximity of all these linked events allude to Ferry having crystalized his vision for the future of corporate Porsche while he was imprisoned by the French. He certainly had time on hand during this period to think and plan. Whether Ferry actually did so or not is speculative however the timing of events point strongly to his doing so. In the mist is also whether he and his father discussed the future of the business while they were in prison, or otherwise. And, if they did, to what extent? It does seem logical that some dialogue in this regard would have occurred given their father & son relation and the “future” being naturally significant to both of them, albeit in different ways. Alternatively, there could have been no such dialogue although that seems unlikely. To speculate here, Porsche senior could have left the door entirely open to see what his son would do going through it. A far fetched notion indeed, but possible. The conclusion drawn here as to whether Ferry’s vision was his own, or whether it was influenced or otherwise approved by his father is not important. What is important in these events is Ferry seeming to know what he is going to do before being released from prison. Then, upon his release, immediately getting on with it.
Seen here is the first Porsche 356 model produced bearing Vin# 356-001 and license plate K 45 286. The "original" 50, some say there were 52 original 356 units, were made by hand in an old saw mill in Gmund, Austria. It took 2 years to complete this first production run. These Gmund-made model bodies were made of aluminum. All subsequent 356 bodies made in Stuttgart were made of steel.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
356 coupe at foreground and the first 356 behind it, a roadster. These cars are parked outside the working factory in Gmund.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Type Number #356/1 is the first car that Porsche Construction designs, engineers, then builds & tests, and most significantly, sells under the Porsche car brand. The complex brilliance of how this vehicle is structured & produced suggests a good deal of thought went into this beforehand. Once again, according to the speed of events, it seems plausible Ferry thought the car’s composition through while in prison and was ready to begin taking action within days after his release. What he conceived is the car using, in large part, key components such as engine & transmission, and suspension parts that already exist in the Volkswagen Beetle (that his father had designed and engineered.) In doing so, Ferry circumvents the time & costs necessary to design, engineer, prototype, test, build and refine all the components under the Porsche brand. The savings in doing so are significant. Because corporate Porsche is prevented from operating in Germany due to post-war rules, the Porsche companies—there are now two of them—are working out of locations in Austria. This being an old sawmill in Gmund and the family home in Zell am See. Some accounts have Ferry moving the consulting business (his father founded) to these locations from Stuttgart at this point in time. Other accounts hold the company having moved to these locations earlier under Porsche senior’s direction to protect assets from war caused losses.
Given the use of Beetle components, what had to be done was design the 356 around the VW component dimensions. Because many measurements for the 356 were already given under this format, it was a relatively quick matter to design & engineer the 356. This as opposed to sorting out every dimension of a car, this being very time consuming. Surely when Ferry conceived his master plan, he must have been excited by how the whole of it was coming together. Bottom line, the puzzle he fit together generated time & cost efficiencies that made the 356 viable to produce & sell with no investors needed---the company remained entirely in family hands. Ferry and his sister, Louise, being the only noted legal partners in the construction company.
Ferry makes another clever move. He presells an unknown number of 356 units before actually beginning to make the cars. A car dealer in Zurich, Switzerland, is the first buyer. With funds in hand, purchases from Volkswagen and other material suppliers are made and fabrication of the 356 begins.
Workers assembling one of the first 50-52 original 356 models in the Gmund facility.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
While the 356 is very much a VW Beetle in terms of key components, this fact is wrapped in a body form that is typical of the design aesthetics Porsche’s reputation was and is being built on. Erwin Komenda is credited as the body designer for the 356. By this time, aerodynamic studies to aid in body design are commonplace for Porsche. The 356 included. Its flowing form being the result of many hours "in the tunnel." Komenda has been with Porsche since the company began, 16 years earlier. He will remain a body designer with the company until his departure under questionable circumstances sometime around 1966.
Erwin Komenda (left) and a guest look at the 356 buck for a coupe. On this buck, skilled metal formers bend the aluminum sheets to hand form the 356 body. Body seams are welded together and the beating of the metal continues until dimensional specs are met and the metal is smooth.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Piero Dusio, head of Cisitalia and the buyer of the Porsche designed & engineered 360, a Grand Prix race car (that would never race a single Grand Prix event.)
Photo credit: Cisitalia Archives
The list of efficiencies dedicated to the 356 continues in how the body panels are fabricated. Ferry has decided to buck these panels in house. Bucking entails first making a wooden form of the car. This form---a buck---is subsequently used to hand bend metal sheets on in order to shape each panel of the car. The bent sheets are then further refined, also by hand, to the dimensional specifications given by the plan for each body panel. Ferry had calculated the time & cost figures involved and determined the inhouse bucking of body panels to be the path of least resistance cost wise. The alternative being to create tooling dies which would have been expensive. Another option was to subcontract the panel making. Clearly, cost efficiency was Ferry's priority to begin making the 356. The hand making path took time. The first 50 (some say there were 52) 356 units made in Gmund takes 2 years to complete. The first 356 is road certified on the 28th of June, 1948. The units made in Gmund are referred to as “originals” or "prototypes." A handful exist today. As collectibles, they are rarely for sale and when one is, the price is a hefty figure. A distinguishing element in these original 356 units is their bodies being made of aluminum. After these Gmund units, the ones made in Stuttgart will have steel bodies.
Carlo Abarth, Porsche's representative in Italy and the one who brought Dusio to contract for the 360.
Photo credit: Carlo Abarth Foundation
While the first 356 models are being made in Gmund, an important event is unfolding for Porsche in Italy. It involves the Italian racing team Cisitalia owned by Piero Dusio, a race driver turned business man, and Karl Albert Abarth. Abarth is Austrian by birth but had moved to Italy years early and naturalized himself an Italian citizen as Carlo Alberto Abarth. He is connected to Porsche via his wife, she being the once-secretary for Dr. Anton Piech, Ferry’s brother-in-law. Racing injuries had forced Abarth to retire from the cockpit but he remains passionate for sports cars and racing.
At the end of September in 1946, Abarth had joined the Porsche team as the company’s representative in Italy. It is Abarth who makes contact with Piero Dusio. Abarth’s intent is to sell Dusio a Porsche-designed race car specifically for Grand Prix competition. Dusio has a number of normally aspirated race cars his team is seeing success with. What entices Dusio is stepping up to Formula 1 with the supercharged Porsche design Abarth is tempting him with. Five months from the time Abarth joins Porsche, a contract between Cisitalia and Porsche is inked in Turin, Italy. This occurs on the 2nd of February, 1947. Porsche Type Number 360 is entered into the the company's log. From this, the Porsche-Cisitalia 360 Grand Prix race car will be born.
As the first race car authored under Ferry’s authority, it will prove to be an amazing statement of Porsche innovation and technical prowess. It will also prove Ferry to be deftly stepping into his father’s shoes. Technology aside, the 360 will also be immortalized for what it does and doesn’t do.
The 360 . Designed and engineered by Porsche in Germany, plans and specifications went to Italy where the Cisitalia team built the car. The Porsche team is said to have been surprised at how little help the Italian team required from them (Porsche) to machine all the parts and then assemble the entire car.
Photo credits: Unknown
The transmission—designed by Porsche’s Leopold Schmidt—is the first sequential gearbox in a car. Gears are also synchronized. Another first is the mid-placed engine with both engine and transmission ahead of the rear axle. This improved the balance of the car, but is said to be a tricky drive, more so on hard pavement. Also new is the 2-wheel drive that can be switched by the driver, on-the-fly, to 4-wheel drive. The frame is molybdenum tubular space-frame—lightweight but very rigid. The engine is a flat 12 cylinder with dual superchargers. Extensive aerodynamic testing is done as Porsche continues its focus on reducing race car drag. In all, the 360 represents the current pinnacle of racing cars.
After all the innovation and capital investment in the 360, what is most amazing is the fact that the car never gets to compete in a single Grand Prix race. The reason: Formula 1 rules are modified thereby disqualifying the 360 from class competition.
On the surface, racing can be reduced to a simple measure of who runs the fastest around a circuit. And, who comes in second, and so on. On the inside, it’s a complex, gritty game of technical intellect, creatively interpreting regulations governing car specifications, mind-bending craftsmanship, who-knows-who, and power plays the likes of which pit the horsepower of man against man. To outwit competitors legitimately, and perhaps illegitimately at times, requires chess-like cunning mixed with a fair amount of gall. Governing rules, like curves in a course, can and do change according to various forces, sometimes apparent, sometimes not. To say the 360 was intentionally shut down by forces that preferred to avoid an encounter with the car, that is perhaps an erroneous stretch of the imagination. Perhaps not. Given the fact that everyone involved in F1 operates with the laser-like focus on winning, its not only those behind the wheels who are driven to extremes. Owners, managers and the rest, all play to win. This is not to conclude or imply that rules were manipulated or otherwise modified with the intent of shutting the 360 down. Nor is it to be critical of F1 in general. Rather, these are the realities that govern the quest for victory in possibly the most audacious, high stakes sport in existence. And all of it is motivated by big money.
Dusio, having invested a fortune of some measure up to this point, has run dry. Speculation is his plan was to invest to the max in the acquisition of an unbeatable car, then recoup his investment by winning Grand Prix after Grand Prix. It was a gamble that could have paid off, but didn't. Being a man of creative will, having a track record of success, and surely with connections, this would all suggest he should have been able to secure subsequent funding to continue the 360’s development as needed. For whatever reasons, this fails to happen. Dusio, his team broke, ends up moving to Argentina taking the 360 with him. There and with financial support from high positions in the government, he gets back into the car business albeit not racing. Dusio’s days end in Argentina. The 360 destiny is to return to Germany where, after switching ownership, Porsche AG ultimately gets ownership of the car. The 360’s place is now firmly secure in and can be seen at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart.
What the 360 does do is significant for the Porsche family. From, in part, the funds Ferry receives from Dusio for the development of the 360, 1,000,000 francs are used to buy his father and Anton Piech’s freedom from the French prison in Dijon. The 360 is, genuinely, a vehicle of liberation. Ferdinand and Anton walk free from prison in August of 1949. Ferdinand Porsche is 73 years of age now. Anton Piech is 55.
Ferry and his father Ferdinand Porsche stand next to 356-001. This photo is after Ferry had managed to secure his father and Anton Piech's release Montluc prison in Lyon, France. His expression in this photo speaks of a measure of reserved pride in what he has accomplished---transitioning Porsche from a consultancy to a car maker and managing the release of his father and Anton Piech from Montluc prison in Lyon, France.
When seeing the 356 and 360 plans, Porsche Sr. commented the cars being “just the way I would have done them down to the last nut & bolt.” Surely a very high compliment from father to son given the precision Porsche Sr. exacted from everyone. Amidst the cluttered path of existence there are rare, elevated moments that define relationships. This must be one of those moments for father & son. Whether Porsche Sr. intended it or not—he likely did given his conscious eloquence—the words he just spoke concerning the 356 & 360 were symbolic of the Porsche torch now being in firmly in Ferry’s hands. There are elder employees in the company for whom this message was purposeful to hear. In other words, Ferdinand Porsche had expressed his authority now being his son's.
1949 - In the spring of 1949, and concerning the 356 models, Ferry has a significant meeting with the GM of Volkswagon, Heinz Nordhoff. What transpires is pivotal for the evolution of Porsche. In exchange for Porsche’s design services for Volkswagen, Porsche will:
Be able to acquire & use many parts from VW for the 356.
Use VW’s network of dealerships, eventually world-wide, for sales & servicing the 356 model.
Be able to buy from VW's wholesalers
Concerning Beetle production by Volkswagen, Porsche gets a royalty for every unit produced.
Porsche will be sole general importer of VW’s in Austria. (This import business is taken over by his sister, Louise and brother in law, Anton Piech.)
This arrangement between Porsche and Volkswagen translates into a good measure of fiscal stability for Porsche. With this, Ferry is able to scale the business up relatively quickly, and do so with minimal expense. Of course the Porsche team had to perform for Nordhoff but it was a given they would do this—Nordhoff banked on it.
1950 - Ferry Porsche with his sons. Wolfgang, not too pleased with something, is in the front, age 7. Hans-Peter at left. Gerhard at right. And "Butzi" is with sunglasses. He is the one who will eventually be known for the design of the Porsche 911. Controversy surrounds Butzi's design credit as Erwin Komenda was head of Porsche's Body Design Department at the time of Butzi's involvement with the company. The matter leads to an internal storm that some say has nepotism swirling at its core. Precisely what transpired cannot be said as accountings of what happened conflict.
1950 - Ferry moves the company—and family—from Austria back to Stuttgart, to the district of Zuffenhausen. It’s very likely Ferry did this to strategically position the new Porsche car making business alongside the likes of Daimler, Benz, Audi and other majors.
At this point, Ferry is subleasing space for 356 construction from Reutter, an auto panel manufacturer. To increase production speed, Ferry has gone from bucking the 356 bodies as was done in Gmund to now having Reutter make them. And instead of aluminum, the Stuttgart 356 bodies are now being made in steel. Porsche will eventually buy Reutter in 1963 with the exclusion of their seat making division. Reutter will continue that segment of the former business under a new name, Recarro.
Ferdinand Porsche had been out of prison for roughly one year. His health has declined so his participation in the business is limited to rare occasions which were, at this stage, more for his entertainment than anything else. On one occasion, Ferry brings his father to the shop to see a Zuffenhausen-356 that had just been completed. Ferry wrote of this visit, “When we arrived, my father inspected the body closely, walking around it without saying a word. He finally sat down on a stool right in front of it. There was general astonishment. The Reutter people perhaps thought that my father was tired, when he suddenly said, ‘The body will have to go back to the workshop. It’s not right. It’s not symmetrical!’ The body was measured and indeed it was discovered that it was shifted 20mm (0.78 inch) to the right away from the central axis!” Age 74, and not in the best of health, Father Porsche’s eye for dimension was as sharp as ever.
With the move to Stuttgart, Ferry shifted car construction from the Austrian company (Porsche Konstruktionen GmbH,) to the German company (Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche KG.) This was surely done for any number of reasons. Among them was the respect he was offering his father. This being the case as the Austrian company had been formally formed between Ferry and his sister Louise. Exactly what Louise’s relationship with the German company is unclear however her husband, Anton Piech, was a founding partner in this business and so, as a couple, she remains invested. Louise & Anton are also busy developing the exclusive VW import business in Austria that her brother had secured (for them) with Heinz Nordhoff of Volkswagen in 1949.
Continuing very obviously in his father’s meticulous path but certainly in his own style, Ferry’s focus is divided between the production side of the business and the racing side. Unlike his father who’s team designed & engineered race cars for clients, team Porsche under Ferry’s leadership was doing so for the Porsche brand with cars being driven by Porsche team members. Race cars were also being sold to select buyers. Porsche, like many racing brands, will evolve into sponsorship relationships. These relationships serve to defray the rising costs that result from competition pushing the boundaries of technology further and further into the stratosphere, Porsche included.
1951 - June 23 - Porsche wins their class and finishes 20th overall with a modified 356 #46. Driving was shared between Auguste Veuillet, a French importer of Porsches, and Edmond Mouche, a Le Mans local.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Start of the 1928 Le Mans. Behind an official standing in the foreground, drivers are seen sprinting to their cars from across the track. Driver's would get in, start their engines and drive off. While exciting for drivers and spectators alike, this "Le Mans start" as it came to be called proved dangerous and was halted in 1970.
Photo credit: Le Miroir des sports
Unlike most races that are relatively short sprints, Le Mans was conceived to test the endurance that car makers could or could not muster in their products. The first 24 hour Le Mans race was held the 26th of May, 1923. Initial races declared a class winner after 3 consecutive races. The car that covered the most cumulative miles over what amounted to a 72 hour period was declared the winner. This format lasted 5 years until it was concluded that waiting 3 events for a winner to be announced was dysfunctional. Beginning in 1928, class winners were declared at the end of each race.
Over the years, managing the goal of winning a Grand Prix and any of the various titles has evolved into a science supported by a team of 100+ people, each individual dedicated to a very specific area of expertise. In 1951, Porsche went to Le Mans with two cars, #46 and #47. The 47 car was damaged during practice by Rudolph Sauerwein. He, his driving partner and the car didn’t take part in the race. Porsche’s #46, with Auguste Veuillet and Edmond Mouche sharing the cockpit of the modified 356, finished first in their 1100cc class (and 20th overall.) Back then, there were just a handful of technicians that went along to support the cars & drivers.
Ferry Porsche with Max Hoffman on Max's penthouse balcony in Manhattan, New York City. The two are meeting to discuss a business deal that leads to Hoffman becoming the first importer and retail seller of Porsche in the U.S.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Top: Hoffman's auto showroom located in New York City at 487 Park Avenue circa 1950.
Photo credit: Unknown
Middle: 356 being offloaded from a transatlantic cargo ship at New York Harbor.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Bottom: 356 on the "turn table" display inside the Hoffman showroom.
Photo credit: Unknown
1951 - Ferry is in New York City for a meeting with “Max” Hoffman, the man credited with pioneering the auto import business in the U.S. A respected European race car driver turned businessman, Max had immigrated to the U.S. in 1941. He had fled Germany pre war to England. Then to Portugal. And from Portugal he boarded a steam ship bound for America. When he arrived in ‘41, the soft economy for cars didn’t allow him to immediately pursue his automotive passion. Instead, he starts a women’s jewelry business with product made utilizing metalized plastic. After WW2 ends and the U.S. economy for automobiles picks up, he invests the fortune he’s made from his plastic jewelry venture into launching the Hoffman Motor Company in 1947. He starts with a single French Delahaye four passenger coupe. His portfolio will eventually include the likes of Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Alfa-Romeo, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Austin, Cooper Healy, Morgan and Lea-Francis. To compliment his vehicle offering, his main showroom is designed at no small expense by Frank Lloyd Wright. More, Max has chosen prestigious Park Avenue for his showroom’s location. Hoffman is a brilliant marketing man.
Porsche’s racing history is well to Hoffman. What exists rather unproven is Porsche’s reputation as a production car maker. Still, what draws Max in is the 356 filling a void in his offering, the car being a sporty compact. With the race-winning name of “Porsche” behind the product in this case, Max and Ferry pen a deal for the first Porsches to be sold in the USA.
During their meeting, Max makes a leading observation to Ferry. He mentions the fact that all major car makers in the world have their own symbol… “What about Porsche?” Ferry reaches for a napkin & pen and starts sketching. Whether the napkin thinking spawns an immediate solution or is a drawn out design process is unknown. Assuming Max broached this topic following the serious number crunching that was the purpose of the meeting, that being to a car deal between the two, the post-number crunching ambiance would likely be more relaxed than it was earlier. On this basis, the creative juices could be flowing rather easily. What comes of such unpressurized moments, quite often, is solutions that rise instinctively from the soul rather than from a grinding of the intellect. That's not to say intelligence is irrelevant. Rather, the process being more instinctual when ideas are sourced from the soul.
1951 - Ferdinand Porsche's time now comes to a close. He's lived a full life. Many challenges have found him but he proved himself a winner in countless ways. To his greatest fortune, he lived long enough to see all 8 of his grandchildren enter the Porsche lineage. And long enough to see his dream for a compact, lightweight car—better than his own Beetle—come to fruition. And do so under his son’s creativity authority & business acumen. He suffers a stroke in November of 1950. Not recovering from this, his final day is witnessed on the 30th of January, 1951. His body is laid to rest at Schuettgut Chapel, the Porsche family estate, Zell am See, Salzburg, Austria. His spirit, with much admiration and respect, lives on.
1952 - May - Instigated by Max Hoffman, Ferry assembles a Porsche crew to visit Studebaker in the U.S. with him. His team includes Karl Rabe (Chief Designer), Leopold Schmidt (Chassis & transmission Designer), and Erwin Komenda (Body Designer.) They arrive in South Bend, Indiana, along with two cars, a 356 and 530. The 530 being a prototype version of the 356 with a longer wheel base, extended door width, and higher roof. These car’s are presented to Studebaker with the intent of selling them the rights to the 530. Studebaker’s management is not impressed with either car. Still, with a display of salesmanship brilliance, the meeting concludes with Porsche acquiring a lucrative contract to design a four-door sedan for Studebaker. That car will be the 542.
Porsche's 542 for Studebaker in the USA. Due to a variety of circumstances, Studebaker drops the project after having invested significantly with Porsche.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Porsche's Fuhrmann engine in pieces. What made this engine so spectacular was not only the performance Ernst Fuhrmann achieved but the durability he had built into specific areas of high load.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Porsche’s 542 for Studebaker goes nowhere commercially as Studebaker changes course midstream. For Porsche, the project generates a sizeable infusion of capital, approximately $500,000 (or $4.9 million in today’s dollars). Ferry uses assets from this inflow to construct Porsche’s first dedicated car factory in Zuffenhausen, in the northern part of Stuttgart. Prior to the factory moving into the newly constructed facilities, Porsche is operating out of space subleased from Reutter, a manufacturer of car body panels including those for the 356 now being made in steel.
1953 - Ferry creates the Porsche 550. The car is similar to the 356 but specifically designed, engineered, and built for racing. Unlike the 356 with the engine positioned behind the rear axle (this configuration providing more interior space,) 550 engines are ahead of the axle. The result is improved balance of the car and so better handling at speed. 90 units are made between 1953 and ‘56. The 550 dominates its 1.1 - 1.5 liter racing class. To further the performance of the 550, Ferry calls on Ernst Fuhrmann to make engine improvements. Fuhrmann had joined Porsche years earlier, in 1947, when the company was in Gmund. He later departed the company in 1956 to join Goetz. In 1971 he returns to Porsche as Technical Director.
Above: Fuhrmann's "4 cam" engine on display at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart.
Right: Ernst Fuhrmann, second from right, looks over a Porsche 550 Spyder. Ferry Porsche is 5th from the right. Below: An overhead view of the 550.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Fuhrmann’s roller-bearing, quad-cam engine is cutting edge for the moment. A skilled professional requires 120 hours to assemble the engine's parts as seen above. Timing the engine to perfection takes anywhere from eight to fifteen hours. Although highly complex, the engine proves dramatically reliable over long-distance races. Type Numbered 547, these engines went into Porsche’s 550 Spyders and 550A. The 356 Carerra GT and GS share the upgraded Type 547/1 engine. The first 550’s utilized a VW 1500 4 cylinder engine that produced 70 hp. Prior to the engine’s retirement, Fuhrmann’s touch had nearly doubled the engine’s performance to 135 hp. Fuhrmann would go on to become Chairman of the board at Porsche in 1972, holding this position for 6 years, during which time the company goes public, in German this is indicated by "Aktiengesellschaft" - "AG." Porsche AG.
Over time, Ferry is using more & more of Porsche’s own branded parts in place of VW parts, some of these being made in house, others are subcontracted to part making specialists. Not only is this necessary in terms of evolving the performance of the 356 as Ferry is dedicated to, doing so also serves to progressively purify the Porsche brand. Concerning brand purity, the 356 is very much a Volkswagen at heart and the public knows this. With VW perceived as low performance economy brand, and Porsche seeking a high performance brand with a price point to match, market perception of the 356 is currently not ideal. Ferry must have predicted the possibility of this unproductive dynamic when he conceived of using VW parts to make the car. Assuming he did see this coming, he would likely have recognized that with some measure of success with the car, he’d be able to ween the 356 off Volkswagen parts. This is precisely what's happening now.
1955 - Rather than use a number moniker to identify 356 models for the U.S. market, Max Hoffman suggests to Ferry naming the cars. This thinking on Hoffman’s part is due to U.S. car buyers---Hoffman's market---having become accustomed to names that have some symbolic meaning as opposed to numbers that distinctly lack a meaning nuisance. Hoffman’s motivation in this recommendation is his belief that the car will sell better when named rather than numbered. Hoffman was known for “participating” with European automakers concerning their products that he sold. The Mercedes “Gullwing” is the most notable collaboration Hoffman is credited with. Regarding the 356, Hoffman suggests the car be named the “Continental.” Ferry agrees.
356 Naming convention instigated by Max Hoffman. First comes the "Continental." When seeing the car, Ford objects to Porsche using the name claiming they have reserved rights to "Continental." Porsche agrees but has already produced a number of fenders punched to receive the "Continental" script. To not waste the already produced fenders, the name "European" is applied. Eventually the naming convention returns to numbers with names added to indicate special performance options or unique cars altogether, i.e., 356 Carrera., 356 Speedster.
Photo credit: 356 European Registry
Ferry and his eldest son Butz with a classical non expressive look to the camera. Of Ferry's other sons, Gerhard never showed any interest in the business. He preferred nature and farming. Hans-Peter would join the company first as assistant to a manager, then was promoted to head of purchasing, production, construction, and inspection. In 1971, he departed to join his brother Butzi in Porsche Design. The fourth son, Wolfgang, was schooled in business and began importing Yamaha motorbikes into Austria. In 1976 he joined Daimler-Benz. 2 Years later he served on the board of Porsche then became Chairman of Porsche. In 2008, he also joined the supervisorty board of VW.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Soon after the "Porsche Continental" arrives in the U.S., Ford takes exception to the car’s name. Reason being, their ownership of the “Continental” name as in “Lincoln Continental.” Some accounts indicate Ford suing Porsche for infringement, other accounts have Ford pleasantly approaching Porsche and informing them of the situation. Porsche agrees to making an error. With body panels already fabricated to receive the Continental badge, in typical creative style, and surly after researching the market for name availability, Ferry selects a new name, “European.” Being long enough in letters, this name works with the holes in the already made “Continental” fenders. New badges are made and installed on the existing fenders. Problem solved.
Hoffman decisively fell on his face on his "Continental" recommendation. With his knowing the U.S. auto market as well as he should have, and being as clever of a businessman as he seems, his mistake is very oddly out of character. To his positive credit, the "Speedster" model of the 356 he recommended Ferry create is selling well. The Speedster is a no frills, paired down version of the 356 that is only available as a roadster---no roof. The price point was also reduced compared to the standard 356 adding to the car's appeal.
1955 - The “Carrera” was another named 356 model introduced as an upgrade option. Improved performance was supplied by a Fuhrmann 4-cam engine, the engine created for the Porsche 550 race car. After January 1956, apart from the “Speedster” and “Carrera” names, 356 models were no longer named. In all, the 356 was created in 4 main versions, the Original / Prototype, A, B, and C models.
1957 - Ferry’s eldest of 4 sons now enters the Porsche story. Like Ferry, he is named Ferdinand Porsche after his grandfather. Formally, he is referred to as “Ferdinand Alexander.” He is nicknamed "Butzi.” His youth is filled with a fascination for cars and the family’s business. As a young man, he attends the Waldorf School in Stuttgart. Then the Ulm School of Design. He is dismissed from the latter after his first year. The basis: the examination board “doubts his talents.” In 1957, at age 22, he begins practical training with corporate Porsche in the body design department under the authority of the company’s long time Body Design Director, Erwin Komenda. In Butzi's own words, he does not consider himself a designer, rather he wants to be regarded as "technically talented in shaping.”
1959 - Ferry is now 50 years of age. He is thinking of the next Porsche vehicle and who will design it---whose name will be stamped on it. Among Ferry’s sons, Butzi is the obvious choice as he is the eldest son and the most dedicated to the business of Porsche. And although Butzi does not like being called a designer, he is.
Ferry lays out the basic requirements for the car for Butzi. Referencing the 356, the next generation Porsche is to offer more comfort, a larger cabin, more trunk storage space, and improved performance. Based on this, Butzi produces the first sketches for what will be the Type 901/911 in 1959. The fact that the 901/911 Type Number does not appear until 1963—4 years from this moment—suggests this work being currently off the record. It’s possible Ferry wants to confirm for himself what his son is capable of before it being publicly known what Butzi is doing. Point being, it would certainly not serve Ferry’s reputation or that of the company were Butzi to design a flop and publicly fall on his face. How involved Komenda is—as Porsche’s Body Design Director—during this early 901/911 design phase is unknown. With Ferry symbolically handing his son the keys to the design kingdom of Porsche, the hand writing is on the wall for Komenda, if perhaps illegible at this stage.
Erwin Komenda (above) had first met Ferry’s father while Porsche Sr. and Komenda worked at Steyr in Austria. Porsche Sr. was expert at many things including the ability to recognize exceptional talent & skill when he saw it. Komenda had both. Porsche hired Komenda in 1931 when he and his partners formed the original Porsche company. From day one, Komenda has been the firm's head of body design. By the time Butzi comes onboard, Komenda has been with corporate Porsche for 26 years. Komenda's portfolio includes iconic race and production cars including the Auto Union “Silver Arrows,” the VW Beetle, Porsche 356 and 550. While there is no reference to the wartime vehicles he may have designed, the Porsche bureau, with Komenda always responsible for body design, authored several vehicles for the war from tanks to amphibious cars. Among the most recognizable is the Kublewagen (at left.) After the war, VW would repurpose this vehicle. In the U.S., it was marketed as “The Thing.”
An immense talent in his own right, Komenda lived, in large part, in the shadows of those standing just next to him iwho were n the spotlight. And who received, not necessarily took, relentless credit for the great body of work Komenda had done. No criticism is levied here against this credit practice as it's a given that corporate names receive credit for what is accomplished by employees. People in employment either accept this, are contracted to it, or go elsewhere if ego demands it. Komenda stayed.
Exactly who and how many people were genuinely responsible for the body design of the 901/911 is now impossible to accurately account for. Regardless, given Komenda’s title as Director of Porsche Body Design, the authority—and so the credit—should have been falling on him. It’s not. Tensions rise within Porsche with Butzi and Komenda at the heart of a brewing storm of credit. Where Komenda once had the originator of the company, Ferdinand Porsche (Ferry’s father) by his side, Komenda’s old guard is now gone. Corporate Porsche, as Komenda had known it, is evolving before his eyes into a new rendition of itself with the next generation Porsche family member clearly standing in the publicity spotlight.
Design credit for the most iconic Porsche body form goes to Butzi with Komenda being relegated, as always, to the sidelines. It's debatable how this situation evolvedbut surely Komenda should have recognized that family comes first in a family business. It's likely Komenda thought that after all the years he had been with Porsche he finally deserved the spotlight.
Photo credit: Porsche
As the 901/911 credit drama unfolds within Porsche, the record of events increasingly blurs. One account has Komenda and Butzi each having their own vision for the 901/911. Komenda sees a larger four passenger model. Butzi a smaller 2 + 2. Each man supposedly makes a model of their respective design for presentation to Ferry. Ferry selects his son’s plan. A different account has Butzi having authored 901/911 drawings that were approved by Ferry. Komenda then makes "unauthorized" changes to Butzi’s designs that are not well received. Were this version true, it would surely have signaled the diminishing power Komenda has as Porsche's Director of Body Design. Ferry supposedly deals with the brewing internal conflict by eliminating both men from the design equation. He takes the 901/911 drawings to Reutter—Porsche’s body panel manufacturer—and has them finalized the car’s form. Again, there's no clear record of exactly what transpired concerning the 901/911's authoring.
The fact that Komenda appears progressively written out of 901/911 history makes him the invisible man where the car’s design is concerned. Whether he deserved this or not can only be left to speculation. Komenda’s response to matters is similarly recorded in foggy variations. Some accounts have him departing Porsche on a sour note over “differences in opinion.” If nepotism did creep into the body design department, Komenda would likely not have appreciated it. He was known to speak his mind when necessary, even to Porsche Sr. Were Komenda not pleased, Ferry would have known it from the source. An alternate version has Komenda remaining with the company until his death (of lung cancer) in 1966. If so, what position he maintains is in question given accounts having Butzi being named head of Porsche’s Body Design Department in 1962—4 years prior to Komenda’s supposed departure as just expressed.
Who authored the 901/911’s design is important if for no other reason than to offer due respect to the author(s). On the surface, publicity shines the light on Butzi. In shadow writings, Komenda is credited. The design team at Reutter may also have participated. Certain from all this uncertainty is the 901/911 having been created under a measure of conflict with any number of designers involved, none of them knowing at the time that the form—jointly created as may be concluded—would be the car form Porsche would eventually be most associated with.
It’s possible the development of the 901/911 being the beginning of the end for Porsche as a family run business. This is said on the basis of two main factors. First is the conflict that arose between a family member and a long time employee that had, in part, played a key role in the greatness of corporate Porsche. Secondly is Ferry coming to a conclusion, in 1972, and saying so himself, that the company had "outgrown being family run." There is a span of several years between the 901/911’s development and Porsche going public, this interval being a period where, speculatively, Ferry came to realize that loyalty to family and loyalty to employees is not easily managed.
1961- Porsche, as a consulting bureau, continues to serve clients while the 356 street and racing versions are in production. At Type Number 820, this project titled: “Design of the synchronization for a Volkswagen transmission,” another pivotal moment in Porsche history arrives. Ferry has determined, surely some time ahead of this project, the success of Porsche as a car maker is such that there is no need for the company to continue working for clients. Project #820 for Volkswagen is the last customer project Porsche will do. The next project, Type Number 821, is titled ” 2.0-liter six-cylinder engine for the Porsche 911 (number changed from type 745).” From this point forward, Porsche is a dedicated car maker.
356 Production line at the factory in Zuffenhausen, Stuttgart, these facilities made possible by the Studebaker project. Ferry stands in the foreground.
Photo credit: Porsche AG.
The first presentation of the Porsche 901 at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1963.
Photo credit: Porsche
1963 - Porsche takes over Reutter, the company that has been making the bodies for the 356. Reutter retains the seat making division and renames it "Recaro."
Porsche debuts the first 901 model at the Frankfurt Motor Show on the 11th of September (1963.) Then again in 1964 at the Paris Auto Salon show. The French car maker Peugeot is present. As their team looks over the 901, there’s an abrupt pause at the car’s naming badge,“901.” Word travels immediately to Peugeot’s top management concerning Porsche's 901. The issue in hand is Porsche having used Peugeot’s legally reserved rights to a three digit model identification with a “0” as the middle digit. Some accounts have Peugeot owning these rights around the world. Other accounts indicate these rights being just in France. The France-version goes on to suggest that Ferry did not want to sell the same named Porsche everywhere while having to rename the car only for the French market. To do so would prove complicated. Regardless of geographic rights, Ferry decides to change the zero to a one. And so“the Porsche nine eleven” comes to be as influenced by Peugeot.
As timing would have it, the factory has produced 82 branded 901 units. Spare parts have also been made with the 901 identifier. For legal reasons, these 82 units are withheld by Porsche from sale to the public. Instead, they are used exclusively for internal testing & limited exhibition. If there was a research department responsible for naming and infringement avoidance, a dark cloud was surely hanging over them. With no perpetual lockdown on the 901 fleet, some unknown number of them eventually manage to escape quarantine making it into public hands. Of course these were highly sought after given there being so few of them. Over the years, it's been a rare known event for one to surface. 901 #20 was discovered in 1988, totally restored by the couple that owned the car. #37 was revealed in 2010, being owned by Alois Ruf Jr. of the famed RUF Automobile GmbH., Ruf was a Porsche fanatic who inherited his father’s mechanical garage and turned it into a widely recognized Porsche-based modifications company. RUF’s CRT3 (below) is the most notorious of Ruf's many creations. Top speed = 233 mph.
1964 - September - While 356 production continues, 911 models begin being made in mass in a different part of the Zuffenhausen factory. At the same time, a toned down version of the 911 is on the drawing boards, the 912. Ferry’s plan for the 912 is for the car to be an interim priced model between the 4 cylinder 356 and new six cylinder 911. The 912 will have a 911 body with the last of the 4 cylinder 356 engines installed. Ferry is also looking at 912 and 911 sales to confirm or deny the 911 formula being marketable. There was always the risk that what appeared to be a good car idea would not be similarly thought of by consumers.
When Ferry chose to change the company from the consultancy his father had founded to a car maker, he dramatically altered the dynamic of the business. What was a business where projects were accomplished basically at the instigation of clients, and Porsche not taking as significant a risk as the car maker they worked for, now, as a car maker, Ferry had put the company on the front line of risk. Of course with greater risk comes greater reward. Porsche would realize this.
In regard to being a consultancy, Porsche did incur risk in that portions of their revenues depended on licensing and royalties. So, if a client’s car sold well, Porsche did well. If the car did not sell well, possibly due to inadequate marketing of a world-class product, corporate Porsche would economically realize this as well. Having grown up with his father and having played an evolving role in the consultancy, and surely being exposed to any number of car makers throughout his consultancy participation, Ferry grasped the implications of becoming a car maker before he led the company down this path. Bottom line, he knew there was great risk in being a car maker. His challenge, among countless others, was to guard the company from collapse in the event a car did not sell well. Ferry's acumen was being displayed by the presence of the 912 and the continued production of the 356.
911 assembly line in Zeuffenhausen. In a nother part of the factory, 356 production continues. Ferry will prolong production of the 356 until he confirms the 911 being a marketable success. This confirmation arrives in 1964.
Photo credit: Porsche AG.
Initially, 912 sales outpace the 911. Not surprising since the the 912 looks like a 911 but is lower priced. 912 sales elude to a key factor Ferry is looking for. That being proof of design concept. Bottom line, consumers like the 911's appearance. If they didn’t, neither car would sell well. The less expensive 4 cylinder, 30 mpg 912 is produced for only 4 years, from 1965 to 1969. 911 production, beginning in 1964, continues to this day albeit under variations of the basic iconic form.
Porsche had been steadily involved with racing since Ferdinand Porsche's first race---and victory---in the 1899 Berlin road race. At this moment, and now 65 years after father Porsche's first race, the competitive car in production at Porsche is the 904. Thinking outside the car box as usual, Porsche is consulting with aircraft manufacturers who were pioneering the use of a material composed of glass strands that are bonded together with an epoxy glue,"fiberglass." The reason aircraft manufacturers are inclined to this new material is its low weight to high strength property. The fact that it could be molded to nearly any form was also of significant interest. This molding to form was true of sheet metal but the processes for each material was measurably different. Metal forming required male & female dyes of a certain hardness be made to precise specifications. Then significant machinery was called for to force the dyes together to bend/form the metal sheets that were positioned between the dyes. This format for metal forming was expensive and time consuming to set up. Once the startup investment was made and equipment was set up, there needed to be a long run of parts created from a given set of dyes to cover upfront costs. The up side here is that forming metal parts in this manner takes seconds. By comparison, forming fiberglass parts required a single female mold also made to tight specifications. These molds were made, early on, in wood. The downside of fiberglass production was each part required a number of layers being hand laid with curing time given between each layer. It could take days if not weeks to make a single part made in fiberglass. Fiberglass parts also suffered durability issues. The material had a very limited life expectancy compared to metal given vibrational stress degrading the laminations and fastening points. For limited production race cars, the properties of fiberglass are ideal. For production cars, fiberglass was not well suited. The 904 is Porsche's first fiberglass bodied race car.
The 904’s fiberglass body parts were fastened to a tubular space frame. Finished, the 904 weighs a mere 1,433 lbs (650 kg.) For comparison, a 2019 Fiat 500 weighs 2,300 lbs. The 904’s low weight, slippery aerodynamic design, and Furman’s small but vicious 587/3 engine resulted in a race car that Porsche and privateers enthusiastically and successfully campaign throughout the mid 60’s.
904 incorporates Porsche's first use of fiberglass to create the body.
Photo credit: Chip Perry
Technician inspecting the outcome of birds being injested by a Rolls Royce RB211 jet engine on 747 airliner. A number of blades are entirely gone rendering the multimillion dollar engine as well as the aircraft useless.
Photo credit: Boeing
904's rack up an impressive 300 class wins and 145 overall wins internationally. According to Butzi, it was his favorite car. Because the factory was on such a tight deadline to produce the number of cars needed for homologation, this prevented others from making changes to what is purported to be his original design. Bear in mind Komenda is still with the company at this time. Exactly what role he is playing is questionable. The aircraft company, Heinkel, is credited as the fiberglass body maker of the 904. Successors to the 904, race car wise, would find great favor in the newly applied fiberglass technology. What comes next is carbon fiber.
The advent of carbon fiber technology has it’s origins in 1860. Sir Joseph Wilson Swan is credited being the first to use
carbon fiber filament in an incandescent light bulb. Through the years, the materials and process used to create carbon fibers has evolved to produce increasingly pure carbon stands. Among the many iterations of carbon fiber, three British scientists, W. Watt, L. N. Phillips, and W. Johnson of the UK Ministry of Defense, had patented a new manufacturing process. Their process created a much stronger carbon fiber than previously existed. The British National Research Development Corporation licensed their patented process to a number of companies, Rolls Royce among them. While Rolls Royce was already manufacturing carbon fiber, the newly developed process allowed them to start designing & building their jet engines with fan assemblies made using the new process, strength being the key factor. Rolls Royce introduced their RB-211 aero-engine with carbon fiber compressor blades produced with the newly licensed process. Engine weight was reduced without compromising general operating strength. For any airline, weight reduction was always a major goal. The RB-211 engines worked well until bird impacts proved the vulnerability of the carbon fiber compressor blades. Rolls Royce faced major setbacks because of the blade failures that resulted. Porsche will eventually adopt carbon fiber, first for race cars, then for production vehicles. Contemporary carbon fiber is five times stronger than steel and two times as rigid. This, when both materials are produced to specific commercial standards.
As 1964 comes to a close, so too does 356 production. A total of 76,313 units have been made. Ferry originally estimated selling 500 units.
1965 - 912 flat 4 production begins and continues through 1969 with a one year revival in 1976 for the U.S. market only, that being the 912E.
Above, 1969 model 912 compared to, above right, 1976 912E made only for the U.S. market.
1969 Photo credit: Motocar Studio
1976 Photo credit: Porsche AG
Porsche racing management authority is kept within the family and in 1969, given to Ferdinand Piech, Ferry's sister's son. Among other Porsche racing cars, he will lead the creation of the infamous 917.
Photo credit: Spiegel Wirtschaft
1969 - Porsche's growth requires continual change in the company. One of these changes is the appointment of a dedicated executive in charge of racing. Ferry's nephew, Ferdinand Piech, at 28 years of age, is given this authority. It was Piech's father Anton who, with Ferdinand Porsche and Adolf Rosenberger founded the original corporate Porsche in 1931. (Rosenberger's connection with the company progressively evaporated beginning with WW2 when, as a Jew and subsequently arrested for "racial crimes," he was imprisoned at KZ Schloss Kislau near Karlsruhe. Fortunately for him, a friend of his managed his release by bribing the Gestapo. Immediately following his release, Rosenberger went first and immediately to France. Then later to England where, in both countries, he represented Porsche. In 1939, Rosenberger immigrated to the U.S. where he would eventually become a citizen taking the name Alan Arthur Robert. Exactly what his relationship with Porsche was during his life in the U.S. is unknown.
Adolf Rosenberger, former European race car driver and founding Porsche partner, is seen here in his U.S. naturalization certificate photo from December 4, 1943.
Photo credit: Unknown
Ferdinand Piech was a major proponent of aerodynamics. To this end, he dedicated a great deal of passionate attention to wind tunnel testing. More, he is the one credited for developing the practice of keeping aerodynamic test results secret. To accomplish this, he tested different areas of a car at different facilities with the results from each kept private. nThis secrecy then and now is the reason there are very few photos of race cars undergoing wind tunnel testing.
Piech's first directed car is the 906. His dedication to aero-study can be seen in the car's leading edge which, compared to the 904, has a sharper and rounded form. The hood area is also lowered and the cockpit header has been narrowed significantly.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Piech's goal for the 906, in addition to making the car as slippery as possible, was also to make it as lightweight as feasible. To do this, his team set about stripping off as much excess as possible. Whereas the 904 weighed 1,433 lbs, the 906 weighs 1,275 lbs with oil and a dry fuel tank. Essentially, a passenger's weight has been removed from the car. A significant measure for any race car. In the 906, 6 and 8 cylinder engines were interchangeable. Most notable is the evolution of the body form. The front’s leading edge has been sharpened with hood section between the wheels presenting a lower face. The cockpit’s header is narrower. There is also a transparent cowling that flows from the roof's rear down to the tail. All of this "thinking" being dedicated to reducing aerodynamic drag and so making the car faster without adding "more engine." At Le Mans, the 906’s top speed is 177 mph---an impressive figure given the car having only a 2 liter engine.
Left-to-right: 907, 908 in Can-Am form, and 909 Bergspyder.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Following the 906 is the 907, 908, 909, and 910. Type Number "911" is skipped in sequence as the original 901 model was changed to 911 due to Porsche's infringement as raised by Peugeot.
Racing rules, as set by the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI), had purposely changed the year before (in April of 1968) as CIS governed venues were experiencing fewer competitors in some classes. To mitigate the exodus of competitors, and otherwise entice more participants, a number of rule changes governing qualification were enacted for the next few years. Among the most influential is the number of homologation cars that were required. "Homologation" requires a race car manufacturer to produce a specific number of the same race-ready car in order to qualify a given car for competition. The purpose in this was ensure participating cars coming from manufacturers who had the capital and capabilities to produce and support a CSI level race car. Simply put, casual participants were not wanted for the safety of the participating field. What the CIS had just done was cut the homologation number for the sport category from 50 to 25 for the period 1969 to 1971 (when the current rules would expire and be revisited.) Porsche sees this cut in homologation as an opportunity and in July of 1968 conceives a bold plan to exploit the new rules. They will design, engineer, and construct the next generation Porsche race car with the goal of presenting the car at the Geneva Motor Show on March 12th, 1969. Then going on to take an overall win at Le Mans in June. Under tremendous pressure, the 917 comes into existence.
917 engine, designed by Hans Mezger, is two 2.25 litre 6 cylinders joined together. The resulting 4.5 litre, flat 12 cylinder, twin plug, air cooled power plant produces 520 hp. Porsche would later achieve 1,100 hp from the configuration with a 5 litre.
917 engine and car line drawings credit: Porsche AG
917's presurized tubular spaceframe is designed by Helmut Bolt. Made of magnesium, it weighs 93 lbs. (42 kg.) To minimize plumbing, the car's tubular framework serves to channel engine oil to and from the front cooler. To compact the car's length as much as possible, cockpit dimensions put the driver's feet ahead of the front axle. The line drawing above shows the "long tail" (LH) version of the car. A "short tail" (K) version would follow . Then the "Can-Am Spyder" culminating with the 917/30 iteration of the Spyder, known as "the car that killed Can-Am"
Engine line drawings credit: Porsche AG
When CSI inspectors first visit Porsche to review the 917 for homologation certification, only three cars are completed.18 Others are being assembled and seven additional sets of parts have been made. Porsche makes the case to the inspectors that if they assembled the cars to finished form, that work was a waste as they'd only have to take them apart again to prepare the cars to race. Though certainly worth a try, the presentation fails to gain any traction with the CIS. Homologation is denied.
1969 - 12th of March - Porsche displays a 917 at the Geneva Motor Show. Literature promoted the selling price of the 917 equal to about ten 911's at the time, about 140,000 DM. Less than a month later, on April 22, Piëch lines up 25 completed 917s outside the Porsche factory for a second round of CSI inspection. He cordially invites inspectors to test drive a 917 of their choosing. The generous offer is decline but makes a rather obvious statement.
CIS inspectors at their second visit to the Porsche factory to review the 917 for homologation. Ferdinand Piech is at the far left. At the right is the 917 chassis designer, Helmut Bolt. Between them is the CIS team, Herbert Schmitz and Dean Delamont. Homologation is approved.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
Top to bottom: The three basic forms of the 917 are the LH, K, and Spyder. Around these, there were 11 variations.
Photo credit: Porsche AG
914 was a joint venture between Porsche and VW lasting from 1969 to 1976.
Photo credit: Hagerty
True to Porsche form, the 917 pushed race car design and engineering into new dimensions. They made the spaceframe of tubular, lightweight magnesium---highly flamable and nearly impossible to extinguish when ablaze. The weight of the car's entire dry frame was just 93 lbs (43 kg.) To take the frame a step further, it was pressurized with nitrogen. At pit stops, mechanics would check frame pressure. Any loss in pressure would signify a structural failure---magnesium is lightweight but brittle. To further reduce weight, dedicated oil plumbing from the engine to the front cooler is eliminated. Instead, the car's tubular framework is brilliantly used to channel the oil to and from the cooler. In addition to magnesium, other lightweight exotic metals are used including titanium for the suspension joints, steering box and brake calipers. Aluminum is also used in various places including all the brake hubs. Lightweight wood also finds a place---the driver's gear shift knob is made of birch. The body is molded of fiberglass layers bonded with polyester resin. In all, the 917 is 330 - 440 lbs (150 - 200 kg) lighter than the car's direct competition.
The 917's engine combines two, twin plugged, 2.45 litre 911 racing engines to form a 4.5 litre that originally produces 540 hp. That would later (in 1972) reach 1,100 hp in the 917/30 Spyder.
There were at least eleven variations of 917 within 3 basic forms. The original version had a "long tail"---"Langheck," the 917LH. This version was found to suffer stability issues at high speed. Essentially there was insufficient downforce to comfortably hold the car to the track at high speed---200+ mph. Extensive testing revealed that a short, upswept tail offered sufficient downforce albeit at the cost of increased drag. This iteration is the 917K, K for "Kurzheck"---"Short Tail." The third iteration is the open cockpit 917"Spyder."
The 917 was a dominant force on race tracks across Europe and in the North American CanAm circuits to the extent that it came to be known as "the car that killed CanAm." This, because when a 917 Spyder was in the field, it was a foregone conclusion the Spyder would win even before the race began. This fact led to a sort of monotony in terms of Porsche predictably winning race after race. Eventually racing rules were specifically altered to put an end to Porsche's unrelenting dominance. In all, and from 1969 through 1971, a total of fifty-nine 917 units were made.
1969 - Production of the 914 & 914/6 begins as a collaboration between Porsche and VW. The model is a two-seat roadster with a removeable Targa top that fits neatly in the rear trunk. Engine options are a flat 4 or 6 cylinder. For VW, the car is a replacement for the similar sized but less sporty Karmann Ghia. For Porsche it introduces a smaller, less expensive option to the 911. For Porsche's developing brand identity in the U.S., VW's association to the car is not seen as a positive. Subsequently, in the U.S. / North American markets, the 914 and 914/6 are sold as a "Porsche."
1972 - Ferry determines that Porsche has outgrown being operated as a family enterprise. It's possible the design credit situation that arose between Butzi and long-time Porsche employee Erwin Komenda influenced Ferry's thinking in this regard. In any case, Ferry takes the company public requiring family members to step out of the respective Porsche employment positions. Butzi proceeds with his own company, Porsche Design. Ferdinand Piech moves to VW. Ferry steps down from his Chairmanship position to become Honorary Chairman, a position he holds until his death in 1998. The Porsche and Piech family wealth is estimated, as this is written, to be $53 billion.
Porsche Companies - Merged By Ferry in 1972
Dr. Anton Piech
1931 - Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG
Founded in: Stuttgart, Germany
Partners: Ferdinand Porsche, Adolf Rosenberg, and Dr. Anton Piech
Business: Consultancy for design & engineering for automotive, race cars, boats, aircraft, and machinery.
1947 - Porsche Konstruktionen GmbH
Founded in: Salzburg, Austria
Partners: Ferry and Louise Porsche (brother & sister)
Business: Car maker - 356 is launched as Porsche's first production car
1969 - VW-Porsche Vertriebsgesellschaft GmbH
Founded in: Ludwigsburg, Germany
Joint Venture: Volkswagenwerk AG and Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG
Business: 914 & 914/6 production and sales
1972 - Ferry merges the 3 Porsche companies and transitions Porsche from a family enterprise to being publicly held.
1972 - Porsche GmbH
Founded in: Stuttgart, Germany
Merger of: Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG, Porsche Konstruktionen GmbH, and VW-Porsche Vertriebsgesllshaft GmbH
Business: Car maker
After the merger and taking Porsche public, Ferry stepped down from his chairmanship to become honorary chairman of the supervisory board. He continued controlling the company from this position until his death In 1998.
Above left: 19th of September, 1984. Ferry's 75th birthday. With him are his four sons. Left-to-right are Hans-Peter, Gerhard,
Butzi, and Wolfgang. Below: Ferry at the wheel of a 356 Roadster. #K45286 is the plate number from the first 356, VIN 356 - 001, Porsche Konstruktionen GmbH produced---under Ferry's authority---in Gmund, Austria, circa late 1940's.
Ferry died at 88 years of age, on the 27th of March,1998, at the family's farm in Zell am See, Austria. He was buried there at the Schüttgut church, beside his parents,
his wife Dorothea and Anton Piëch.
This essay is in honor of the lives and accomplishments of Ferry and his father, Ferdinand Porsche.
The fine print: “Porsche,” the Porsche crest, and Porsche car model numbers & names are under licensed use by Porsche Cars North America, Inc.(PCNA) from the owner Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche Aktiengesellschaft, Porsche AG ("Porsche.") Racing car model numbers & names are likewise the property of Porsche AG. The "Porsche Museum" name is the property of Porsche AG. No association or affiliation with Porsche, PCNA, The Porsche Museum is intended or implied by the author of this section or by GP AutoWerks, an independent Miami-based Porsche service, repair, rebuild & PPI shop that offers comprehensive Master Porsche mechanical care for classic & contemporary Porsche sports cars---356 through 991, 928, 944, Boxster, and Cayman. Ferrari, the Ferrari logo/crest, and Ferrari car model names are the property of Ferrari. No association or affiliation with Ferrari is intended or implied by the author of this section or by GP AutoWerks as previously described.
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Power + durability.
Safe & beautiful.