T H E E L E V A T E D G A R A G E J O U R N A L
By Lanny Grant
The Man The Vision
Like Enzo Ferrari, Porsche’s name is synonymous with high-performance sports cars. Their legendary, eponymous cars are world-renowned. What’s not as known, it was Ferdinand’s son, Ferry, using his father’s design concepts, who was responsible for the famed Porsche sports car. Ferdinand Porsche made his name in the automotive world with other accomplishments.
Ferdinand Porsche was born to Anna (Ehrlich) and Anton Porsche, in Maffersdorf (Vratislavice nad Nisou) in northern Bohemia, part of Austria-Hungry at that time, and today part of the Czech Republic.
Ferdinand showed a strong aptitude for mechanical work from a very early age. He attended classes at the Imperial Technical School in Reichenberg at night while helping his father in his mechanical shop during the day. Due to a referral, Porsche landed a job with the Béla Egger Electrical company in Vienna when he turned 18. In Vienna, he would sneak into the local university whenever he could after work. Other than attending classes there, Porsche never received any higher engineering education.
Porsche, who was mechanically inclined as a child, developed his first car in his early twenties. Using the existing electric wheel hub motor, he furthered the technology, creating a car that not only was entirely battery powered, but propelled all four wheels. It was the world’s first “all- wheel-drive” vehicle. Not long after, he created a car powered by gas and battery, the first petroleum-electric car, or hybrid, on record.
1898, Porsche joined the Vienna-based factory Jakob Lohner & Company, which produced coaches for Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. One of his early deigns was the Egger-Lohner vehicle. This vehicle was first unveiled in Vienna, Austria, on 26 June 1898.
The Egger-Lohner was a carriage-like car driven by two electric motors within the front wheel hubs, powered by batteries. This drive train construction was easily expanded to four-wheel drive, by mounting two more electric motors to the rear wheels.
In December that year, the car was displayed at the Paris World Exhibition under the name Toujours-Contente. Even though this one-off vehicle had been commissioned for the purposes of racing and record-breaking, its 1,800 kg (4,000 lb) of lead–acid batteries was a severe shortcoming. Though it "showed wonderful speed when it was allowed to sprint" the weight of the batteries rendered it slow to climb hills. It also suffered from limited range due to limited battery life.
While still employed by Lohner, Porsche introduced the "Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid" in 1901
Porsche replaced the initial massive battery-pack, and utilized an internal combustion engine built by the German firm Daimler drove a generator which in turn drove the electric wheel hub motors. This was a genius creation that also used a small battery pack as a backup. This is known to be the first petroleum-electric hybrid vehicle on record.
Porsche later worked for Austro-Daimler as their chief designer and a few months later Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft hired Porsche to serve as Technical Director in Stuttgart, Germany, which was already a major center for the German automotive industry.In 1926, Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie merged into Daimler-Benz, with their joint products beginning to be called Mercedes-Benz. However, Porsche's ideas for a small, light-weight Mercedes-Benz car was not popular with Daimler-Benz's board.
June 1934, Porsche received a contract from Hitler to design a "people's car" (or Volkswagen). Porsche incorporated many aspects of his earlier designs and this subsequently became the much loved Beetle which became one of the world’s best-selling vehicles. A new city, "Stadt des KdF-Wagens" was founded near Fallersleben for the Volkswagen production facilities, but wartime production concentrated almost exclusively on the military Kübelwagen and Schwimmwagen which were military variants of the early Porsche design. Mass production of the peoples car, began after the end of the war. The city is named Wolfsburg today and is still the headquarters of the Volkswagen Group
Porsche had the opportunity to be associated with many of the automobile industry giants of the day including Auto Union Gmbh and subsequently designed many early race cars that were a joint venture of Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz.
He went on to design several race cars that would later become the Mercedes-Benz. The German government contracted Porsche to develop a car for its citizens – a “people’s car,” or “Volkswagen.” Porsche designed the Volkwagen Beetle, which became one of the world’s best-selling vehicles.
In November 1950, Porsche visited the Wolfsburg Volkswagen factory for the first time since the end of World War II. Porsche spent his visit talking about the future of the Volkswagen Beetle, which was already being produced in large production numbers. A few weeks later, Porsche suffered a stroke. He did not fully recover, and died on 30 January 1951. In 1996, Porsche was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and in 1999 posthumously won the award of Car Engineer of the Century.
No doubt the foundation laid by his father helped Ferry Porsche to create the subsequent development of what we have become to know the modern day Porsche.