Recently an exhibition was held at Autoworld in Brussels which told the story of the Porsche family, who had a profound impact on the automobile. This became clear in the exhibition named Ferdinand Porsche, the Heritage – from electric to electric where more than 40 cars were on display.
Born in 1875, Ferdinand Porsche was a talented engineer who built his first car at the age of 23 for the Austrian company Jakob Lohner & Co. This battery-powered car — essentially a horseless carriage — was driven by a electric motor which provided a maximum of five horsepower. The second car made by Porsche, the 113-year old Lohner-Porsche Mixte, was on display in Brussels. This car is in fact the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle on record. Therefore it was placed symbolically next to the contemporary plug-in hybrid Porsche 918 Spyder, hence the exhibition’s title from “electric to electric”.
In 1906, Ferdinand Porsche went to Austro-Daimler where he worked as technical designer. A collection of cars made by the Austrian subsidiary of the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft were also on display. For instance, the all-white Austro-Daimler ADM Prinz Heinrich once used in racing by Porsche himself, and the luxurious and more prestigious Austro-Daimler ADM 1 Faëton.
In 1923 Ferdinand Porsche left Austro-Daimler and moved to Stuttgart, where he became technical director for Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft. One of the cars made during this period was the Daimler-Benz Monza, the first eight-cylindered car of the company with the three-pointed star. The last car Porsche designed for Mercedes was the elegant and powerful Mercedes-Benz SSK, one of the most successful racing cars of its era.
In 1931 Ferdinand Porsche founded his own design office, and was helped by his son Ferdinand Anton Ernst “Ferry” Porsche (born 1909). Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche were involved in Adolf Hitler’s Volkswagen (people’s car) project, which would eventually led to famous Käfer (Beetle) and the Volkswagen company, one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world.
The new Porsche company was also approached in 1934 by automobile manufacturer Wanderer to design a new racing car. That same year Auto Union was formed, consisting out of Wanderer together with Horch, Audi and DKW. Ferdinand Porsche designed for the new German company the futuristic Auto Union Type A, from which an excellent replica was on display.
The Silberpfeil (Silver Arrow) was powered by a mid-engined, supercharged V16 which provided up to 550 horsepower. Quite remarkable was its layout: the engine positioned behind the driver was unusual for the time. It would take more than twenty years before the advantages were rediscovered and Cooper’s rear-engined cars would revolutionize Formula One. Another remarkable Auto Union replica on display was the Stromlinienwagen (Streamliner). This car was designed to break the land speed record, but sadly Bernd Rosemeyer was killed in it while driving more than 430 km/h on the Autobahn between Frankfurt and Darmstadt on January 28, 1938.
During World War 2 father and son Porsche designed all kind of military vehicles, like the notorious Tiger tank. After the war senior and junior were arrested by the French authorities. While Ferry was set free, Ferdinand was held in a prison for 20 months. While his father was behind bars, Ferry kept the company running and started building cars again.
One of the first post-war creations was the Porsche 360 Cisitali, commissioned by Italian businessman Piero Dusio who had plans to enter Grand Prix racing with this car. Inspired by the Auto Union racing cars, the Porsche Type 360 featured quite a lot of innovations. One of these was the mid-mounted supercharged 1.5-liter engine which provided at least 300 horsepower. In fact, during testing it became clear the flat-twelve’s output equaled 385 horses. Other novelties were the four-wheel drive system and the all-round independent suspension. But the 360 Cisitalia never raced as Dusio ran out of cash by the time his racing car was finished.
More important was the development of the 356, the very first car to bear the Porsche name. Introduced in 1948, the rear-engined sports car with its compact design and low weight was huge success: more than 76,000 were produced in the following 17 years. The Porsche 356 would also led to the development of racings cars like the 550 Spyder, the 718 Spyder and the 718/2 Formula 2. Ferdinand Porsche would not live to see his own company come to fruition; he died in Stuttgart on January 30, 1951.
Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, nicknamed “Butzi” (born 1935), son of Ferry and grandson of Ferdinand, was the third generation the of the family to enter the automotive industry in 1956. One of his creations is the 904, but he is most known for designing one of the most recognizable cars ever made. At the request of his father, he created a successor to the Porsche 356: the 901 road car which eventually would be called the 911. All seven generations of this iconic car were present in Brussels.
Another grandson of Ferdinand Porsche would play a major role in the company as well. Ferdinand Karl Piëch (1937) is nowadays in charge of the Volkswagen Group, but he started his career at Porsche in 1963. His first creation was the Porsche 906 Carrera 6, the first car from Zuffenhausen specifically designed for competition. This car was on display next to the Porsche 910/8 Spyder, designed and built in 1967 specifically for competing in hill climbing competitions. These cars were quite successful, but the next generation racing cars built under the supervision of Ferdinand Piëch would really dominate sports car racing.
The 917 is one of the most famous racing cars made by Porsche. Fast and powerful, this was the car which gave Porsche its first overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1970. At least nine variants of the 917 were developed; two versions were on display in Brussels. Painted in purple and green, the psychedelic Porsche 917K once roamed the roads as street-legal car. With an output of more than 1500 horsepower, the blue and yellow Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder is the most powerful sports car ever raced. The impressive line-up of was completed with the Porsche 935/77 and the Le Mans-winning 956.
In 1978, Porsche entered rally racing with the 911 SC Safari, which was used in the East African Safari Rally and paved the way for other off-road adventures, like Paris-Dakar with a heavily modified variant of the 911 in 1984 and with the 959 two years later. During the 1980s Porsche also supplied the McLaren F1 team with V6 turbo engines which were badged as TAG. The McLaren MP4/2 won 25 races between 1983 and 1987, also took the World Drivers’ Championship three times, with Niki Lauda in 1984 and Alain Prost in 1985 and 1986.
Ferry Porsche saw the company he and his father founded growing into the leading manufacturer it is today. He died in 1998 at the age of 88, his son “Butzi” passed away two years ago at the age of 76. Following the creation of the Porsche 917, Ferdinand Piëch moved to Audi in 1972, where he was responsible for cars like the Audi 80, 100, and the four-wheel drive Audi Quattro. Eventually he went to Volkswagen and turned it into one the largest automobile manufacturers in the world. Piëch was also the mastermind behind the development of the Bugatti Veyron, and even today he keeps on influencing the automotive industry.
More than forty great cars representing the vision, creativity and ingenuity of three generations of men — all named Ferdinand — and their profound influence on the history of the automobile. The Heritage of Ferdinand Porsche was surely interesting!