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Ferdinand Porsche (1875 - 1951)
Born September 3, 1875, in Maffersdort, Northern Bohemia (later Austria), Ferdinand Porsche served as an apprentice in his father's metalsmith shop. Early on, he took a liking to automobiles and electricity. Soon, he left the metals trade and took a job at Vienna Electrical Company. Porsche also took classes at a technical college. Automotive work came early. In 1900, Porsche created an electric vehicle, with separate motors at each front wheel. Developed for Ludwig Lohner, a Viennese coachbuilder, this electric car went to the 1900 Paris World's Fair, and also to the Paris Exhibition. Front-wheel-drive, it had a range of only 32 miles, but managed a speed of 9 mph.

Drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army, Porsche served as chauffeur for Archduke Franz Ferdinand. A civilian again in 1905, Porsche became technical director of Oesterreicher-Daimler Motoren Werke (Austro-Daimler), replacing Daimler's own son, Paul.

Porsche's hurriedly-completed design for the Mixt deleted the former vehicle's batteries. Instead, he adopted a Daimler internal-combustion engine to generate power for the two electric "hub" motors. That one was capable of 55 mph. The Mixt sold well, and established Porsche's credentials as a designer. The foremost Daimler motorcar at the time was the Maja, named for one of the daughters of financier Emil Jellinek, who'd helped secure financing for the company. (Jellinek's other daughter, Mercedes, was immortalized by the Mercedes-Benz nameplate.)

Even in his early years, Porsche favored a rear-mounted engine and rear-wheel-drive. That configuration simply made perfect sense, putting the power source right where it was used (at the drive wheels). Three of Porsche's cars ran in the weeklong Prince Henry rally, Berlin to Budapest, in 1909. Each vehicle had a driver and three passengers, and each finished without and penalty.

Porsche's next projects were air-cooled aircraft engines. In 1917, he received an honorary doctorate from Vienna Technical University. After The Great War (World War I), Porsche foresaw the need for a small, cheap car for the masses. More important, he knew it could be accomplished, as technology improved. His proposal for such a concept fell on deaf ears at Austro-Daimler. The reason was simple: There was more money to be made in big cars - an obstacle that continues to plague development of low-cost vehicles, even in modern times.

Turning again to competition, Porsche designed a 1-liter sports car to run in the 1922 Targa Florio, in Sicily. His cars finished first and second. Next up: a 2-liter version, also built for Count Sascha Kolowrat, which hit 106 mph.

Porsche left Austro-Daimler and took it easy for a while. Then, he became technical director at Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, in Stuttgart. While there, he created 7.2-liter touring car. He also further developed a 2-liter supercharged sports car, which won 21 of its 27 races.

Through the early 1920s, Porsche envisioned a small car for the average man. His vision inevitably included an air-cooled rear engine, swing axle, and torsion bar suspension. Porsche saw the creation of small cars as a challenge. By the mid-1920s, he had an idea for a horizontally-opposed rear engine. Daimler and Benz merged in 1926, and Porsche remained as technical director.

For Daimler-Benz, Porsche designed a small, almost beetle-like car with an air-cooled, 1.3-liter flat rear engine and swing type rear axle. Mercedes-Benz actually built such a machine in 1933-34: The Type 130. Daimler-Benz was ready for a small car, but this one was deemed too radical. So, they turned instead to a front-engined, water-cooled automobile.

Porsche returned to Austria in October 1929, and soon was named chief engineer at Steyr, in Vienna. Then, on December 1, 1930, Porsche opened his own consulting firm, Konstucktionsburo fur Motoen-und Fahrzeugbau Dr.-Ing. H.c. Ferdinand Porsche GmbH (in othr words, the Porsche Bureau), on Kronenstrasse in Stuttgart.

Porsche's chief designer in the early 1930s was Karl Rabe. His first client was the producer of the Wanderer. That vehicle made use of Porsche's ingenious torsion bar design. Porsche also did prototypes that went into Auto-Union race cars - one a Beetle-like fastback, but with a front-engine.

After developing the KdF-Wagen, which led to the legendary Volkswagen, Porsche's fortune faded for a time. After World War II, in July 1945, he was ordered to Frankfurt for interrogation by the Americans, regarding his Nazi connections. Throughout his life, before and during the Nazi regime, Porsche had been unwaveringly non-political. Nevertheless, both Ferdinand and his son Ferry were imprisoned in France for nearly two years.

After their release in 1947, father and son turned to the rear-engined sports cars that continue to bear their name. In addition to engine placement, some versions of those cars - including the early Type 356 - show more than a hint of Volkswagen influence, and even Volkswagen componentry. One Porsche model, the 914 of the early 1970s, was in fact largely VW-based.

Not until September 1950 did Ferdinand Porsche see the Volkswagen factory for the first time. He died on January 30, 1951, at age 75.

From : James M.Flammang. Volkswagen Beetles, Buses & Beyond. Krause Publications, 1996.

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