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
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
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.