Ferdinand Porsche, International Motorsports Hall of Fame member and Car Engineer of the 20th Century, was born on this day in 1875 in current day Czech Republic. Aside from founding Porsche, this is the man responsible for some of the world’s most beloved and distinguished automobiles. His first automotive creation, an electric-gas hybrid vehicle known as the Lohner-Porsche Mixte, debuted in 1898. It was the first hybrid vehicle to use these two power sources and it was manufactured from 1900 to 1905. In 1902 Porsche was drafted into military service where he served as chauffeur to Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the crown prince of Austria whose assassination would ignite WWI a decade later.
After his service he spent 25 years working in the automobile industry, including as the chief designer at Austro-Daimler. He designed his last car for Mercedes in 1927, resulting in the 1928 Mercedes-Benz SSK. He would go on to found Dr. Ing. h. c. F. Porsche GmbH (Porsche) in 1931 to provide automobile consulting services for design and engineering of bodies, chassis and engines. The company did not build any vehicles under the name of Porsche. The first project the company obtained was designing an engine for a new Wanderer automobile.
At the Berlin Auto Show of 1933 the relatively new Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, announced he would put Germany on wheels. He announced two plans to help do so, the first would be to build a people’s car, the second was to develop a state sponsored racing program. Porsche would have a massive role in both of these projects. In June 1934 Porsche received the contract to build the people’s car, which of course led to the production of the Volkswagen Type 1 — Beetle. Porsche participated in the second plan by consulting for Mercedes and Auto Union to develop race cars, as both of these companies were to receive 250,000 Reichsmark per year from the German government to assist with racing development.
In 1939 Porsche built the Type 64, which is the precursor to the Porsche 356. It is considered by many to be the first car of what was to become the Porsche company as it is known today. The Type 64 used many of the same parts as the Beetle. After the war, in which Porsche designed tanks and tank destroyers, he was arrested for war crimes and held in prison for 20 months. During this time, with his father’s blessing, Ferry Porsche built the 356/1, the first car to definitively carry the Porsche badge. This prototype vehicle would become the 356 that was road certified for production in 1948.
Ferdinand Porsche by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-2005-1017-525 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0
The Lohner-Porsche Mixte in 1900
1939 German Press Ball in which Porsche stands with the Volkswagen by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-E01426 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,
The 1939 Type 64 CC BY-SA 2.0 de