Ferdinand Porsche, an automotive consultant, designer and engineer, debuted his first vehicle at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900. In 1936 the Nazi party recruited him to design an affordable vehicle for the German people, which evolved into Volkswagen. Following WWII, Ferdinand was arrested for war crimes and his son Ferry took over the family firm. While struggling to keep it afloat, a wealthy Italian approached Ferry, announcing his wish for a new race car. The family business went to work, creating the Type 360 Cisitalia. The car would fund Ferdinand’s bail, but by then he had already approved a new project being spearheaded by his son, the 356/1 prototype. It became the first car to officially bear the Porsche name, and too its maiden voyage on this day in 1948 during its road certification.
Erwin Komenda is credited with the design of the vehicle’s body, which took approximately one month to complete. The team fit the body over chassis and mechanicals mostly borrowed from the Volkswagen Beetle, but tuned for higher horsepower. The 365/1, which won numerous races soon after it was completed, laid the groundwork for the production 356 models. One major difference between the prototype and production models? The engine placement, as it would be moved to behind the rear axle on all future vehicles.
After Ferdinand’s release from jail he became a consultant at Volkswagen. He used his salary to open a new office and production facility, where he planned to build up to 500 Porsche vehicles per year. His calculations were slightly off. Though it took two years to build 50 356s, In the next 20 years more than 75,000 Porsches left the assembly line. The first car is currently on display at the Porsche Museum, Stuttgart.
It should be noted that there is an ongoing debate about the first Porsche. Some historians believe it to be the Type 64, of which Ferdinand built three of for the 1939 Berlin to Rome race, though the race was canceled. Others state it is the 356/1, as it was the first car to use the Porsche name on a badge. Others say the first production 356 marks the beginning of Porsche automobiles. What do you think?