Ferdinand Porsche – car engineer of the century

Still from 'Porsche Museum' video, Linked Heritage and architekturclips_network, CCO

Ferdinand Porsche, the Austrian-German engineer behind the car that bears his name, was born on 3 September 1875. A hard worker even at a young age, he attended technical college at night after helping his father in his mechanical shop during the day. Aged 18, he landed a job with an electrical company and sneaked into university at night to learn more.

A police car Porsche and a VW Beetle, 1971. 'Amersfoort', Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed and Archief Eemland, CC BY.A police car Porsche and a VW Beetle, 1971. ‘Amersfoort’, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed and Archief Eemland, CC BY.

The first Porsche (the Lohner-Porsche electric car) was unveiled in 1898 and was presented at the World Fair in Paris in 1900. The electric car had such a heavy battery pack that it could not easily travel uphill or travel very far before the batteries ran out. The solution that Ferdinand came up with? An internal combustion engine fitted to a generator to drive electric hub motors with just a small battery pack – the first petroleum electric hybrid vehicle ever.

In 1906, Ferdinand had progressed to being chief designer at Austro-Daimler, and four years later drove a Austro-Daimler touring car to a triple victory in the Prince Henry Trials.

Still from 'Porsche Museum' video, Linked Heritage and  architekturclips_network, CCO

Still from ‘Porsche Museum’ video, Linked Heritage and architekturclips_network, CCO

It wasn’t just Porsches that Ferdinand designed. In 1923, he designed the legendary Mercedes Compressor Sports Car, in 1933 a Grand Prix race car, and the VW Beetle – the first of which was built in the garage at Ferdinand’s villa in Stuttgart in 1934 and was a response to Hitler’s desire to have someone design a people’s car (‘Volkswagen’).

'Volkswagen Beetle', The European Library and the National Library of Wales, CC-BY-NC-SA

‘Volkswagen Beetle’, 1954, The European Library and the National Library of Wales, CC-BY-NC-SA

And it wasn’t  just cars that Ferdinand turned his hand to – he contributed to the design of German tanks, aircrafts and weapons. He was awarded the German National Prize for Art and Science, one of the rarest decorations in Nazi Germany.

After moving the production of Volkswagen to France in 1945, Ferdinand and his son Ferry were both arrested by French authorities as war criminals. Ferdinand was held in prison in Dijon for 20 months without trial.

The Porsche family returned to Stuttgart in 1949 but found it difficult to start the business again as the banks wouldn’t give them credit. Ferry’s business sense saved the day as he sold cars to Volkswagen collecting payment in advance. Ferdinand got consulting work from Volkswagen and a royalty on every Type I Beetle sold.

After suffering a stroke, Ferdinand Porsche died in 1951. In 1999, he was named as ‘Car Engineer of the Century’.

In 2012, nearly 150,000 Porsches were sold worldwide, the most popular model being the Cayenne.

For more information on Ferdinand Porsche, see Wikipedia and the official Porsche website. And of course you can explore Europeana’s Porsche collection, which includes a 3D model of a Porsche Boxster.

 

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