Ferdinand Porsche and the beginning of Porsche Bureau
Doctor Ferdinand Porsche was a man of imagination and immense knowledge. He was famous for his outside-the-box thinking among his peers.
In 1893, 18-year-old Ferdinand Porsche arrived in Vienna, the home of the Austro-Hungarian Imperial family.
Being the home to the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna attracted Europe’s best artists and brilliant innovators to it. Ferdinand Porsche was only one of them.
World’s First Hybrid Production Vehicle: System Lohner–Porsche
Ferdinand Porsche was ambitious, intelligent, and creative and his innovations led to the development of a series of electric-powered automobiles with Egger-Lohner, and even a hybrid while working for the Lohner-Werke.
Porsches excellent engineer prowess resulted in the success of the “System Lohner–Porsche” hybrid, and its success at the endurance racing events such as the 1901 Exelberg Rally eventually led him to win the 1905 Potting Prize as Austria’s most outstanding engineer.
Dr. Ferdinand Porsche’s time with Daimler Benz, Auto Union, and SS
In 1906, Daimler-Benz hired him as a chief engineer. Later he developed Auto Union race cars and mid-engine Mercedes Benz prototypes.
After years of working for the automotive companies, he decided to open his own vehicle design, engine design, and mechanical engineering consulting business in Stuttgart in April 1931. Porsche Bureau soon became a very important turning point of German Automobile engineering.
Due to his fame as a capable automotive designer and talented engineer, he received contracts from automotive giants like the Daimler Benz and then with Auto Union for racing cars. Ferdinand Porsche also dreamed of designing a car for the common people, something with simple mechanical construction to reduce the cost of ownership as well as the cost to build it, something that ordinary people could actually afford. This project was called Volkswagen, People’s Car.
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian by birth and he always wanted to unify his birth country with his rightful home, Germany. This led to the German annexation of Austria in March 1938.
Due to the successful nature of his business and the projects that he worked on, he met influential people who led him to find even larger workspaces in Zuffenhausen in June 1938. His new position put him in touch with Adolf Hitler, who saw in Porsche a brilliant scientist with imagination for a bright future for his countryman under the Third Reich. It is widely believed that Czechoslovakian born Ferdinand Porsche was made a natural German citizen by Adolf Hitler himself. Some say that it was Joseph Gobbels who did so.
Ferdinand Porsche recruited nearly 200 engineers, designers, fabricators, coachbuilders, and mechanics to work as his staff. They designed the Volkswagen Beetle, tanks, V-1 flying bomb, Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus, ammunition for aircraft and tanks, bombs, and many other famed military vehicles such as the Kubelwagen, and Panzerjäger Tiger.
With the dawn of 1943, everything was going the other way for the Third Reich. Adolf Hitler and his top military generals thought that the Soviets were finished when their foot soldiers were on their way to reach the outskirts of Moscow, but then the winter came.
Armed with the information that Japan won’t invade the Soviet Union in support of the Germans until Moscow falls under German rule, brand new Soviet units with advanced weaponry who were stationed in the other strategically located areas were ordered to report to the eastern front to wage war on the advancing German brigades.
Germans were astonished when they were caught off guard by the brand-new Soviet brigades. Things were not going well for the Third Reich for the first time since the beginning of the Invasion of the Soviet Union. To address the new threat, most of the soldiers and war equipment were send to be destroyed on the Eastern front.
Normandy Invasion followed by joint bombing raids carried out by American and British aircraft targeting industrial centers and administration centers. As these attacks intensified, the German government told its citizens that it could not guarantee anyone’s safety in late 1943 and early 1944.
Porsche lost his factory due to allied bombing raids in April 1944, and as a practical man, he foresaw that the inevitable was going to happen. Ferdinand Porsche split his engineering, manufacturing, designing, and engineering consult operation into three separate locations.
Company headquarters was still located in Zuffenhausen, but his family relocated to Austria. Storage facilities were set up in a former flying school in Zell am See, where the family-owned another house. They also went on to set up a vehicle designing and prototype development and production in a sawmill in Gmund, Carinthia.
Allied meeting in 1943, the Moscow Declaration concluded that rather than considering Austria as a participant in Nazi wartime efforts, it should be considered as the first victim of Hitler’s aggression. This was largely due to the Soviets who were pointing out that Austria being the geographically closest to German forces, was chosen by Hitler to be annexed to find more resources and manpower that he could then use to conquer other countries.
After the defeat of Germany, the allies came up with a plan to have some military presence in Austria, a postwar military occupation similar to what they have done to Germany, dividing the country and the capital of Austria to be controlled under the allied military governors.
Vienna was occupied by the Soviets, the center of the country including Linz, Zell am See, and Salzburg was occupied by the Americans, the western part of the country was given to the French, and the south including Carinthia and the Gmund was governed by the British. New military governors restricted travel between the zones and soon Ferdinand Porsche’s close ties to the higher-ups of the Third Reich resulted in getting the attention of the allied intelligence officers.
British officers detained Ferdinand Porsche and his son, Ferry Porsche in June 1945 to be released in November of the same year. During their detainment, Porsche employees were engineering and developing a new Volkswagen automobile.
Soon after Ferry and his father were released, Ferry Porsche attended a meeting held by the freshly formed French Ministry of Industry to discuss setting up a Volkswagen assembly plant in France. French demanded that they want to see the old man himself to discuss terms, and when he went there to meet them, Ferdinand was arrested on wide varying charges and imprisoned in France until the middle of 1947. Due to the appeals of his family and their new American friends, the French decided to release the old man if the family paid one million francs (closer to 8500 USD at the time) as bail.
The Russians were also not pleased with the Porsche family for their role in Volkswagen, the very company that enslaved thousands of Russian women, children, and war prisoners to build tanks, and ammunition for tanks and airplanes. They demanded a proper investigation against the Porsche family, but their British friends won’t allow that either, suspecting that the Soviets were planning to use Ferdinand’s brainpower to develop new machines of war despite the clear as daylight evidence. By early 1945, German nationals only made up 10% of Volkswagen’s workforce according this article.
Meanwhile, a new contract was received by Porsche to create a new Formula One racing car for an Italian Industrialist called Piero Dusio, the owner of the Cisitalia automobile.
The Cisitalia Grand Prix is best known as the Porsche 360 Cisitalia. This car was specifically developed to compete in 1.5-liter supercharged Grand Prix class events. It was developed by Porsche from 1946 to 1947. It was among the first racing cars to use a sequential manual transmission unit.
Its advanced design meant that the Cisitalia couldn’t build it properly being a small-scale automobile company, leading to extended development and eventually to the liquidation of Cisitalia in 1949. It was unveiled in 1949 just before the company went bust. For the 1952 Formula One season, supercharged engines were banned, so the car never saw any competition.
Now with enough money to pay the bail, Ferdinand Porsche was released from prison at the age of 72, after spending some time in the east end of the French Zone with limited travel privileges, and returned home to Austria being seriously weakened by the time in prison.
During these troubled times, Ferry Porsche and his sister Louise Porsche were successfully running the family business, developing a road-going car based on the ideas from before the German defeat.
Porsche 356 No 1 Roadster
Due to the absence of Ferdinand Porsche during the development, Ferry Porsche and his engineers decided to use salvaged Volkswagen parts from abandoned Kubelwagens in the British zone to develop their new car. Kubelwagen was also designed by Ferdinand Porsche after being contracted by the Austrian Defense Ministry which was under the rule of Adolf Hitler.
The first Porsche automobile came to life as an open-top two-seater called Type 356/1 and was tested on roads around Gmund. It was still a prototype and was practical only for further testing and development. The curb weight was 1340 pounds.
The tube-frame chassis construction and mid-engine mechanical layout meant that there was very little room for interior luggage storage and without a roof, it was useless against elements of nature. Austria was famous for its snowy winters and rainy summers and due to that reason alone, this was not practical as an everyday car.
Erwin Komenda, head of body engineering, along with the designers and fabricators came up with a new closed coupe similar to the Volkswagen, but to make their product compete in a different segment of the market, it was given a sportier shape and a more powerful engine.
Aluminum was chosen to build the body, mainly due to the steel shortage following the aftermath of WW2. Aluminum was also rare and expensive, but it was easier to purchase it rather than purchasing steel.
Porsche 356 /2 Coupe
In June 1948, assembly began on Porsche Type 356 /2 coupes. These cars were equipped with 40 horsepower 1131cc Volkswagen air-cooled four-cylinder engines mounted in the rear of the car behind the transmission unit. The gearbox, brakes, suspension, and all the mechanical components were of VW origin. The curb weight was 1580 pounds. These are known as the Gmund cars
Bernhard Blank, a Switzerland native businessman, and investor provided the investment capital and funds for the production, and he took delivery of the first ten production Porsche 356 /2 coupes.
He displayed a Porsche 356 coupe along with a cabriolet variant at the 1949 Geneva Auto Show, one of the largest motor shows in postwar Europe.
Ferry Porsche and his team produced fifty-two Porsche 356 /2 cars from 1948 to 1950. These cars are often called the Gmund cars due to the location of the assembly plant. Ernst and Fritz Beutler assembled six cabriolet variants for Porsche. Ernst and Fritz assembled the cabriolets in their workshop in Thun, Switzerland, but declined to do more.
Porsche 356 /2 coupes were prices at 14,500 Swiss francs or $3307 at the time. The cabriolets were prices at 16,500 Swiss francs or $3763.