View Single Post
Old March 20th, 2002, 09:00 PM   #2
Magic Mtn Dan
Posts: n/a
Interesting article on "one of the greatest auto engineers of all time"

The Automotive Century: Most Influential People
Ferdinand Porsche
by Prescott Kelly (photo courtesy of Prescott Kelly)

The very first Porsche, a hand-built aluminum prototype, was completed on June 8, 1948. The history of Porsche automobiles goes back much farther, however, all the way back to 1900 when Dr. Ferdinand Porsche introduced his first design, a Lohner-Porsche.

Ferdinand Porsche, was born in 1875 in Mattersdorf, a village close to Reichenberg, in what was then North Bohemia, later Czechoslovakia. The young Porsche demonstrated excellent mechanical aptitude and, at age 18, was recommended for a job in Vienna with Bela Egger (later Brown Boveri). In Vienna, he sneaked into night classes at the Technical University, the only "formal" engineering education he ever obtained.

After five years in Vienna, he landed his first job in the automotive field with Jacob Lohner. In 1900, the 'System Lohner-Porsche' electric carriage made its debut at the World's Fair in Paris. This automobile set several Austrian land speed records. It did over 35 mph. Porsche then harnessed Daimler's and Panhard's internal combustion engines to power wheel-mounted electric motors in the new "System Mixt." More speed records were won, acclaim followed, and in 1905 Porsche won the Poetting Prize as Austria's outstanding automotive designer. He was now a famous automotive engineer in Europe.

Austro-Daimler (a licensee of the Stuttgart-based Daimler firm) recruited Porsche in 1906 to be its chief designer. One of his most famous A-D's appeared in 1910. Porsche designed an 85-horsepower, streamlined car for the Prince Henry Trial. Examples won the top three places in the 1910 trial, and Model 27/80 has ever since been known as the "Prince Henry."

For most of the next decade, Austro-Daimler concentrated on war materiel including aircraft engines, huge trucks, and motorized cannons. In 1916, Porsche became the firm's managing director. The next year, Porsche received what became his most cherished honor, an honorary doctorate from Vienna Technical University, the same institution where 24 years earlier he had sneaked into night classes. This degree was designated by the now-famous "Dr. Ing. h.c." which was forever to be part of the professor's persona and eventually part of his firm's name.

While Austro-Daimler principally pursued large luxury sedans in the '20s, Dr. Porsche moved toward light cars and racing. Porsche had competed in hillclimbs, speed trials and rallies since his first days in the industry. By 1922, Dr. Porsche had embraced racing as a way to improve his cars and the resultant Sascha won races throughout Europe with 43 wins in 51 starts. Eventually, Porsche and Austro-Daimler's board differed on the future direction of its cars and Dr. Porsche triggered his formidable temper and left Austro-Daimler in 1923.

Within several months, he was in Stuttgart as Daimler's Technical Director. His early work at Daimler earned him a second honorary degree, this time from the Stuttgart Technical University. A series of intimidating racing cars followed: the two-liter, eight-cylinder cars for 1925-27 in which Rudolf Caracciola won 21 races in 27 starts. After the 1926 merger of Daimler and Benz, the big 6.2-liter K, 6.8-liter S, and then the 7.0-liter SS, SSK, and SSKL models followed, dominating racing in 1928-1930. While Porsche's racing activities were successful, his push for small, light Daimler-Benz cars was not. The board objected. In 1929, Porsche left for a brief stay at Steyr, but the Great Depression was on and car manufacturing was not the place to be. Steyr collapsed. At age 55, Porsche had no job. Despite his broadly-acknowledged brilliance, his well-earned reputation for stubbornness was not going to help him find a good job in those hard times.

He returned to Stuttgart, an automotive center with firms such as Hirth, Mahle, and Bosch in addition to Daimler-Benz. In January 1931, he launched his consulting firm, 'Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH Konstructionsburo Fur Motern, Fahrzeug, Luftfahrzeug, and Wasserfahrzeugbau' ('Motors, Vehicles, Airplanes, and Boats...'). The staff was composed of men with whom the Professor had previously worked: Karl Rabe, chief engineer, was joined by Erwin Komenda (body design), Karl Frolich (transmissions), Josef Kales (motors), Josef Zahradnik (steering and suspensions), Francis Reimspiess, Han Mickl (aerodynamics), Adolf Rosenberger (business manager), and two relatives, Anton Piech (a lawyer, Ferdinand Porsche's son-in-law and later father of Ferdinand Piech, now chairman of Volkswagen), and Porsche's own son, Ferry.

Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche had been born in 1909 in Weiner Neustadt, Austria, the second child in the family behind a five-year older sister, Louisa. His first nickname was 'Ferdy' but (as he recounted 50 years later) his governess did not like the sound of the name and changed it to 'Ferry', actually a nickname for Franz.

Growing up, young Porsche was allowed to play in the Austro-Daimler factory. He was interested in matters automotive and paid attention to what he saw and heard in the factory. At an early age he accompanied his father to races for both Austro-Daimler and Daimler-Benz (including Indianapolis in 1923), and he had a half-sized two-cylinder car. Educated in Wiener Neustadt and then Stuttgart, Ferry was an excellent math student. In 1928, not yet 19 years old, he began an apprenticeship at Bosch. In 1930, he was tutored daily in physics and engineering in preparation for working in the new Porsche consulting firm.

The '30s were alternatively exhilarating and depressing for the Porsche family: times of impending financial disaster mixed with huge engineering successes, followed by the War, and the destruction of the European economy.

The new Porsche design firm had projects soon after opening, such was Professor Porsche's reputation. First was a new medium-priced car for Wanderer. Later, Porsche decided to undertake a new small car; one designed to be small from inception and not a scaled-down bigger car. Professor Porsche funded the project with a loan on his life insurance. It was an important design, being the direct antecedent of the Volkswagen. Later Zundapp was recruited to sponsor the project and three prototypes were built.

Zundapp lost interest when its motorcycle business boomed; then NSU took on the project. After NSU bowed out in the face of huge tooling costs, the small car project lay fallow until Germany's newly elected chancellor, Adolf Hitler, decided every German family needed a radio (to be able to listen to his dogma) and either a small car or a durable tractor. In June of 1934, the Third Reich signed a contract to build prototype Volkswagens. By the winter of 1936, three prototypes, the VW3, had been built in the garages of Professor Porsche's home. In early 1937, the Nazi 'oversight' organization, the RDA (Reichverband der Deutschen Automobilindustrie) recommended further development and that 30 additional prototypes be built by Daimler-Benz. During the testing of the VW3O, the Reich selected an estate northeast of Hanover to become the site of the Volkswagen factory. "Die Autostadt" was born; today it is Wolfsburg, still the worldwide headquarters of Volkswagen.

While the Professor undertook co-general management (with a Nazi administrator) of the new plant, his son stayed in Stuttgart and ran the design business. The government gave the car a propaganda-oriented name, the "KdF" - short for Kraft durch Freude ("strength through joy"), the recreation arm of the workers' Labor Front. Refinements to the car were undertaken. Production started but was quickly switched over to the Kubelwagen and Schwimmwagen (a "jeep" and its amphibious counterpart) for the suddenly escalating World War II. In 1944, allied bombing destroyed over half of the plant. Only because two huge electricity-producing turbines were unscathed did the British rebuild the plant and restart production of the Volkswagen after the War.

Back in the early '30s the Porsche firm launched a second internal project to design a car to meet a new Grand Prix formula. Hitler had announced a 500,000 RM ($250,000) subsidy for a German firm that would build and campaign cars in the new formula. Daimler-Benz applied and won; Auto Union applied and lost. Auto Union reapplied and took Professor Porsche and his designs to meet with Hitler and his staff. In the now-famous meeting, Porsche convinced Hitler of the merits of the Porsche design. Soon the Grand Prix wars of the Silver Arrows were on, and Mercedes and Auto Union took turns at ascendancy.

The car Porsche designed was very innovative: a V-16 4.5-liter engine placed ahead of the rear transaxle, tube frame, aluminum skin weighing 99 pounds, gas tank between the cockpit and the engine (in the center of the car so that weight gain or loss with gas load did not unduly impact handling), a front suspension of torsion bars and trailing arms, and a rear suspension of swing axles, semi-elliptical springs, and tube-type shocks.

The 750-kilo formula Auto Union P-wagens were fearsome race cars. With fewer than three pounds per horsepower and ultimately 650 horse-power from six liters, the cars could lay rubber accelerating from 100 mph. In various iterations, they were hillclimb champions, won Grand Prix races, and set land speed records.

Professor Porsche was heavily involved with designing the P-wagens. Then as his involvement shifted more to building the plant for the KdF/Volkswagen, his son took over development projects at the Stuttgart design firm. After the formula change in 1938 (3-liter supercharged or 4.5-liter normally aspirated engines), Auto Union took full control of the team under Eberan von Eberhorst, who continued to work with the Porsche firm.

Toward the end of the War; Porsche people were working in Stuttgart, Wolfsburg, the family farm in Zell am See (Austria), and in Gmund (Austria) where the Third Reich sent the firm to avoid the Allied bombing of Stuttgart. The younger Porsche had long foreseen the outcome of the War. He had grown up anti-military and stayed apolitical through the Nazi years. The old Professor was simply politically naive; he was consumed with engineering, and it's obvious that he did not mix engineering with morality. If there was a sponsor for an engineering project, be it a race car or a tank, he wanted to design and build the best there ever was.

When the Allies arrived in mid-1945, it was no surprise. That November; the French invited Professor Porsche to visit them at their occupation headquarters in Baden-Baden. There he was offered the opportunity to redesign the Volkswagen to be "more French" and to move equipment (which the French would claim as war reparations) from Wolfsburg to build cars in France. The offer was probably a sincere one; the French had already nationalized Renault, and had arrested Louis Renault as a Nazi collaborator.

Disagreement within the government ensued. French automakers, led by Jean Pierre Peugeot, wanted no part of a French Volkswagen. On December 15, 1945, while the invited guests of the French in Baden-Baden, Professor Porsche, Ferry Porsche and Anton Piech were arrested as war criminals. Ferry was soon released, but the Professor and Piech went to prison in Dijon. No charges were brought and no trial was scheduled, but "bail" was set at 500,000 francs each.

After his release, the younger Porsche went to work to secure a commission for the family firm, still in Gmund. With help from Carlo Abarth, Porsche secured a contract with Piero Dusio, a wealthy Italian industrialist, for a new Grand Prix race car. The Type 360 Cisitalia, a 1.5-liter supercharged car smaller than, but reminiscent of, the Auto Unions was the result. The fees Porsche earned for its design bought the release of Professor Porsche and Piech. They were freed August 1,1947 after almost 20 months in captivity, mostly in terrible conditions in the medieval Dijon prison. The Professor's health was poor.

While the Professor was in prison, the little Porsche firm did whatever it could to stay in business. Aside from the Cisitalia project, it repaired cars, built and sold water pumps and winches, and designed its own sports car, the first car to carry the name Porsche. Type 356 was the project number. The prototype followed the tradition of the Auto Union and Cisitalia Grand Prix cars with mid-chassis engine placed ahead of the transaxle, in this case using modified Volkswagen drive train components. Upon his return to the company from prison, Professor Porsche reviewed the designs his son and his team had produced. He approved of them, commenting frequently to the workers that he would have designed both the Cisitalia Grand Prix car and the Porsche prototype the same way Ferry did.

During the winter of 1947-48, a Zurich car distributor ordered five Porsches and the Type 356 was put into production in the old saw mill in Gmund. Built entirely by hand, these cars adopted a more Volkswagen-like layout in order to have vestigial back seats: the engine was moved behind the transaxle. While in Gmund the little firm ultimately built and delivered 49 of the aluminum skinned 356s plus five additional chassis which were delivered to the Beutler firm in Thun, Switzerland, for fitting with their cabriolet bodies. In the Spring of 1949, Heinz Nordhoff hired the Porsche firm as consultants for further development of the VW, and contracted to pay Porsche a royalty on every car built. Porsche also became the Austrian distributor for VW. With finances now more secure, Porsche made plans to return to Stuttgart and in September 1949, reopened offices in space rented from the Reutter body works. Steel-bodied 356's went into production there soon after. Initial plans were to build up to 500 cars a year Eventually more than 78,000 356s would be built in 17 years.

In September of 1950, Professor Porsche celebrated his 75th birthday. A huge party was staged, and the courtyard of the family villa was filled with friends and associates from years past...and with Porsches and VWs. In November, Ferry took his father for one last look at the Wolfsburg Volkswagenwerk, now literally humming full speed with production of the popular VW Beetle. It was the first time the Professor had seen the plant since the end of the War.

Later in November, Professor Porsche had a stroke. He never recovered, and he succumbed January 30, 1952. His legacy, that of an untrained and largely uneducated young man who became one of the greatest automobile engineers of all time, lay in countless design innovations, many of them now distilled down to one car which his son had designed, the Porsche sportscar. It is fitting that a designer as fiercely independent as Ferdinand Porsche should father the last remaining independent sportscar manufacturer.

  Reply With Quote