Porsche today is a household name. Synonymous with prestige and performance it is commonly associated with racing and has a pedigree stretching back more than a century. This wasn’t always the case however, and when we delve into it’s interesting past, we uncover a tale of war, poverty and two families.
The Foundation (1875 – 1935)
It all began with Ferdinand Porsche who was born in 1875 in Maffersdorf, Reichenberg in what was then the Austro-Hungarian empire, now known as the Czech Republic. Despite his family being plumbers by trade, he was fascinated with electricity. He went to work in Vienna for an electrical company, soon becoming manager and starting work on revolutionary electrical wheel hub motors as far back as 1897. He married in 1903, and his first child, Louise Porsche was born in 1904. In the early years of the automobile, electrical cars had the edge over the then infantile internal combustion engine. Ferdinand was also a reserve soldier and drove the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in one of his electric prototypes. An early pioneer of hybrid technologies, many of Porsche’s designs used the concept we are all familiar with in the Toyota Prius, and in 1906 Ferdinand became the technical director of the Austro-Daimler in Vienna.
The third Porsche to arrive on the scene was Ferdinand’s son, Ferry. He was born in 1910 and at the age of 12 was given a two-cylinder two stroke car by his father. By 16 he had a special driver’s license. In the meantime, father Ferdinand had gone from strength to strength and by the time Adolf Hitler came to power, Ferdinand was a well-known professor of engineering running his own consulting firm with clients such as Auto-Union or what we now know as Audi. Soon he was called upon to design the ‘people’s car’ or what became known as the Volkswagen Bug. Collaborating with another Austrian designer, Hans Ledwinka, Ferdinand had just finished the iconic design when war broke out. Ferdinand and Ferry both were immediately enlisted in the manufacture of military vehicles. Ferry’s first son, Ferdinand Alexander (Butzi) Porsche was also born in this year out of Ferry’s union with Dorothea Reitz.
The Development (1942 – 1965)
After WWII both Ferdinand and Ferry were arrested and tried for war crimes. Ferdinand by the French, and Ferry by the U.S. Ferry wasn’t found guilty and had to later go to France to bail out father Ferdinand. The year was 1946 and Ferry managed to get the ransom money by designing a car for Piero Dusio of Cisitalia. Learning from the way Cisitalia built performance cars from Fiat parts; Ferry decided to do the same in native Austria but instead use the family’s long-standing relationship with Volkswagen.
1948 saw the birth of the iconic 356 as Ferry concluded a contract with Volkswagenwerk for the supply of parts. From there one winner followed another with the youngest Porsche in the lineage penning the iconic 911 in 1964. A firm believer in racing, Porsche’s sales legacy was as impressive as it’s track one, frequently snatching titles away from the clutches of other marques such as Daimler and BMW.
The Amalgamation (1990 – 2021)
Fast forward nearly 50 years and the early 90’s saw Porsche struggling to stay relevant among the dearth of Japanese imports that were more affordable, reliable and eager to cater to the modern styles (think SUV) that the new millennium was heralding. After Ferry’s death at the turn of the century, an enterprising new director of Porsche, Wendelin Wiedeking saved the company by introducing the Cayenne and restored the business to a strong financial position. Eyeing Volkswagen from his tower of strength, Wiedeking decided to subtly take over the Peoples Car. The 2008 financial crisis got in the way and soon Porsche was once again in a precarious position. Ironically, the head of Volkswagen at the time was Ferdinand Piëch (what is it with all the Ferdinands?) who was the son of Louise Porsche. He loaned Porsche money and once again saved the company, while keeping it from the clutches of outside investors.
Porsche was built from nothing but the creativity and hard work of the Porsche family. Although its past was bumpy it has stood the test of time, proving that whatever the future may hold, Porsche will rise to meet it.