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- December 21 2015 The History of Porsche
The History of Porsche
Some will say it’s the Jaguar E-Type, some will say it’s the Lamborghini Miura. Some may even say it’s the Bugatti Veyron but they will all be quite wrong. The most iconic car ever made has to be the Porsche 911. Here, we take a look at the history of Porsche and we’ll tell the story of how a little kid with a fascination for electricity became synonymous with perhaps the most famous car of all.
Photograph © Yahya S.
Ferdinand Porsche was born in northern Bohemia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now part of the Czech Republic) in September 1875 and it’s likely he got the car bug from his father, Anton, a master panel beater. His early years showed an aptitude for mechanics and engineering and when he turned 18, he got a job with a Viennese electrical company. He would sneak into the local university to learn and while he was there, he developed the first electric hub motor – a premonition of hybrid tech a century before it hit the streets!
After thirty years of working for various manufacturers including Jacob Lohner, Mercedes and Austro-Daimler, in the early 1930s he made a decision that was to change not only his life, but the course of the history of the modern sports car.
‘Dr. Ing. h. c. F. Porsche GmbH, Konstruktionen und Beratung für Motoren und Fahrzeuge’ otherwise known as Porsche was incorporated in 1931 in Stuttgart, Germany (where the company’s corporate HQ remains) but didn’t build any cars, rather they embraced the development and consulting culture we take for granted today. In a lot of ways, Ferdinand Porsche was way ahead of his time but in 1934, he got a call from a certain Chancellor of Germany asking for help in developing a ‘people’s car’. In German, that translates to ‘Volkswagen’ and the Beetle was born.
The war was naturally a difficult time and a few months after the war ended, Ferdinand was arrested for war crimes but not tried. During his 20-month incarceration, his son, also called Ferdinand but universally known as Ferry, decided to make his own car. Like many of the eponymous car makers of the time – Ferruccio Lamborghini, Enzo Ferrari and David Brown (of Aston Martin DB fame) – he couldn’t find a thoroughbred sports car he wanted to buy so he built one in his own vision.
The prototypes of what was to become the stunning Porsche 356 (and widely regarded as the marque’s first proper car) designed by Erwin Komenda were put into full production in 1948 and despite its 40 bhp, rear-mounted, souped-up Beetle engine, it was agile and poised and perhaps unique for the time, it was reliable and comfortable. A sign of things to come…
Photograph © Robert Couse-Baker
Ferdinand Porsche died in 1951 and as the company moved into the mid-1950s, Porsche started producing their own engines. They toyed with the world of racing with a modicum of success with, amongst others, the 550 Spyder. The 356 went through a number of iterations and then in 1963, they launched a car that was to become arguably the most instantly-recognisable automobile the world has ever seen.
Originally designated the 901, Peugeot had registered all three-digit numbers with zero in the middle for their own models so it had to change and it became the 911. It was more powerful than the 356 and had a 2.0-litre flat-six, air-cooled ‘boxer’ engine with a five-speed manual transmission and over the next decade, targa, semi-automatic, high-performance and entry-level models were produced and sold in huge numbers.
It’s hard to over-estimate how much of an impact the 911 had on the automotive world. The rear-engined masterpiece has remained in production for over 50 years but the true essence of the car has barely changed at all. The argument goes on to this day amongst petrolheads – a rear-mounted engine shouldn’t work, but it does – and how.
The real difference when talking about the 911 over other supercars is simple. When you think Ferrari, you think of the F40, or the Enzo or the Testarossa. When you think Lamborghini, you think Countach, Murciélago or Miura. When you think Aston Martin, you think DB5, DB9 or Vanquish but when you think Porsche, you think 911. That’s the effect that car has had on our collective consciousness.
Today, you can buy any one of 25 variations of the 911, from the entry-level £77,000 Carrera to the 4, the 4S, the GTS, various cabriolets and the Targa. The Turbo S Cabriolet is £145,000 and the 911 GT3 RS, a stripped-out track day car is the business end of £135,000 once you’ve put a few bells and whistles on it.
Not cheap, but you’ll know where that money goes when you climb into one and drive it for the first time.
1970s 911 © RSdBarros
New 911 © Abdullah Al-Bargan
Porsche ended production of the 356 in 1965 and the engine was transferred to the 912, replaced in 1970 by the 914 and in 1976, the front-engined 924 made its first appearance. Two years later, the sleeker, longer 928 debuted. It was originally designed to replace the 911 but because the 928 was both a superb sports car as well as a luxury grand tourer, both cars sat happily side by side until the last 928 rolled off the production line in 1995.
In 1982, the Porsche 944 was launched with a 2.5-litre, 143 bhp engine. It was based on the 924 platform and was available as a coupe or cabrio with naturally-aspirated or turbocharged versions and while it was designed to last well in to the 1990s, production stopped in 1991 in favour of the 3.0-litre 968.
While the design and development of the cars was rumbling along very nicely, the company at board level was going through a series of changes. Ferry Porsche believed that the company had outgrown its reputation as a ‘family business’ and an Executive Board was established with ‘outsiders’ brought in to oversee growth. This led to an exodus by FA Porsche (Ferry’s eldest son) who went on to create luxury goods business Porsche Design and Ferdinand Piëch (grandson of patriarch Ferdinand Porsche) who climbed the corporate ladder at VW, becoming Chairman of the Board and influencing the development of some of the most significant cars of the century including the Audi Quattro and the legendary Bugatti Veyron.
Porsche ploughed through CEOs and today’s corporate structure is so complex, even if we tried to get our heads around it, we wouldn’t understand it. If we could, we’d be a shoe-in as next CEO…
As we move into the 21st century, the Porsche range shows no signs of slowing down. The entry-level Boxster is followed by the mid-level Cayman which is followed by the wonderful, fantastic, beautiful 911. But now, there’s more to Porsche than flat-out, low-slung sports cars. The four-door Panamera isn’t the prettiest thing on the road but at the top-end, it’s still a £130,000+ fast family car and the Macan and Cayenne are the company’s first foray into the 4×4 market.
Porsche are also playing in the hypercar space. The stunning 5.7-litre V10 Carrera GT was based on the company’s rich Le Mans heritage and was a roadster of the highest order. A 0-60 time of 3.9 seconds and a top-end of 210 mph put the Carrera GT into McLaren F1 and Mercedes SLR territory but for 2015, there’s a new kid on the block.
The Porsche 918 Spyder is a mid-mounted, 4.6-litre V8-powered hypercar with a difference. The difference is that it’s a plug-in hybrid. It comes with two electric motors – one over the front axle and one over the rear axle and chucks out 887 bhp for truly sensational performance. Top speed is218 mph. 0-60mph takes 2.5 seconds. 0-190mph takes 19.9 seconds. The batteries are charged through kinetic energy (similar to F1 KERS technology) and the clincher? Just look at it! It’s magnificent!
Photograph © Eddy Clio
Most of the car is carbon fibre and when you sit inside, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were in a F16 jet fighter but F1 performance with lower CO2 emissions than a 1.5-litre Toyota Yaris comes at a premium.
The official Porsche website lists the 918 Spyder ‘from £781,155 including VAT’ and the 918 Spyder with the Weissach Package which includes improved aerodynamics, magnesium wheels and more carbon fibre as well as a boosted top-speed of a staggering 233 mph costs ‘from £853,155’. It’s a lot of money but it’s also a lot of car.
Porsche seems to be one of those companies whereby the future is dictated by the past. They will continue to make beautiful, high performance sports cars because it’s what they’ve always done but they are a 21st century business that understands the importance of the environment and consumer trends and are acting accordingly. Ridiculously fast, massively powerful and crazily expensive their answer might be but as we said, just look at it!
Let’s leave the last word to FA Porsche who sums it up beautifully succinctly: ‘A Porsche will always look like a Porsche’.