A Hundred Years of Innovation

Dec. 21, 2004

The history of Porsche arguably goes back to the first year of the 20th century, when a young engineer named Ferdinand Porsche created wheel-hub motors for the Lohner-Porsche electric car that was shown to the world at the Paris Expo. Later, as technical director and board member at Stuttgart-based Daimler, Porsche developed the fabled Mercedes SS and SSK sports cars. He went off on his own in 1931, founding the Porsche Engineering Office in Stuttgart to provide engineering services to automotive manufacturers. When Adolf Hitler, who had taken power in 1933, came up with the idea of a "people's car" or volkswagen, he turned to Ferdinand Porsche to make the dream a reality. For the next five years, Porsche would tinker with designs in the garage of his Stuttgart villa, create prototypes, and oversee extensive test drives of the fledgling vehicle. By 1938 Porsche was directing construction of the Wolfsburg assembly lines that would produce the Volkswagen Type 60, a forerunner of the Beetle. But World War II intervened, and afterwards, while imprisoned by the French for assisting the Nazi war machine, Ferdinand Porsche developed the 4CV, a Beetle lookalike. Meanwhile, Porsche's son, Ferdinand Jr. -- who was known as Ferry and who had been working at his father's side for decades and had helped his father develop a mold-breaking car for Audi -- had assembled a team of engineers to develop a sports car at Gmnd, Austria, where the Porsche family had moved the engineering business in 1944. In June 1948 he unveiled the 356, the first car to bear the Porsche name. The 356 would become a legend, taking the racing world by storm and turning the small engineering company into a bona fide automobile manufacturer. By the end of 356 production in 1965, the company -- by now based back in Stuttgart -- would make and sell 720,000 of the cars. The ensuing decades would see a succession of similar successes. There was the 550 Spyder, which was so fiendishly effective in competition with more powerful cars that it was dubbed "the shark in the pool of perch." During the 1960s, Ferry Porsche began development of a new car with an air-cooled, rear-mounted six-cylinder engine. It became the 911, another instant classic. In 1974 Porsche developed a process to harness the power of a car's exhaust, and the 911 Turbo was born.

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