A brief history of Porsche
Porsche is revered the world over as the embodiment of a sports car by enthusiasts and the 911 is probably the most recognised car silhouette in the motoring world. To some a Porsche is a status symbol and penis extension and to other’s it’s the best drivers car available, but most people know who Porsche is. Or do you? We’re here to help as Porsche’s history is quite interesting.
Ok here it goes. Porsche founder Ferdinand Porsche was a very talented engineer and was somewhat of a sharper Forest Gump type character in the sense that he had a remarkable working life and brushed shoulders with some of the most infamous and famous historical figures from the twentieth century as you’ll see.
Everyone knows that Porsche is a German company, but Ferdinand was actually born in what would be the Czech Republic today. Showing a keen interest in mechanical engineering at a young age he would sneak into the local university and listen to classes, but never obtaining any formal qualifications.
In fact Ferdinand developed the electric hub motor and created the worlds first petrol-electric vehicle in 1901. His petrol-electric broke many speed records and even won a rally. In 1902 he was drafted in military service and served as a chauffeur for Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the same Franz Ferdinand that would later be assassinated and spark of World War I.
In 1906 he was recruited as chief designer by Austro-Daimler, who would later become Daimler Benz and with some more mergers and boardroom stuff become Mercedes Benz. Due to the Great Depression Ferdinand was made redundant and he started Porsche in 1931, good for us, but probably not a good day for Ferdinand.
Porsche was started as a consultancy business initially and “In 1933, Porsche developed the Auto Union Type A, perhaps the first vehicle that instigated what we today call “Formula One.””
Now the controversial part, at the 1933 Berlin Motor Show Adolf Hitler announced his intention to motorise the German nation and in 1934 Porsche received a contract to produce a peoples car hence the name Volkswagen which means peoples car in German, the peoples car would become the VW Beetle, nearly 22 million beetles were produced over a production run of 70 odd years. Whether Porsche had a choice in whether he worked for the Nazi’s or not is subject to debate.
Nick Jardine of Business Insider said “Der Spiegel reported in 2009 that the company chooses largely to ignore its history during the war. Ferdinand Porsche wasn’t exactly Hitler’s biggest supporter but he did exploit forced labor and manufacture armored vehicles for the Nazis. Since the late 1990s, the company has paid out to anyone who can prove forced labor during the war. The company itself estimated no more than 50 forced workers were used. Other sources’ estimates put that number significantly higher at around 300.”
When the war came to an end Ferdinand and his son Ferry were put in prison for working with the Nazis and the British took over the VW plant run by a Major called Ivan Hirst, without Major Hirst there would probably be no VW today, but that’s a whole different story. Ferdinand’s son Ferry ran Porsche until he was released from captivity in 1948.
“The Porsche family returned to Stuttgart in 1949 not knowing how to restart their business. The banks would not give them credit, as the company’s plant was still under American embargo and could not serve as collateral. So Ferry Porsche took one of the limited series 356 models from Gmünd and visited Volkswagen dealers to raise some orders.”
Ferry, Ferdinand’s son, designed the 356 which was released in 1948 which would set the underpinnings for the ubiquitous 911. When Porsche announced the 911 it was actually called the 901, Peugeot said that they own the copyright to all car name/numbers with the 0 in the middle and so Porsche changed the name to 911.
Ferdinand suffered a stroke in 1950 and died in 1951, not seeing the huge global success that Porsche would become.
Instead of being a spoilt, entitled, coke head brat Ferdinand’s son Ferry was also a really talented engineer in his own right and took his dad’s company to new heights, introducing new models which he personally oversaw and even taking Porsche Public in 1972.
The 70’s and 80’s were good to Porsche, racking up victories on racetracks around the world and cementing their reputation for producing some of the best sports cars in the world. The 1980’s climate of excess, greed is good, red braces and loads of money, Porsche’s were a favourite with bankers and stock brokers for being the ultimate status symbol, yuppies were crashing them into hedges and wrapping them around inanimate objects the world over. 911’s were a more challenging and less forgiving ride then, but that was part of the attraction of the 911, trying to master it, like riding like a rodeo bull.
But then came the stock market crash and global recessions in the 90’s and Porsche nearly went bankrupt, there wasn’t anyone left to buy their cars, their range wasn’t diverse enough and the models they did have were dated and expensive to build.
Porsche needed some new models, they needed to modernise production methods and bring costs down. The 911 had always been air cooled, but in the 90’s it became water cooled to improve efficiency, seems trivial and reasonable to normal human beings, but Porsche being a victim of its own success had some fans that were way too serious about all things Porsche and they’re called purists. Porsche Purists don’t like change, when Porsche grafted the face of the new Boxster model onto the more expensive and treasured 911, purists were distraught, then 2002 Porsche released a fat heavy SUV, heads exploded. Despite the purists and journalists alike calling the Boxster a hairdresser’s car and the Cayenne the ugliest car ever to wear a Porsche badge they were hits with the car buying public and saved Porsche’s bacon, both becoming commercial successes to this day.
The Boxster, Cayman and Cayenne reversed Porsche’s fortunes and allowed them to go racing, produce low volume high performance cars and hyper cars. Their diversification into new models didn’t stop at the Boxster, Cayman and Cayenne. Today they also have the Panamera, a 4 door executive saloon, the Maycan a mid-size SUV and pure electric Taycan. I have been lucky enough to own and drive several Porsche’s and they all have that unique DNA running through them, when you own one you feel like a custodian of something a bit special. In 2020 Porsche is the most profitable car maker in the world per vehicle, making over £20,000.00 on each car, has just released the best electric car on the market and arguably make the best cars in their respective classes, the future looks bright