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Ferdinand Porsche: Creative Genius in automobiles

One of the world’s most successful automotive engineers, he created the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle. However, his active role in backing Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler during WWII also attracted flak and a one-year prison term.

inspiring-lives Updated: Jan 30, 2020 16:42 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Adolf Hitler approached Porsche to design a people’s car (Volkswagen in German) - the legendary VW Beetle in 1934
Adolf Hitler approached Porsche to design a people’s car (Volkswagen in German) - the legendary VW Beetle in 1934(Illustration: Biswajit Debnath )

Born on September 3, 1875 in Maffersdorf, Austria-Germany (part of present-day Czech Republic) Ferdinand Porsche was the third child of Anna and Anton Porsche. He was introduced to the world of automobiles at a very early age when he helped his father, a mechanic, in the latter’s work. As he grew up, Porsche studied at the Imperial Technical School in Reichenberg.

Career

At age of 18, Porsche took up a job at the Bela Egger Electrical Company in Vienna. Although he never pursued engineering formally, he did attend classes at a university as a part-time student and designed electric hub motor. After the conflict between Austro-Hungarian Empire, he decided to live in Czechoslovakia. In 1934, Porsche became a naturalised citizen of Germany.

Quantum jump

In 1898, Porsche joined Jakob Lohner & Company. His first design for the firm was the Egger-Lohner vehicle launched in Vienna on June 26, 1898. Named P1, the vehicle resembled a horse carriage but was a car with a revolutionary motor. In September 1899, it took part in a car race in Berlin and completed it in 18 minutes to win the gold medal and achieved an Austrian speed record of 56km/hour.

Stint with other firms

In 1906, Porsche joined the firm Austro-Daimler as chief designer. In 1910, he designed a car named Prince Henry. The vehicle had a powerful 85 horsepower engine. By 1916, he became the managing director. In 1923, he left Austro-Daimler. He joined the German automobile company Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft as technical director.

Striking out on his own

In 1931, with financial support forthcoming, Porsche opened an automobile design consulting firm in Stuttgart, Germany. He hired few of his former co-workers. His first design project was a car for the middle class, which was to be brought out by the German manufacturer Wanderer. Simultaneously, Porsche also worked on his own car designs. Within a few years, he also founded a subsidiary firm named Hochleistungs Motor GmbH to manufacture racing cars.

Cars, military vehicles

In 1934, Adolf Hitler approached Porsche to design a people’s car (Volkswagen in German) - the legendary VW Beetle. He created two prototypes in 1935. Two years later, he was granted membership of the National Socialist German Workers’ or Nazi Party and granted German citizenship. By 1942, Porsche began creating design for tanks like VK4501 that also known as Tiger (P). Those tanks took part in 1943 during World War II. After the war, Porsche was accused of war crimes and spent a year in prison. In 1948, he began the production of his own car named the Porsche 356. The company was later relocated to Zuffenhausen, Germany.

Porsche passed away on January 30, 1951, in the wake of a stroke. His firm still runs from the Stuttgart headquarters and has become a major automobile maker known for SUVs, sedans and sports cars.

Interesting facts

1. At age of 15, Ferdinand Porsche developed a generator. In 1898, he developed the Egger-Lohner electric vehicle named C2 Phaeton. Also known as P1, it was the world’s first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle in 1900.

2. In 1900, Porsche’s engineering abilities drew international spotlight at the World’s Fair in Paris. His wheel-hub engine, used to power a newly developed vehicle earned widespread acclaim at the event.

3. In 1910, Porsche designed a car called Maja with 30 horsepower. It was named after Andree Maja, one of the daughters of Jellinek-Mercedes, a European automobile entrepreneur who was partially responsible in 1900 for commissioning the first ‘modern’ car, the Mercedes 35hp. One of his major achievements was that he had also designed a road train which was used in World War I.

4. Porsche was inducted into the Int’l Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1996. Three years later, he was named the Car Engineer of the Century. Two European varsities conferred honorary doctorates on him.

Source: porsche.com, britannica, wikipedia