Happy birthday to Porsche
April 27, 2006 We’re forever missing birthday’s and we missed a biggie this week when Porsche Engineering Group GmbH, the oldest forerunner company preceding Porsche AG as we know it today, turned 75. On 25 April 1931 Ferdinand Porsche founded an Engineering Office in Stuttgart under the name "Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, Konstruktion und Beratung für Motoren- und Fahrzeugbau" ("Dr. Ing. h. c. F. Porsche Ltd., Construction and Consultancy Company for Engine and Vehicle Production"), and subsequently had the new Company entered in the trade register. There are few males on Planet Eart who haven’t lusted after one of Porsche’s products and we have some lovely images of the company’s finest work in the image database.
The success of Porsche is based, firstly, on efficient production methods and clear brand management, and, as the second and most important point, on decades of experience in development going far beyond the production of sports cars alone. Indeed, over a number of decades Porsche has acquired the reputation of one of the most renowned and versatile providers of engineering services the world over.
Despite the economic crisis in the early ‘30s, this step into independence was by no means a rash move made by the experienced engineer and production expert, but rather the logical consequence of Ferdinand Porsche’s professional career: At the time, Ferdinand Porsche was able to look back at more than 30 years of successful activities with the leading car manufacturers of his time.
At the age of just 24, Porsche quite literally hit the headlines for the first time at the Paris World Exhibition in the year 1900, presenting a vehicle with an electrically driven wheel hub motor he had built on behalf of the Lohner Coach Factory in Vienna, a purveyor to the Austrian Royal Family. In the same year he also built the Lohner-Porsche Mixte, the first vehicle ever to feature a combination of gasoline and electric drive – and, therefore, the first predecessor to today’s cars with hybrid drive. And just shortly thereafter, Ferdinand Porsche introduced all-wheel-drive technology and the four-wheel brake system into the world of automobile production.
In 1906 Porsche was appointed Technical Director of Austro-Daimler in Wiener Neustadt, making him responsible at the young age of just 31 for the products developed and built by one of the most significant European car makers. One of his greatest successes at the time was the "Prinz-Heinrich Car", which brought home the first three places for the Austro-Daimler Works Team in 1910 in the renowned and fiercely contested Prinz-Heinrich Race covering a distance of 1,495 kilometres or 927 miles from Berlin to Bad Homburg near Frankfurt. Creating the Austro-Daimler "Sascha", he also developed a small car able to successfully beat competitors with much larger engines in the 1922 Targa Florio in Sicily, ultimately scoring no less than 43 racing wins.
In 1923 Ferdinand Porsche joined the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim as their Technical Director. Apart from the midrange Type 8/38 and the first Mercedes-Benz with an eight-cylinder power unit, the Type 460 "Nürburg", it was above all supercharged sports and racing cars which continued to strengthen Porsche’s reputation as a truly outstanding automotive engineer.
The sports and racing cars developed under his guidance and proudly bearing the abbreviations "S" (Sport), "SS" (Super Sport), and "SSK" (Super Sport Kurz or Short) were among the most desirable cars of their time. In January 1929 Porsche left Daimler-Benz AG, spent a short time with Steyr-Werke in Austria, and then returned to Stuttgart in late 1930 where he established his own Engineering Office in Kronenstrasse 24.
The Stuttgart Design and Construction Office develops the legendary Auto Union racing cars and the VW Beetle Initially made up of twelve people, Ferdinand Porsche’s team focused from the start on the entire scope of automotive technology. Indeed, legendary cars were to be created in the years to come by this Engineering Office in Stuttgart, among them the Auto Union Grand Prix racing cars and the Volkswagen Beetle. Porsche’s Engineering Office thus became one of the most significant think tanks in automotive technology, paving the way for mass motorisation in Germany.
Right from the start in its very first year, Porsche’s office developed a six-cylinder midrange saloon and a new straight-eight power unit for German car maker Wanderer based in the city of Chemnitz. This was followed by a swing axle for Horch-Werke in Zwickau and an air-cooled five-cylinder radial engine developed on behalf of Phänomen Werke in Zittau and intended for use in trucks.
Working on behalf of Zündapp GmbH, the Engineering Office also developed a small and compact car which, with its engine positioned at the rear, a central tube frame and the transmission upfront of the rear axle, was to pave the way for the Volkswagen Beetle destined to follow later.
A further milestone in the history of the automobile was the torsion bar suspension concept patented by Porsche and featured for many decades as state-of-the-art technology in international car production.
In spring 1933 Ferdinand Porsche was given the assignment by Auto Union in Saxony to develop a sixteen-cylinder racing car based on the regulations in the new 750-kg racing formula. Immediately after conclusion of the contract, Porsche’s team led by Senior Engineer Karl Rabe started work on the mid-engine Auto Union P racing car (where the "P" stands for Porsche). The first test drives were conducted as early as in January 1934, and in its very first racing season also in 1934 the new car not only set up three world records, but also won three international Grand Prix races as well as several hillclimb events.
With drivers such as Bernd Rosemeyer, Hans Stuck or Tazio Nuvolari at the wheel, the Auto Union racing car consistently enhanced to an ever-increasing standard between 1934 and 1939 became one of the most successful racing cars in the pre-war era. Indeed, its mid-engine concept soon set the trend for all modern racing cars and is still applied today in Formula 1.
Over and above the development of racing cars, Porsche’s Engineering Office had also been working consistently ever since 1933 on the design and construction of an economical small car developed on behalf of NSU-Werke – a concept which, in the light of the world economic crisis, had also attracted the attention of other automotive engineers such as Belá Barényi and Hans Ledwinka. When Ferdinand Porsche started construction of the Type 32 compact car, this was the seventh small car he had constructed in the course of his career. A number of prototypes of the car had already been built, featuring an air-cooled four-cylinder horizontally opposed engine at the rear as well as Porsche torsion bar suspension as breakthrough technologies leading up to the Volkswagen Beetle destined for world fame in a later era. The crucial point in giving Ferdinand Porsche’s small car concept its final breakthrough was the "Study on the Construction of a German People’s Car" Porsche presented to the Reich Ministry of Transport on 17 January 1934.
Shortly thereafter, on 22 June 1934, he received the official order from the "Reich Association of the German Automobile Industry" or RDA for short, to use the German abbreviation, to design and build prototypes of the Volkswagen or "People’s Car" assembled in 1935 in the garage of Porsche’s private villa in the north of Stuttgart. Ongoing development and testing of this new concept incidentally had to struggle against resistance from the German car industry fearing unwanted competition for their own models.
Deviating from the initial plan to have the Vokswagen built jointly by various German manufacturers, the Government of the German Reich decided in 1936 to build a special plant for this purpose – and again, Ferdinand Porsche was given the assignment to plan this new production facility. As one of three Managing Directors, Porsche had been responsible for the technical features and planning of the future Volkswagen Plant ever since the establishment of the "Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH" ("Company Preparing the German People’s Car Ltd") (Gezuvor) in May 1937. It was also in this function that he travelled to the United States, accompanied by his son Ferry, in order to learn more about modern production methods.
Apart from the Volkswagen Project, Porsche’s Engineering Office, which had moved to the Zuffenhausen District of Stuttgart in 1938, was also working on numerous other development assignments for the automotive industry. Under a contract concluded with Daimler-Benz AG, for example, Porsche not only developed technical engine components for the Mercedes Silberpfeile, but also worked on the Type 80 World Speed Record Car from 1937 to 1939.
Yet another project was the Type 110 compact tractor for farm use developed on behalf of the "Deutsche Arbeitsfront" ("German Workers’ Front") (DAF) with its air-cooled two-cylinder power unit, setting the foundation for the subsequent "People’s Tractor" and the Porsche diesel tractor built after World War II.
The Type 64 racing car built in 1938/39 for the long-distance Berlin-Rome race is acknowledged as the original ancestor of all subsequent sports cars to follow from Porsche in the years and decades to come. Based on the Volkswagen Type 60, the Type 64 was seen by the "Kraft durch Freude" (KdF – "Strength through Joy") movement as the ideal model for promoting sales of the Volkswagen now re-named the "KdF Car". By 1939 Porsche had completed three racing coupés boasting a streamlined aluminium body and powered by a modified VW horizontally opposed engine – but then the Berlin-Rome Race planned for September 1939 was postponed due to the War.
Following the outbreak of World War II, the Porsche Engineering Office developed further models intended for military use. Apart from the Type 81 VW "Kastenwagen" or Jeep, the Company re-established in late 1937 as Porsche KG, also developed the Type 62 KdF Offroader, the Type 82 VW "Kübelwagen", the all-wheel-drive Type 87, and the Type 166 VW "Schwimmwagen" or amphibian car.
Towards the end of 1939, Porsche’s Engineering Office was requested by the Armament Authority of the German Army to develop a medium-weight battle tank, but work on this model was discontinued in the middle of the project since there was greater demand for heavier tanks. So developing the Tank 101 "Tiger", Porsche KG submitted its bid for a tender organised by the Army Armament Authority for the construction of a tank in the weight category above 50 tonnes. And indeed, in 1942 Ferdinand Porsche received the assignment to build a very heavy armoured car subsequently to become known as the Tank 205 "Maus". But ultimately only two prototypes were built and the "Maus" was never able to enter battle.
Following the war, the Porsche Engineering Office, which in the meantime had moved to the Austrian town of Gmünd in Carinthia, again competed for new orders from the automotive industry. To begin with, however, the Company was only able to develop and sell water turbines, cable winches, ski-lifts, mowing rods and various tractors based on the original People’s Tractor now marketed for the first time under the name Porsche. In 1946 the Italian company Cisitalia entrusted Porsche KG now under the management of Ferdinand Porsche’s son Ferry with a number of comprehensive development contracts. Apart from a small tractor and a water turbine, the Company developed and built the all-wheel-drive Type 360 Grand Prix racing car as well as a two-seater mid-engined sports car.
In July 1947, the Porsche Engineering Office started work under its own steam on the Type 356 VW Sports Car. Based on the Type 64 Berlin-Rome racing car, the design concept bearing the internal construction number 356 became reality in spring 1948, with the prototype Porsche 356 bearing chassis number 356-001 being completed in road trim on 8 June 1948 and receiving a special, one-off road permit from the State Government of Carinthia.
This marked the birth of the Porsche sports car brand, with production of the rear-engined Coupé and Cabriolet versions of the 356 starting in the second half of 1948. After returning to Stuttgart in 1950, Porsche began regular series production of the 356, with a total production volume of some 78,000 units by the year 1965.
The successor to the Porsche 356, the Porsche 911, then gave the Company the final breakthrough as one of the leading manufacturers of sports cars in the world not only in technical terms, but also in design.
For several decades, Volkswagen AG has been the most significant development customer of Porsche.
Despite this successful start as a car manufacturer, development assignments received from customers remained an important part of the Company’s overall range of activities. And up into the ’70s, Porsche’s most significant customer was Volkswagen AG, close cooperation of the two companies setting the pace in the development process ever since 1948. Numerous detailed improvements were therefore developed for the VW Beetle built in Wolfsburg under a licence fee of DM 5.- per unit paid to Porsche.
Porsche was also involved in the development of various successors to the highly successful Beetle, the Company developing numerous prototypes on behalf of the Volkswagen Group which, for years to come, were to set the trend for the wide range of passenger cars coming out of Wolfsburg. The most famous customer developments projects were the VW Porsche 914 presented in autumn 1969 and Volkswagen Development Project EA 425 making its appearance in 1976 as the Porsche 924.
This wide range of development comprised nearly all automotive concepts for both civilian and military use. The Company completed numerous orders on behalf of the German Army and developed automotive studies for the future, working for the German Federal Ministry of Research and Technology. The wide range of customers giving the Company assignments came from almost the entire worldwide automotive industry using Porsche’s know-how ranging from individual technical solutions all the way to the overall vehicle for their own car development projects.
In 1971 Porsche’s Development Division with its Construction, Testing and Design Depart¬ments moved to the new Weissach Development Centre 25 kilometres north-west of Stutt¬gart-Zuffenhausen. Apart from a large test track, Weissach also became the home of further elaborate installations such as a wind tunnel, a crash test facility, the exhaust emissions test centre, and a wide range of drivetrain test stands and dynamometers serving for both in-house developments and customer assignments.
Established in 2001 and based in Weissach, Porsche Engineering Group GmbH (PEG) has handled all worldwide customer development projects ever since. Benefiting from Porsche’s complex and sophisticated development network, PEG is able to draw on the achievements and services of all of Porsche’s subsidiaries.
With all of the Company’s operations being fully networked, and with a close exchange of information among customer development specialists, PEG offers superior competence in providing an interface and allows an overall, cross-sectional approach for the smooth and highly productive completion of customer projects. PEG is thus able to use all the facilities and test equipment available in Weissach as well as the expertise of the Company's 2,300 employees at the Development Centre. Currently Porsche Engineering Group GmbH has more than 500 employees at its various locations.
Powered by the combined know-how of Porsche in the background, PEG is able to consistently focus not only on the smallest components, but also on the overall vehicle as a whole. So that the supreme objective also in future will be to optimise the overall system with all its features, ensuring satisfied customers at all times.