This iconic German car company was founded in 1931 by Professor Ferdinand Porsche who had been the technical director at Austro-Daimler where he had designed a touring car which had won a triple victory in the Prince Henry trials. He was also the chief engineer at Mercedes-Benz.
Initially, the company offered motor vehicle development and design consultancy services, but did not build any cars under its own name. One of the first commissions the new company received was from the newly-elected Nazi government of Adolf Hitler to design a car for the people or “Volkswagen”. In 1934, the prototype for the KdF was unveiled, later to become known as the Volkswagen Beetle, one of the most successful car designs of all time. Although the KdF was unveiled at the Berlin Motor Show in 1939, the impending Second World War halted production.
The first Porsche was created in 1938 and was manufactured from the machinery of the KdF or Volkswagen and was known as the “Porsche Type 64”. Only three prototype models of this distinctive vehicle were made and it never went into production because of the outbreak of the war.
Inevitably, Volkswagen and Ferdinand Porsche were enlisted to assist the war effort. Volkswagen produced a military version of the KdF (roughly equivalent to the American jeep) called the Kubelwagen and even an amphibious version, the Schwimmwagen. Porsche also produced several designs for heavy tanks, though these were never used apart from the chassis.
At the end of World War II in 1945, the Volkswagen factory at KdF Stadt fell to the British. Ferdinand Porsche was removed from his position as Chairman of Volkswagen and was replaced by British Army Major Ivan Hirst. On 15 December the same year, Ferdinand was arrested for war crimes and imprisoned for 20 months, but not tried.
During his imprisonment, Ferdinand’s son Ferry Porsche took over temporary control of the fledgling company during the difficult post-war period until his father’s release in August 1947. That same year saw Porsche return to producing vehicles, including a new Grand Prix racing car in Gmund, Austria. A year later, Ferry Porsche built the 356 now regarded as the first of the Porsche sports cars as it was the first model actually sold commercially. The 356 was designed by Erwin Komenda with a lightweight aluminium body and who had also designed the body of the KdF. The prototypr car was shown to German auto dealers and it wasn’t until pre-orders reached a set threshold that production was begun in 1948 by Porsche Konstructionen before being taken over by Porsche GmbH in Stuttgart in 1950.
In post-war Germany, parts were generally in short supply, so initially the 356 used many components from the Volkswagen Beetle. Later, VW-sourced parts were replaced by Porsche-made parts. From the beginning, Porsche’s signature designs have featured air-cooled rear-engine configurations (like the KdF or Beetle), rare for other car manufacturers, but producing automobiles that are very well balanced.
On 30 January 1951, Ferdinand Porsche died following a stroke after which his son Ferry assumed control of the company. It wasn’t until late 1952 that the now famous Porsche logo appeared, based on the coat of arms of the Free People’s State of Wurtenberg, which had Stuttgart as its capital.
The same year as the founder of the company died, the Porsche 356 achieved its first international win in motor racing. 1953 saw the introduction of the 550 Spyder model with a four-cylinder engine and aluminium body. As with the 356, the 550 Spyder enjoyed success in motor racing.
By the start of the 1960’s, the 356 and 550 models were in need of updating and in 1961 work began on a new design using a six-cylinder engine and a body designed by Ferry’s son Alexander Porsche. This became the iconic Porsche 911, which made its debut at the Frankfurt International Automobile Show in 1963. Production of the 911 Coupe model began in 1964 and is the most enduring Porsche design to date. Five years later, the 914 model (in collaboration with VW) was introduced and the 1970’s saw the appearance of the 917, 924 and 928 models. In 1972, Porsche went public and work began on the Weissach Research and Development Centre.
In 1982, the Porsche 956 became the most successful sports car of that time and the 944 model made its appearance the same year. The 959 model was introduced in 1985 and in 1993, Porsche unveiled the Boxster concept car at the Detroit Auto Show. 2002 saw the introduction of the Porsche Cayenne, a luxury crossover sport utility vehicle.
Currently, Porsche is owned by Volkswagen AG and specialises mainly in producing sedans, SUVs, hypercars, supercars and high-performance sports cars.
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