Professor Ferdinand Porsche celebrates his 85th birthday
A Slice of Living History
The manner in which the Porsche family raised its children from their earliest years had its consequences. As Aloisia Porsche gave birth to her Sunday child, Ferdinand, called Ferry, on 19 September, 1909, in Wiener Neustadt, father Ferdinand was personally driving an Austro Daimler to a class victory in the Semmering hillclimb. As Ferry grew older the park of his parents' villa was not his favorite playground. The son of the Technical Director much preferred to play in the nearby Austro Daimler factory yard.
There were no extravagances during his schooldays, no elite public schools for him. Porsche junior spent his first four years of elementary and two of secondary school in Wiener Neustadt. Then the family moved to Stuttgart. His father was in charge of technology at the Gottlieb Daimler Motorengesellschaft, the son attended Gottlieb Daimler Gymnasium in Bad Cannstatt.
His school friend Albert Prinzing, later professor and factory director in Zuffenhausen, described the student named Porsche this way, on the occasion of the latter's 75th birthday: "A young, small Austrian with long hair joined the class, a class wearing the Hindenburg crewcut. He wore trousers we didn't recognize, which he called knickerbockers. Even then he was what we would call a trendsetter today, pretty soon our hair was longer and knickerbockers were the class fashion."
Young Mr. Porsche attended the Gottlieb Daimler Gymnasium for four years. He left after his tenth year, completing the lower level. He wanted to follow in the engineering footsteps of his father who had just established a technical memorial for himself at Daimler with the design of those legendary supercharged cars of the S series which peaked in the Mercedes SSKL, the almost unbeatable race car of its day.
In 1927 the young man received a rare chance for those days, to work at Robert Bosch as a student trainee for one year. There he met a colleague named Manfred Behr from the radiator- Behr family, who related his memories on the occasion of Ferry Porsche's 60th birthday. "We got to know one-another better in 1927 - over a workbench at the Bosch company. Bosch had accepted trainees for the first time and twelve applicants were chosen on the basis of special tests. They had to sign on for a full year. Work began then at 6:35 in the morning. A few minutes later the factory gate was locked. Anybody arriving late, whether worker, office staff, student trainee or apprentice, wasn't let in any more. They were virtually locked out. Back then, with six million unemployed, people only worked two or three days a week. And arriving more than five minutes late meant you lost your pay for an entire day."
As the trainee year ended, the Porsche family returned to Austria. In the recession of those years, Ferdinand Porsche's prospects at Daimler in Untertürkheim didn't look so rosy. The Professor described his further introduction to technology in an autobiography he wrote in June, 1972: "My technical training began with a one-year trainee period at Bosch and continued with very intensive private instructions which I received during a further year, from a master of engineering at Steyr."
But this Austrian episode proved short for the Porsche family. The opportunities Ferdinand Porsche found as a leading technician proved extremely limited. The depression prevented Steyr Austria from putting a 5.3 liter eight-cylinder into production. At the end of 1930 one might notice the news in Stuttgart newspapers that Dr. Porsche intended to return to Stuttgart to open a design office there.
In April 1931, when Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche Junior was 21, his father had registered his design office in the commercial register. Their new, freelance existence was located at Kronen- strasse in Stuttgart, right next to Café Lehrenkrauss which just happened to belong to the parents of Dorothea Reitz, Ferry's girlfriend whom he would marry in 1935. The son naturally worked in his father's engineering office from the first, initially as one of twelve designers. Times weren't easy for the new Porsche company, economy was required. Father and son naturally drove to Nürburgring in 1931, to the Grand Prix of Germany, only this time they didn't stay at the "Wilden Schwein" in Adenau but in a tent on the roadside. Rudolph Caracciola won in a Mercedes SSKL, the automobile which father Porsche had left as his memorial.
However, 1932 looked better and brought Ferry's rise to management. As of 1932 Ferry Porsche headed design coordination, he supervised testing and he cultivated contacts with their clientele. As the right hand of his father, Ferry Porsche headed demanding projects. A prototype for the Zündapp motorcycle company (design number 12) manifested the technical concept and beetle shape of the later Volkswagen for the first time. An advanced Wanderer with six-cylinder, light-alloy engine and timely modest 1.7 and 2.0 liter swept volume was designed for Auto Union.
At their own risk and because they sensed that something like this might be needed shortly, the office worked on a Grand Prix race car with mid-mounted, 16-cylinder engine - and indeed, this advanced design then contributed to the signing of a contract with Auto Union in 1933.
That same year another contract carried the later W concept a further step forward. This time, when the NSU motorcycle company in nearby Neckarsulm ordered an automobile from Porsche the design, bearing number 32, already featured an air-cooled, four-cylinder boxer engine and obvious beetle shape.
Starting in 1934, the men at Kronenstrasse wrote automobile history in the grand manner. On 17 January Porsche released his paper on Type 60, finding full approval from the national governmentof the Reich. But the path to a development contract proved rocky because the Porsche design office was seeking a contract which every German automobile maker coveted. The Reichsverband der Automobilindustrie, controlled by the government, like everything else in Germany in those days, signed a contract with Porsche for development of a Volkswagen on 22 July, 1934. Two conditions made this task particularly problematic: the intended price goal of barely 1000 Marks and the deadline for completion of a prototype in only ten months. It was the year the Volkswagen was born, when Ferry Porsche turned 25 and was about to step out of the shadow of his famous father. This marked the onset of a steep rise for the company because the strategic genius for automobile development of Ferdinand Porsche Senior was now matched by son Ferry Porsche, who henceforth grew into the challenge of realizing the plans and visions of his father.
The Volkswagen took shape quickly when the technical pillars of the design office, Karl Rabe, Erwin Kommenda, Franz Xaver Reimspiess and Ferry Porsche, took over this project. But realizing the prototype proved far more difficult than expected. At that point Ferry Porsche had only been designated director of test driving.
Lacking a complete Volkswagen, young Mr. Porsche carried out his job in a manner his father had never planned. At the first rollout of the Auto Union race car on a road near Zwickau, the junior boss took the wheel and gave the 16 cylinders a good boot. When the shocked parents heard about this, he was forbidden to deal with 450 HP. But this short encounter with elemental power gave the intuitive technician the idea, a year later, to fit their powerful race car with a limited-slip differential. This confirmed the superiority of the Auto Union for the 1936 season.
Using diplomatic skills, Ferry Porsche arranged permission to drive in touring car competition. He started in the 2000 kilometer run across Germany with a two-liter Wanderer in 1934 and recalls, in his memoirs: "An overall average of 64 km/h was required in my class. I arrived in Baden- Baden in third place and the timekeepers computed an average of 74 km/h for me, over the 2000 kilorneter route. I must say, I was pleased with myself."
Realization of the Volkswagen, which was supposed to be unlike any other automobile, took longer than planned. 1935 passed, Ferry Porsche married Dorothea Reitz, but there were no cars for the director of driving tests. The first prototype didn't leave the garage of their family villa on Feuerbacher Weg until 12 October, 1936, with two more following close behind.
From that point onwards, it was full-throttle ahead because the test program demanded 50,000 Kilometers. The daily stages were truly tough. In the morning they covered 345 kilormeters through the Black Forest, followed in the afternoon by 446 kilometers of autobainn. With a final sprint which included Sunday shifts, the test team managed to complete the required distance with all three cars by 22 December of that same year. For Ferry Porsche this first test was not only a technical task but also a very political one. It's true that he was test director for Porsche but the RdA (Reichsverband der Automobilindustrie = national automobile industry association) had placed its associates on the team to keep a critical eye on all tests. Differing evaluations of test results surfaced very quickly. But Ferry Porsche complied with family diplomacy usual for their company and didn't officially question criticism as being subjective. In the end, the 100- page RdA report proved positive: "This vehicle has displayed qualities which make further development seem recommendable."
In 1937 Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche visited the USA, long since conquered by the automobile, to search for rational production methods for a W which was only supposed to cost 1000 Reichmarks. They studied production methods and hired experts from the American industry in Detroit. And they even had a meeting with Henry Ford, who had put his country on four wheels with the affordable Model T. However, they didn't learn the secrets of economic production from this discussion but rather Ford's bitter message: "War is coming, and soon."
When Ford proved right and father Porsche commented on the start of the Second World War, "Hitler has gone mad now," the Volkswagen became the jeep-like Kübelwagen and tanks replaced race cars on the drawing boards in their design office. The postwar era soon placed total responsibility on Ferry Porsche's shoulders because his father was interned in France, not as a collaborator in the German armaments industry but, in the end, as technical adviser to state- owned Renault.
Development work for the Cisitalia was underway in the design office, moved during the war to Gmünd in Austria. The experimental shop brought some money in with repairs to Kübelwagens left over from the war. When father Ferdinand Porsche was released from detention in August, 1947, son Ferry found new courage to finally build an automobile which would carry the Porsche name.
They built three prototypes and started small-scale production in Gmünd, with a little capital from Switzerland. History owes it to the negotiating skills of Ferry Porsche that this became a larger- scale matter. On 17 September, 1948, he came to an agreement with W director Heinz Nordhoff and not only for delivery of parts for the Porsche 356. He gained the entire German VW organization as marketing and service partner and he additionally ensured the financial future of the family when they became general importers for Volkswagen in Austría. At the same time he plant 1 in Zuffenhausen. And he signed a contract with Reutter for delivery of bodies and rental was negotiating successfully with the American occupational forces in Stuttgart over letanon of a hall for final assembly at the symbolic price of one mark per square meter.
The capital which permitted a first series of 500 Porsches at a price of 9950 Marks amounted to 200,000 Marks - down payments from dealers - the value of a single Porsche 911 Turbo today. But the foundations which Ferry Porsche established as an automobile manufacturer proved solid and supportive. Between 1950 and 1964 Porsche built 78,000 cars of the Type 356.
The next step towards a prosperous future also challenged that diplomacy sharpened by Ferry Porsche throughout his long life. Against all the resistance of mechanical engineers, he pushed through the design of the 911 which his own son, Ferdinand Alexander, had produced for all time as it appears. With this 911 the company under the direction of Ferry Porsche headed into a golden financial era. However, the 911 was not destined to remain Porsche's only bestseller. Frequently unappreciated in later years, the W Porsche 914 was one such success of the Porsche range in the years between 1969 and 1973, reaching a production number of more than 100,000 cars in its short period of existence.
These years also brought the rewards of major sports victories. With the Porsche 917, honorable class wins become much more glorious overall wins. The first overall win at the 24 hour race of Le Mans is achieved with a Porsche 917, Porsche participated continuously in this race for 19 years to fight for the class wins. The 12-cylinder sports car becomes a three time world champion.
In March, 1972, Dr. Ferry Porsche saw his company and his lifework at its peak. And he decided to reorganize the company from the ground up, to ensure its future. The limited partnership was turned into a stockholder corporation and this new Porsche AG received a new head. Dr. Ferry Porsche judged it opportune to pass the position of Chairman of the Board on to a friend of the family. A technician, Professor Ernst Fuhrmann became Chairman. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche moved to the Supervisory Board and remains closely linked and highly interested in the company's affairs. Until this very day, the management seeks his council.