Ferdinand Porsche (1875–1951)

Ferdinand Porsche was one of the outstanding automobile engineers of the 20th century and was principally responsible for the design of the Volkswagen "Beetle", that was the most widely-selling model of the second half of the century.

He was born in Reichenberg in Bohemia (now Liberec in the Czech Republic), that was then part of the Habsburg Empire. In 1893 he chose to be apprenticed as a mechanic with Bela Egger (later Brown Boveri) in Vienna rather than to attend university, although he surreptitiously went to lectures at the Technical University of Vienna. He went to work in 1898 for Lohner, a manufacturer of electric vehicles, and designed the Lohner-Porsche car that was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. Porsche won the Poetting Prize as the outstanding motor car designer in the Austrian Empire in 1905.

He was employed by several engineering companies in the years that followed, but moved to Stuttgart in 1923 to work for Daimler Germany, which in 1926 was merged into Daimler-Benz, which enabled him to contribute to the design of several of the Mercedes models manufactured during the inter-war period, as well as to participate in the company`s racing activities.

He left Daimler-Benz in 1929, spent some time in Steyr and then returned to Stuttgart in 1931 to establish his own consultancy, Dr Ing h c F Porsche GmbH. In 1934 he was awarded a contract by the government of the Third Reich to develop a Volkswagen, a people`s car, and produced three prototypes in 1936. His son Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche (1909-98), who had been involved with automobile engineer since his earliest years, was also concerned with the design of the car. While the father went to manage the huge new factory built by the government at Wolfsburg in 1938, the son remained in Stuttgart to continue the business of the consultancy, which was involved during the 1930s with the successful Auto Union P-wagen racing cars.

During the Second World War the Wolfsburg factory produced armaments, many of its workers being Russian prisoners of war, and in 1947 Porsche was imprisoned for a short time by the French occupying authorities, although he was never charged with war crimes. Ferdinand A E Porsche was determinedly apolitical, and in 1944 moved the consultancy business from Stuttgart to Gmund in Austria, where, after the war ended, he began to build sports cars, the first of them appearing in 1948.

The following year he moved back to Stuttgart where he began to produce the Carrera model, of which 78,000 had been sold by 1965. Ferdinand Porsche made some contribution to the design of the car but was ailing, and was taken to see the revived factory at Wolfsburg for the last time in 1950.

The Volkswagen company prospered in the 1950s and 60s, exporting Porsche`s people`s car to countries all over the world. His son`s company flourished in Stuttgart making high-performance, race-winning cars that could also be driven on public roads. The family`s achievements are commemorated in the Porsche museum at Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.