The History Of The Porsche Automobile:

Today's selection-- from Iconic by Miles S. Nadal and Ken Gross

“Porsche’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche, led a successful design consultancy in Stuttgart, Germany, before World War II. He had previously worked at Austro-Daimler, had designed and developed racing cars at Auto-Union, and designed the first Volkswagen. He created a dynasty with cars that combined a lightweight platform frame, an aerodynamic body, and an air-cooled horizontally opposed rear-mount engine--a formula the company first adopted in 1938-39 with the Berlin-Rome Type 64 racecar. Looking back at that prophetic prototype today, one can visualize the entire lineup of Porsche models that followed.

“Porsche AG began serious auto production in 1948, when Porsche’s son, Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Anton Porsche, built a Volkswagon-based ‘special’ roadster, the 356. It received critical acclaim after a Swiss magazine published a favorable road test. Designed by Erwin Komenda, the 356 coupe is sleek, streamlined, and innovative. The tiny two-seater used a strong platform frame and a modified Volkswagen-sourced W 1.131-cc air-cooled four-cylinder engine mounted behind the rear axle. Its suspension was independent all around with torsion bars, front trailing links, and rear swing axles. It handled extremely well for the era, despite its cable brakes and an 85-mph top speed limitation.

“The elder Porsche died early in 1951 but not before he saw his cars beginning to challenge the world’s best. Ferry Porsche understood that in lieu of large advertising budgets, racing was the crucible in which to prove Porsche’s superiority and capture global attention. In 1951, a single Porsche qualified for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It won the 1,100-cc Class and finished 20th overall. (Porsche would repeat its Le Mans class-winning feat the following year, and has taken home eighteen constructor titles since.) 

“Ferry Porsche realized that modified production cars were not sufficient to win major races. So he initiated Project 500, a purpose-built racing coupe designed for the lowest possible aerodynamic drag in 1952. Victories at Le Mans, Mexico’s La Carrera Panamericana, and at countless other venues established the small Stuttgart-based automaker as a ‘Giant Killer.’ Porsche’s production cars developed a loyal following worldwide.

“In 1963, the 356 models morphed into the 911, and the company exploded. Conceived as a bigger four-seat 356, the all-new 911 featured a new chassis with MacPherson struts, semi-trailing arm and torsion bar springs, and a brand-new air-cooled, flat six that initially produced 128 hp from 1,991 cc. Designed by Ferdinand Alexander ‘Butzi’ Porsche, Ferry Porsche’s son. Its shape echoed the 356’s familiar fastback silhouette but was modified enough to look like a whole other beast. Today, that design has evolved many times but is still recognizable as a 911. Truly iconic. 

1952 Porsche 356 K/9-1 prototype

“Porsche AG always took competition seriously, and the company marshalled its best engineers, led by Ferry Porsche’s cousin, Dr. Ferdinand Piëch, to ensure the cars would be as advanced as any in the world. Legendary racecars like Porsche’s vaunted and technically sophisticated 917 and 962 were virtually unmatched in their era. They initially surprised Ferrari and others simply because no rival thought that Porsche would ever offer racecars with larger displacement engines than their road-going models. 

“Today, Porsche AG, which became part of the Volkswagen Group in 2011, is a full-time manufacturer. The collecting of vintage Porsches, especially cars with racing provenance, has led to skyrocketing prices. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, retired pharmaceutical executive Bob Ingram, and Miles Collier, founder of the Revs Institute, are among this country’s top Porsche collectors. With nine Porsches in his stable, Miles Nadal is in good company."

Iconic: Art, Design, Advertising, and the Automobile
author: Miles S. Nadal, Ken Gross  
title: Iconic: Art, Design, Advertising, and the Automobile