Ferdinand Porsche: Automotive Engineer, Designer of World’s First Gasoline-Electric Hybrid Vehicle
Hybrids can be seen zipping up and down roads and highways on a regular basis. Consumers praise them for their fuel efficiency in a time where gas prices have been steadily increasing. But although it may seem like a modern invention, Ferdinand Porsche actually helped create the first hybrid vehicle in 1900.
Ferdinand Porsche was born on September 3, 1875 in Maffersdorf (a aprt of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now the Czech Republic.) He developed a love for electricity and mechanical engineering while helping in his father’s shop at an early age. At 18, he found a job at Bela Egger & Co., which was an electrical company located in Vienna. He also studied part time at the Imperial Technical University, which is now the Vienna University School of Technology.
Ferdinand quickly rose to a management position after impressing his supervisors at Bela Egger. In 1897, he developed his first electric wheel-hub motor. Shortly after that, he began working at the Hofwagenfabrik Jacob Lohner & Co., which was a company that served the Austro-Hungarian Army.
There, he developed the Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid, which made its worldwide debut at the Paris World’s Fair of 1900. The Hybrid used an internal combustion engine which drove a generator to power to the electrical hub motors. The vehicle employed two of Ferdinand’s electrical motor hubs mounted on two wheels to push the car forward. The motors were capable of producing up to 7 horsepower in short bursts, or a constant of up to 3.5 hp. The car could accelerate briskly (by standards of the time) and achieve speeds of up to 35 mph. , but was extremely difficult to go over hills thanks to its 3,300 lb curb weight. Its weight is mostly due to the enormous lead-acid battery.
Ferdinand was drafted in 1902 as a reserve foot soldier in addition to being Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s personal chauffeur. He still continued to further his engineering career. After leaving Lohner, Ferdinand oversaw a project for Mercedes Benz which would result in the Mercedes Benz SSK, a powerful racecar equipped with a supercharger.
In 1931, he started his own motor company in Stuggart, Porsche. Shortly after, he was commissioned by Adolf Hitler to create what would become the Volkswagen Beetle.
Hitler intended the Beetle to be an affordable, mass-produced vehicle for the German public. The car also had to be simple to make maintenance a breeze. The 995cc engine produced 25hp and had no need for a radiator because it was air-cooled. Body panels and other parts of the vehicle could be cheaply replaced. The rear-engine, rear-wheel drive configuration felt right at home on Germany’s Autobahn – Germany’s motorway infamous for its lack of a speed limit.
During World War II, Porsche and his sons also helped design military vehicles for the Nazis such as the German Tiger Tank and the Elefant.
After the war was over, Ferdinand was arrested by French soldiers and served a 22-month prison sentence for war crimes. During that time, his son, Ferdinand Anton, also known as “Ferry” managed the Porsche car company.
In 1949, Ferdinand, along with the help of his son, produced the Porsche 356. They produced 49 hand-built copies at an old saw mill. When they returned to Stuttgart, Ferry ramped up production and the company was able to make more than 78,000 356s over the following years.
Late in 1950, Ferdinand Porsche suffered a stroke, which he was unable to recover from and subsequently died on January 30, 1951.
His legacy would be carried on by his sons and grandsons, who continued to run the Porsche company and build one of the most iconic sports cars of all time, the Porsche 911.
The car has seen numerous technological updates but to this day retains its classic Porsche shape.