Austro-Daimler Sascha Porsche (1922)

Ferdinand Porsche designed the Austro-Daimler Sascha (also called Sascha or Sascha Porsche) in 1922. The car was named after the man who provided the project’s financial backing – the factory owner Alexander “Sascha”, Count Kolowrat.  At that time, Ferdinand Porsche still worked for the Austro-Daimler company. The design of the small, lightweight sportscar, powered by a water-cooled engine of just 1100cc was revolutionary. The 4-cylinder engine had 8 inclined overhead valves and two bevel-driven dual overhead camshafts. The engine was set well back in the chassis. This helped to give a weight distribution of 53 percent front and 47 percent rear, and with two full petrol tanks and two seats occupied, the load was perfectly distributed.

Later, Ernst Fuhrmann used the bevel drive in the design of the 4-cam engine, used in the Porsche 550 Spyder, the  Porsche 718, and early Porsche 904s, and later in the Carrera models of the Porsche 356. The engine produced 50hp, which at that time, was quite a lot.

Austro-Daimler Sascha Porsche
Austro-Daimler Sascha Porsche (1922)

Testing the car in motorsports

The 13th Targa Florio race on 2 April 1922. At the wheel of the car with the starting number 1 Count Alexander Sascha Kolowrat, behind it Ferdinand Porsche
The 13th Targa Florio race on 2 April 1922. At the wheel of the car with the starting number 1 Count Alexander Sascha Kolowrat, behind it Ferdinand Porsche

Just in time for the race

The four ADS R prototypes were only finished shortly before the race in 1922. It was only on the train that they painted the aluminum bodies of the Sascha cars red so they wouldn’t stand out so much and be stolen in Italy. To help tell them apart from a distance, Kolowrat had them adorned with symbols from playing cards.

Armanqués Trophy Barcelona, Spain, 21 May 1922, Porsche AG
Armanqués Trophy Barcelona, Spain, 21 May 1922, Porsche AG
21 May 1922, Spain, Armangué Trophy Tarragona. At the wheel of the Austro-Daimler “Sascha” with the starting number 19 Alfred Neubauer.

His model was bedecked in hearts, while Alfred Neubauer – the most successful driver and later the racing director of Mercedes – got diamonds, Fritz Kuhn drove with spades, and Lambert Pöcher with clubs. Count Kolowrat not only financed and directed the operation but also drove too, entering the small sports cars in the 1.1-litre class, which set off first. Later, the four Sascha drivers would call the Targa Florio a “strange race over hair-raising routes”. The cars left at two-minute intervals, which meant that the participants never saw who they were competing against.

The 13th Targa Florio race, 2 April 1922, Porsche AG

The aim was to complete four laps of 108 kilometers each. At the end – after 432 km, 6,000 turns, and gradients of up to 12.5 percent – the leading Austro-Daimler ADS R finished 19th in the overall rankings. “Many strutted their stuff with big engines at the Targa Florio but the 598-kg Sascha was a nimble fellow with its 50 PS at 4500 rpm,” says Achim Stejskal, Director of Heritage and Porsche Museum. “At the end of the race, its average speed was just 8 km/h less than that of the fastest cars with engines four or five times more powerful.”

The revelation of the Targa Florio

The Italian press hailed the fast and resilient “mini car” with a potential top speed of 144 km/h as “the revelation of the Targa Florio”. To spread the news beyond Italy’s borders, Ferdinand Porsche placed large adverts in newspapers: “Austro-Daimler is the moral victor of the 1922 Targa Florio!” It was a claim challenged just days later by Daimler, which placed large ads of its own; Daimler had, after all, taken overall victory. The members of the executive board of Austro-Daimler AG – headed by Camillo Castiglioni – had indeed taken note as Porsche had hoped but were still not prepared to approve series production of the ADS.

Further successes did not change their view. The agile and efficient Sascha followed up its class win in the Targa Florio with another 42 victories in 52 races – often with the young Ferry Porsche watching on. The board ultimately rejected the proposal once and for all, citing financial reasons, inflation and the fact that Austria was too small to offer a suitable market. They believed their focus should be on big, six-cylinder models instead. The board’s decision and a conflict with Castiglioni led Porsche to leave Austro-Daimler and move to the parent company in Stuttgart. In 1924, Ferdinand Porsche took part in the Targa Florio with Daimler and received, among other things, the honorary doctorate title – the title that still features in the company name today.

Ferdinand Porsche pursued and established one particular principle with the “Sascha”: an excellent power-to-weight ratio as a key attribute of all Porsche sports cars. This means the ratio between the vehicle’s weight and its engine output in kilowatts.