We all know Porsche as a very successful sportscar builder. In 2018, Porsche celebrated the 70th anniversary of manufacturing sportscars. The first car bearing the name Porsche was registered on June 8, 1948. Less known is that the history of the company as it is today started way earlier. The first five projects of the Porsche engineering office were started in 1930 in St. Ulrich, Austria. The bedroom of Porsche’s son Ferry served as an office when they placed a drawing board in it. But the office moved to Stuttgart at the beginning of 1931, initially renting space in the city center in the Kronenstrasse. April 25 1931 Ferdinand Porsche registered The “Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, Konstruktion und Beratung für Motoren und Fahrzeug” company.
The first years
Before Ferdinand Porsche settled his own company in Stuttgart, he worked for several car manufacturers. Porsche worked as designer – engineer for Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in Stuttgart (Daimler-Benz AG from 1926) and Steyr in Austria. At the age of 55, he decided to start working on his own. Ferdinand Porsche started the Porsche Engineering Office with 19 employees, including his son Ferry Porsche and his nephew Ghislaine Kaes. Most of the employees knew Ferdinand Porsche, as they followed him from previous employers. And Ferdinand Porsche knew they were among the best of their time. Karl Rabe, who became Porsche’s right-hand man as head designer. Later, body developer Erwin Komenda and engine expert Franz Xaver Reimspieß joined their ranks.
The Wanderer company planned to motorize the masses. They needed a concept with which it could economically and inexpensively develop what was then considered a luxury item into a Volks-Wagen (a car for the people). This project would later make automotive history as the Wanderer W21/22. In the original ledgers in the Porsche Archives, the description of Order Number 7 reads “Small-car Project”.
In the first years, the company had to struggle to survive. Ferry Porsche later said that every once and a while the company could not pay him, as it ran out of money. Only with the support of a Berlin businessman (Adolf Rosenberger), the Porsche engineering office could survive. Rosenberger, who once raced the Mercedes SSK, even convinced Ferdinand Porsche to design a race-car, that would comply with the new GP regulations of 1934. In 1932 the Porsche team began work on the Type 22 mid-engine P race car.
Because of the economical crisis, 4 independent car manufacturers (Wanderer, Horch, NSU, AUDI) founded Auto Union AG. In early 1933, the Porsche design office received a commission from Auto Union to develop a sixteen-cylinder race car according to the rules of the 1,650-pound racing formula. The legendary Auto Union Grand Prix car set new standards. One of the drivers that made furor with the Auto Union Grand Prix car was Hans Stuck, father of former Porsche factory racer Hans-Joachim Stuck.
In 1932, Porsche received the commission to develop a small car for the Zündapp motorcycle manufacturer. The car was intended to deliver a shot in the arm to the struggling manufacturer of two-wheelers. With the revival of fortunes in the motorcycle market, however, the project was put on ice. But, the work on Type 12 had not been in vain. A streamlined body and a rear engine characterized the Type 12. With Type 32, Porsche designers developed a car with quite similar characteristics for NSU.
The Typ 12 project would be continued in 1934. The Reichsverband der Deutschen Automobilindustrie (German Reich Automobile Industry Association) commissioned Porsche to design and build the Volkswagen. The design envisioned a modern, streamlined body with four seats and a four-cylinder boxer engine in the rear. Later, the Porsche 356 would inherit these characteristics.
From design office to development and testing
With the commission to not only design but build the Volkswagen too, the design office turned into a development and testing operation as well. The construction of the first cars took place in the garage of the Porsche Villa at Killesberg. Soon, the space needed outgrew the possibilities of the garage in the villa. Buying a 30.000 square meter property in the nearby Zuffenhausen brought the solution. The construction of a brand new factory started. After a short move to Gmünd because of the outbreak of World War II, the company returned to Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen in 1950. The production of the series model of the Porsche 356 started up. The first customer delivery took place May 26, 1950, when Ottomar Domnik took the keys of his Porsche 356.
Pictures courtesy Porsche AG.