Ferdinand Porsche developed the world’s first petrol/electric hybrid in 1900 and showed it at the Paris World Fair; he was only 25 at the time. Porsche went on to work for the leading car manufacturers of the day and eventually set up his own company in 1931. At first, Porsche was an automotive consultancy, not building their own cars until later.
In 1933, he developed a rear engine race car for Auto Union, the idea of which was later incorporated into his designs for the VW Beetle. As Chairman of Volkswagen he brought out the Beetle, and during the war, he produced the military transport the Kubelwagen and the aquatic Schwimmwagen. He was, however, removed from the company after the war.
Just after the war in 1946, Ferdinand’s son, Ferry Porsche, designed an all-wheel drive race car. Two years later, the Porsche 356 was the first badged Porsche to be produced, and it won at Innsbruck the following month. Parts and raw materials were in short supply in post-war Germany, so the early Porsche cars utilised many of the VW Beetles components, such as its engine, gearbox, and suspension.
This is when Porsche developed their distinctive use of air-cooled rear engine cars. These spread the weight more evenly, giving better balance, control, and road handling. By the 1960s, they had achieved a significant level of racing success with their cars and produced the first Porsche 911. This again was an air-cooled, rear engine car, using a 6-cylinder, Boxer powertrain. This became an iconic car for the company and is still in production today, although it bears little resemblance to the original vehicle.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, there were a number of personnel changes in the company that caused a lot of upheaval. By 1990, things had settled down somewhat, and the company entered into a sharing partnership with Toyota as a way of increasing production. They now worked together on hybrid technology, 100 years after Porsche first mooted the concept.
Porsche has always had a strong and close relationship with Volkswagen after their development of the famous ‘Beetle’ for the company. Many Porsche models utilised VW components. The Porsche 924 was built at Audi’s (a VW company) factory in Neckarsulm, and the VW Touareg, Audi Q7, and Porsche Cayenne share the same chassis.
There had been much interest expressed over share ownership of Porsche in VW. This was finally resolved when in 2012 VW took over control of Porsche but said that the affair was merely a legal restructuring of the two companies.
Porsche has always positioned itself as a producer of luxury, rear engine, sports cars, and throughout its history, this has been their mainstay. However, controversy ensued in 2002 when the company built the first Cayenne 4x4, a front engine ute, which was not accepted by the Porsche faithful as keeping with the company’s ethos. Again, their fan base was tested in 2010 with the launch of the Panamera luxury sedan, another front engine vehicle.
The rest of the Porsche stable has been less controversial. Their much-loved 911 is still in production, despite rumours of its demise in the 1970s. The 944 has been delivered to car showrooms around the world since 1982, as has the plucky, smaller, Porsche Boxster since 1996. The mid-engine Cayman hit the road in 2005 and is still going strong. The latest car, equally as controversial, the Macan 4x4 in 2013, and the Porsche 918 Spyder is due out as a replacement to the Carrera.
Along the way, there have been a number of popular Porsche sports cars that for one reason or another have been retired, but Porsche has concentrated on building and developing quality and fashionable cars that stay the distance. Some of those are now consigned to the history pages include the Porsche 928 GT (1977 to 1995), a four-seat luxury sedan; the Porsche 968 (1992 to 1995), which was intended to replace the 944; and the Carrera GT (2004 to 2007).
Porsche has always competed in the exotics market of fast, slick, stylish cars. They have more often than not been the trendsetters rather than followers, and over many years, held faith with their product lines and customer loyalty. Only recently have they branched out into other markets as perhaps a sign of changing circumstances, but the mainstay of the Porsche production is still rear engine, coupe sports cars.
The Italian automakers Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini always provide good competition. Audi and BMW fast cars compete well, and the likes of Lotus, Bentley, Jaguar, and Aston Martin are often put in the same category. Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota have their sporty models, and the American cars like Trans Am and Chevy Corvette match up.
Porsche with the 911 have classics that are still running and affordable Boxsters. They have always been innovative in their engineering. The company manufactures such clean, slick lines in their cars that any rival has to work really hard to come close to these gorgeous speedsters.