Ferdinand Porsche - the automotive design master
Ferdinand Porsche was born on the 3rd September 1875, he best known for his iconic automotive design and engineering, however there was a lot more to Ferdinand Porsche - most of it good we're pleased to say. This blog looks at his achievements and investigates where his inspiration may have come from.
From an early age, he had a natural affinity with technology, he was especially intrigued by electricity, 146 years later and that fascination with electric powered vehicles is becoming more and more mainstream.
Porsche worked as a successful vehicle engineer from the late 1800's to 1931, when he founded his own firm. In 1934, Porsche and his son, Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche, collaborated to develop the first designs of the Volkswagen Beetle.
A Young Love of Cars
Born on September 3, 1875, in Maffersdorf, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary (modern day Czech Republic), Ferdinand Porsche was always fascinated with electricity.
In 1893, when he was just 18 years old, Porsche got a job at Bela Egger & Co., an electrical company in Vienna. Around this time, he enrolled as a part-time student at the Imperial Technical University in Reichenberg (Vienna University of Technology).
After only a few years at Bella Egger & Co., Porsche, having impressed his supervisors with his technological skills, was promoted to a management position. 1897 was full of milestones for Porsche. That year, he built an electric wheel-hub motor, the concept for which had been developed by American inventor Wellington Adams more than a decade earlier, he raced his wheel-hub motor in Vienna and began working in the newly created Electric Car Department at Hofwagenfabrik Jacob Lohner & Comapny - a Vienna-based company belonging to the Austro-Hungarian Army’s joint Imperial and Royal Army. By 1898, Porsche had developed the Egger-Lohner electric vehicle C.2 Phaeton (also known as the P1), this was the first electric car.
In 1900, Porsche's engineering prowess was catapulted into an international spotlight, when his wheel-hub engine was used to power the Lohner-Porsche—Hofwagenfabrik Jacob Lohner & Co.'s newly developed non-transmission vehicle at the World's Fair of 1900 in Paris. Porsche's wheel-hub engine received wide acclaim at the event, inspiring him to continue his development of an electric vehicle.
Later in 1900, Porsche tested his engine in a race ay the Semmering circuit, near Vienna… and won. In 1902, he got to drive one of his own designs. Porsche's engineering continued to follow an incredibly successful path, after working at Lohner for nearly eight years, in 1906 Ferdinand became technical manager of the Austro-Daimler company.
By 1923, he had moved to the Stuttgart-based Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft company, becoming a technical manager and executive board member. There, his career blossomed, the pinnacle came with his direction and development of the Mercedes compressor car. For his accomplishments, Porsche received an honorary doctorate degree by the Imperial Technical University in 1917.
The Porsche design philosophy has won many accolades from within and outside the automotive industry, including the 1937 German National Prize for Art and Science.
Building a Company
Porsche had left Daimler in 1931 to form his own firm, which he named "Dr. Ing. h. c. F. Porsche GmbH, Konstruktionen und Beratung für Motoren und Fahrzeuge," according to the Commercial Register documents from April 1931.
In 1934, Porsche became deeply involved in Hitler's "people's car" project. That year, while working on the project with son Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche (better known as Ferry), he developed the first designs for the Volkswagen car. From that point on, father and son worked together.
During World War II, Porsche and his son were used by Hitler to produce a heavy tank for the Tiger Program. Porsche submitted a prototype with an advanced drive system that was superior on paper but not on the battlefield - thankfully. The Porsche designed tanks were prone to breakdowns with crucial design flaws, so a competing company (Henschel & Sohn) got the contract from Porsche to produce the Panzer tanks.
When the war ended in 1945, Ferdinand Porsche was arrested by French soldiers (for his connections with Hitler) and forced to serve a 22-month prison sentence. Whilst Ferdinand was in prison, his son, Ferry, oversaw the creation of a new racing car - the Cisitalia, which was a Porsche-company product.
When Ferdinand Porsche was released from prison, upon seeing the car he reportedly said, "I would have built it exactly the same, right down to the last screw." The father-son team went on to make history in 1950, when they introduced the iconic Porsche 356 sports car.
Porsche died in Stuttgart on January 30th, 1951, at the age of 75. We will never know how many more ingenious ideas and designs he may have realised, his son Ferry would now take control of the business and and continue to evolve the concepts and develop the iconic Porsche brand.
Nearly 60 years later, in 2009, the Porsche Museum opened in Zuffenhausen, a suburb of Stuttgart, this is the home to the greatest collection of Porsche automobilia, but it's so much more than just car design, well worth checking out.
70 years later and the designs Ferdinand produced are still going strong, sure they have been tweaked, had a few facelifts and recently the Porsche brand has returned to it’s roots in electronic vehicles.
We think that Ferdinand Porsche had incredible vision, when you look at the designs he produced, his use of line, shape and the three-dimensional form to create automobiles that connected with people like few objects ever have, or could, these designs are nothing short of sublime.
The shapes and proportions used have an aesthetic like no other, they are so pleasing to the eye – stylish, yet warm and approachable with dynamic curves that give the feeling of speed even when stood still. When we look at the original VW Beetle, the Porsche 356 and early 911, the vehicles have a timeless elegance that we believe should be celebrated. These are real objects of desire bringing beauty, craft and art into what was, at the time, everyday objects, objects for the people.
Porsche’s 911 has become a design icon, and rightly so. For us this is the embodiment of less is more design. Yes, the design has become fussier over the decades – we were going to say years, but the 911 has been around for so long, over 70 years in fact, it’s little wonder that there’s been modifications. We doubt Ferdinand (or Ferry) would have wanted it any other way, they were constantly looking to innovate and improve and the 911 has followed in their footsteps, keeping that friendly ambience and echoing the original shape.
But for us it's the simpler, smaller 356 that wins our hearts. Everything about these little cars, and they are very small by modern standards, is beautifully crafted, creating that unique mix of cute, speed and energy that still attracts fans from around the world today.
Inspired by nature
Let's be honest nature is SO cool, there's so much to be inspired by, especially when we scratch below the surface of what makes the Porsche aesthetic so appealing and enduring, you can see more than just an echo of natural forms in the designs.
The beautiful lines and curves we find in the early Porsche work (including the VW Beetle) draws on lots of curves, forms that we find in nature. We've compiled just a few (above) that we think must have inspired Ferdinand. Everything from coffee beans to water droplets, from ocean waves to the humble egg.
A major part of what makes the Porsche design so enduring is the attention to detail, no element is overlooked or accepted as 'that will do'. Every element is designed to compliment the body shape. Whether you are looking at a window, a mirror or a door handle, they all exhibit a wonderful three dimensional form and flow. Nothing is ignored, even the decals that adorned the later models in the 1970's reflect the curves and forms of nature, just look at that Carrera text. This font is all about curves and flow and serves as a great contrast to the formal Porsche wordmark - an element that was created well after Ferdinand's time.
As you can tell we're fans of this design aesthetic, but our love of the Porsche design work goes beyond the visual, we love the attention to detail. The energy and vision that was put into trying something new, something different, the pioneering spirit and the determination to produce the best product possible. This is what we do, these are the standards we strive to follow in our work, bringing you the best possible experience from timeless products. Some of the elements of our inspiration may come from a slightly different place, the digital space, but our products are made from the softest, sustainable natural materials. Take a shirt for a test drive, feel the difference and discover how integrated wearable tech will enhance your day.