The Three Ferdinands

Porsche, a family tradition

Founded in 1931, the Porsche brand has long remained in the hands of one family, from the historic founder to the grandsons.

Dans l’évocation cinématographique de cette course prestigieuse, la réalité et la fiction se croisent sans cesse et les séquences réalisées à bord d’une voiture qui a réellement participé à la course apportent vraiment un réalisme incomparable à l’histoire qui est racontée à l’écran. Une impression renforcée par le fait que Steve McQueen, qui interprète le héros du film, est un pilote chevronné et talentueux.

The 356 remains Ferry Porsche’s major work and the starting point of the brand's fabulous journey. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Porsche

Porsche's industrial history is marked by three generations of engineers and entrepreneurs who are as visionary as they are ambitious. The two original founders, Ferdinand Porsche and his son Ferry, gave their name to one of the most prestigious brands of sports cars, while one of the grandsons, Ferdinand Piëch, enabled the German brand to shine at the highest level of the competition.

Porsche's creation as a company takes place during a tumultuous period in German history. The company “Dr. Ing. h.c. Ferdinand Porsche GmbH Konstruktionsbüro für Motoren Farhzeug und Wasserfahrzeugbau "(Design company for motor and water vehicles of Doctor Engineer Ferdinand Porsche) was founded by Ferdinand Porsche on April 25, 1931 in Zuffenhausen, located on the outskirts of Stuttgart. Specialized in design and development of engines and cars, Porsche is at the basis of the famous Volkswagen, "the people’s car" desired by Chancellor Hitler in 1933. Porsche also developed many military vehicles during the Third Reich. The car brand Porsche was founded in 1948 in Gmünd, Austria. on the initiative of Ferry. 

Ferry Porsche (right) and Fritz Huschke von Hanstein, head of Porsche's racing department, at the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Porsche

A brilliant engineer

Ferdinand Porsche was born on September 3, 1875 in Maffersdorf, in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. As an autodidact he completes his training at the various companies where he works. His interest in electricity led him to design one of the world's first hybrid cars for the company Jakob Lohner & Co. in 1898. In 1906 he was recruited by AustroDaimler, where he became chief manager. In 1916 he received the title of Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Vienna and in 1923 from the University of Stuttgart. At the time, he was Technical and Administrative Director of the manufacturer Daimler-Benz where he participated in the creation of the luxury Mercedes SS and SSK models. In 1929 he joined the Steyr group and when he became unemployed due to the economic crisis, he decided to set up his own design company together with some former employees and his son Ferry. His industrial partnership with the Nazi regime led to him being imprisoned in France for more than 18 months. He was released in 1946, but his health was precarious and he died on January 30, 1951 after the debut of the first Porsche car, the 356. 

Ferdinand Porsche, emeritus driver and talented engineer, offered Porsche his titles of nobility in the competition. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Archives & Collections Dominique Pascal

A modern entrepreneur

His son, Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche, nicknamed "Ferry", was born on September 19, 1909 in Wiener Neustadt in Austria. At a very young age, he followed in his father's footsteps and went to the technical school in Stuttgart. In 1931 he joined the Porsche design company as a designer. Father and son worked together on major projects such as the Grand-Prix Auto-Union and the Volkswagen. In 1940 he became Deputy Director of the Porsche Research and Development Center. When peace returned, the company moved to Gmünd in Austria and in April 1950 the factories returned to Zuffenhausen, where the company changed its name to Porsche Konstruktions GmbH. In 1964 Ferry Porsche launched the 911 Coupé, that would become the symbol of the brand. He entrusted the design to engineer Erwin Komenda and the body design to Ferdinand Alexander "Butzi" Porsche, his eldest son, while the engine design was led by his cousin Ferdinand Karl Piëch. Ferry remained Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Porsche AG until March 1990, and died on March 27, 1998. 

Gmünd June 1948: Erwin Komenda, Ferry Porsche and Ferdinand Porsche present the new 356. You can see a Volkswagen in the background. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Porsche

In the service of the competition 

Ferdinand Karl Piëch was born on April 17, 1937 in Vienna, son of Louise Porsche, Ferry's sister, and Anton Piëch who managed Volkswagenwerk GmbH from 1941 and participated in the agreements concluded with Porsche in 1948. Ferdinand Piëch joined Porsche in 1963 as an engine engineer and in 1969 he became Director of Research and Development. Also responsible for the brand's motorsport department in Stuttgart, he led the revolutionary Porsche 908 and 917 to victory in major international races such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Under his leadership, Porsche won the World Constructors' Championship from 1969 to 1971. The following year he became head of the engineering program at Audi, where he designed the famous Quattro World Rally Champion in 1982 and 1984. He was chairman from 1988 to 1992, after which he took over the helm of Volkswagen until 2002. Ferdinand Piëch retired in 2015 and died on August 25, 2019. He was the last member of the family that founded two of Germany's largest car brands.

Brand image

In 1948 Ferry Porsche designed the 356, the first model to bear the Porsche name. This is the culmination of an old Volkswagen project that will mark the manufacturer's philosophy. Ferry Porsche, who worked on the famous Grand Prix Auto-Union before the war, is convinced of the need for competition to ensure the commercial success of his models. That is why he explained his position at the time: "I am convinced that motorsport really does announce innovations ... Sports cars can of course never be produced in large quantities. That is why these models (ideas) are used to test new cars before they go into mass production ".

A fratricide

Relations between the descendants of the Porsche and Piëch families have long been in conflict. The problems date back to the death of patriarch Ferdinand Porsche in 1951, who led the industrial empire but left no will. The result of this was that Ferry and his sister Louise's struggled for supremacy, while Ferdinand, the brilliant cousin, was kicked out of the family business and became the head of VW, ready to do whatever it took to get revenge ... In 2008, the ‘The Porsche family’ declares that it wants to take control of Volkswagen, in which it then owns 30% of the capital. The outcome of this Porsche-Piëch battle eventually turned in favor of the Volkswagen group, that included Porsche into the group on August 1, 2012, bringing together the two most important  brands of the German car industry.

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