For more than half a century, Porsche has been one of the most popular brands of automobiles to appeal to private collectors. It is an icon of style, and a beacon of speed and power. But Porsche collectors are drawn not only to the material aspects of these amazing automobiles – they are also drawn to the rich history of this unique company, which emerged from the ashes of World War II to become one of the most enduring brands in the world.
The First Porsche
Ferdinand Porsche founded the progenitor of the modern-day Porsche company in 1931, in Stuttgart, a city that remains a German manufacturing centre today. Ferdinand was a genius at car design. Thirty years before founding his own company, while working for Lohner-Werke, a Viennese coach manufacturer, he designed the first ever electric-gasoline hybrid vehicle.
When Ferdinand founded his own company, he was not interested in manufacturing cars. He was more interested in consulting on their design. The company’s first major project was to consult on the design of a vehicle for everyday German people. That vehicle became known as the Volkswagen.
Following on the success of the Volkswagen, Ferdinand became inspired. In 1939, he utilized many of the same aspects he had used in the people’s car to design a race car, which he called the Porsche 64. Its futuristic design was unlike anything the world had seen before. He intended to introduce it in the 1939 Berlin to Rome road race. But that race never happened. Two of the three Porsche 64s Ferdinand built were later destroyed in World War II. The only remaining model was believed to be owned by Otto Mathé, an Austrian motorcycle racer who died in 1995. Its whereabouts today are unknown.
A Legacy of Racing
It was in the aftermath of World War II that the contemporary Porsche company came into existence. One of the little-known stories of history is how European race car drivers scrounged for scrap aluminum and spare motors after the war, making vehicles by hand with which to race. It was in that environment that Ferdinand’s son, Ferry Porsche, designed and built his own car, after discovering that he could not find a car anywhere else that suited his tastes. That car became known as the Porsche 356. It was road certified in 1947, and became the first factory produced car that Porsche ever made.
The roots of auto racing have remained vital to the Porsche brand throughout the evolution of the company. The racing circuit was the genesis of the Porsche model numbering system, which included the 360, the 718, the famous 550 Spyder convertible racer, the 2.0-liter Type 904, and eventually one of the most iconic Porsche models of all time – the Porsche 911.
That racing legacy has extended far beyond the track over the decades. It also led to Porsche cars being included in several iconic racing movies over the years. One of those movies was the 1971 film Le Mans, starring Steve McQueen. In that film, McQueen drove a 1970 Porsche 917K. The effect of that film on popular culture was so powerful that in 2017, the car McQueen drove in Le Mans was auctioned for the highest price ever paid for a Porsche – $14 million.
The Porsche Brand
In the 1960s, Ferdinand Alexander (F. A.) Porsche, Ferry’s son, became the third generation of Porsche family members to carry on the company legacy. In addition to his skill at designing cars (he designed the Porsche 901, the 904 Carrera GTS, and the 804 Formula 1, among others), F. A. also demonstrated a prowess for marketing and industrial design.
In 1972, F.A. opened Porsche Design GmbH, a studio focused on designing Porsche-branded consumer products. He introduced Porsche sunglasses, Porsche writing implements, and Porsche timepieces, among other products. His vision extended the allure of the Porsche brand beyond car lovers, making the name a global mark of a lifestyle dedicated to luxury and high design.
Today, the Porsche name continues to expand its reach. More than 30,000 Porsche vehicles are sold in the United States each year. And the appeal of those vehicles goes far beyond drivers who are interested in speed. Many new Porsche designs are geared toward everyday drivers. For example, the Porsche Cayenne has quickly become one of the most popular mid-size SUVs in the United States, of all time.
But for collectors, it will probably always probably be the iconic models of the past that possess the most allure – models such as the 356 (that first Porsche production car), the vintage 550 Spyder, and the early model 911 and 912. Born of the international racing circuit, they project a sense of glamour, excitement, and tug at the heartstrings of days gone by. When you are ready to buy a piece of history by adding a vintage Porsche to your collection, any of these cars would be a prize.