It was Professor Dr. Ferry Porsche, son of the automotive genius Professor Ferdinand Porsche, who steered the company into becoming one of the world’s leading automotive engineering design companies and specialist manufacturer of sports cars.
Ferry Porsche started working with his father when the latter formed his independent design office in 1931. He worked with Ferdinand on the most advanced pre-war racing car design concept, the Auto Union with a 16-cylinder supercharged engine and was involved in the initial test driving.
The war had a drastic effect on the young automotive designer. With his father imprisoned in France and working from quite basic premises in Gmund with a few colleagues, Ferry had to start again from scratch and kept the company going with repair jobs and repairs to farm machinery.
In 1947, when Ferry Porsche’s family managed to raise sufficient money from new contracts in Italy to buy Ferdinand Porsche’s freedom. One of these design projects resulted in the Cisitalia Formula 1 race car, unveiled at the Turin Motor Show that same year. It was the first race car with a mid-mounted engine and four-wheel drive.
Ferry still had plans, put on hold in 1939 to build his own sports car – the first under the Porsche name. The plans were for a light compact car using Volkswagen components that would provide good acceleration, braking and road holding while being practical for everyday use
356 Number 1 was a roadster with very simple lines and cooling of the engine via rows of air intake slots either side of the boot lid. Its aluminium body was mounted on a tubular chassis and the engine was mounted in front of the rear axle – a mid-engined configuration foreshadowing the Boxter by nearly 60 years.
Porsche Number 1 was not suitable for series production and in 1948 Ferry began to work on the conception of a practical production sportscar with the 356/2 prototype. The chassis of the new design was not tubular like Number 1 or a platform like the Beetle but a complex monocoque structure of welded metal box sections.
Production began after the prototype was exhibited to German auto dealers and pre-orders were taken. Most car enthusiasts consider the 356 model, as the first Porsche, since it was the first model sold by the company. The car received the road certification in 1948.
The following year, in order to ensure continued production of the 356, Ferry Porsche negotiated a new contract with the then head of Volkswagen, Heinz Nordoff, for the supply of parts.
A total of around fifty 356 cars were built at Gmund in Austria before the company returned to Stuttgart. Serious production recommenced there in March 1950. The 356 model, which was initially forecast to have a world sales potential of 500 units, did not cease until 1965 by which time over 78,000 356s had been built.
Ferry Porsche was pleased that his father was able to witness and support the successful beginning of Porsche as a specialist sports car manufacturer before he died on January 30, 1951,
Since 1948, decades of hard, dedicated work were put in by him to further enhance the Porsche product, which enjoyed a fine reputation from the beginning, by expanding customer service and marketing, not to mention accelerating product development through motor racing.
Ferry Porsche demanded a great deal from his engineers, mechanics and drivers. He made courageous investments in new developments and thereby founded the worldwide reputation of his firm as a privately controlled, independent producer of technologically advanced sports and racing cars for worldwide use.
The 356 model underwent several stages of development, as the remaining Volkswagen parts were replaced by Porsche-made parts. In 1950 the first 356s were sold in America which was to become Porsche most important export market, and the first RHD Porsches became available in the UK a year later.
The Gmund cars were hand built with alloy bodies and had a narrower and lower roofline than the steel bodied cars coming off the production line in Stuttgart. The interior trim was changed and the swivelling quarter lights were not carried over to the steel bodied cars.
In October 1950 car dealer Max Hoffman travelled to the Paris Motor Show to negotiate terms with Porsche based on optimistic sales forecasts was appointed the East Coast agent for Porsche in the USA. He sold 32 Porsches from his Park Avenue showroom in New York in 1951. This grew to 1 41 cars in 1952 and 573 in 1953 (out of a total production of 1978) so America was a very important market for Porsche and they paid great attention to Max Hoffman’s input.