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  Ferry Porsche: biography

porsche menuBio of Anton Ernst "Ferry" Porsche ››

Bio of Anton Ernst "Ferry" Porsche
Ferry Porsche

Ferdinand Anton Ernst "Ferry" Porsche was born in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, near Vienna, to Ferdinand and Aloysia Johanna (Kaes) Porsche. In 1923, the family moved to Stuttgart, Germany, where his father took a job with Daimler-Benz as a board member and technical director. Ferry began hobbying in his own workshop and by 1930 and opened his own automobile shop building race cars.


"Ferry" Porsche grew up with a love for cars. In 1920, his father gave him a small two-seater that he designed and built for Christmas . It ran on a 3.5 horsepower, two-cylinder engine. Porsche began helping out in his father's business as soon as it opened; they developed the Auto Union grand prix car, which had a lightweight design and 16-cylinder engine. Porsche liked to test drive this machine, but his father soon stopped his runs, fearing for his safety. At the age of 12, Porsche had witnessed a fatal car crash during a race, and while everyone else shielded their eyes from the carnage, he was engrossed in the wreck, not out of a macabre sense, but to analyze the cause of the tragic accident. Later investigation showed that his original assessment was correct, a tire wheel had collapsed. This scientific curiosity lead him to a successful future in building automobiles.

One of Porsche's greatest claims to fame was his involvement on the prototype Volkswagen ("VW"), meaning "people's car" in German. The first model had its debut run in 1936, and two years later, the first VW plant was built. Porsche's father had been recruited to build the car by German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, who wanted an affordable auto for the working class. In a savvy business move, the younger Porsche made certain that he and his father would receive a portion of the profits for every car sold. Eventually the VW "Beetle," so called for its small size and rounded body style, would become the world's most popular car.

In 1951, Ferdinand Porsche died in Stuttgart, and his son, Ferry Porsche, took over leadership of the small Porsche factory. Production at the time was 140 cars a month, with quality, not quantity being the main goal. Ferry Porsche had been by his fathers side while growing up and knew about automobiles and engineering. When his father created the Auto Union P-wagen (see Ferdinand Porsche) in 1932, to ensure that all the power got to the ground, Ferry Porsche conceived of the world's first limited-slip differential. He recalled that his father, "became very enthusiastic about it."

Ferry was arrested with his father in 1945 in France and imprisoned. Ferry was released in mid-1946 to raise money for bail for his father by signing a contract with Italian Piero Dusio. This created a new Grand Prix Cisitalia race car with advanced four-wheel drive, a fully synchronized gearbox and a mid-mounted flat 12-cylinder 1.5-liter engine that produced 385 BHP. The car never raced but the money freed his father and was acquitted of all charges.

Ferry Porsche had worked with his father on the Type 114 F-Wagen, back from designs of a sporty Volkswagen he and his father had conceived. Ferry had shared the dream with his father of building extraordinary cars from ordinary components, but it would be left to Ferry to realize the dream. "Cars like that had been a hobby of mine before the war," he told CAR magazine's Steve Cropley in 1984. "I liked a machine that was speedy, had good acceleration and road holding, compared with ordinary cars. During the war I had an opportunity to drive a supercharged VW convertible with about 50 horsepower, which was a lot of power then. I decided that if you could make a machine which was lighter than that, and still had 50 horsepower, then it would be very sporty indeed."

Ferry and Karl Rabe (Ferdinand Porsche's main assistant) began thinking about a VW-based sports car in 1947. By the time Ferdinand joined them in August, they had the specifics on paper. Ferry recalls his father being "very interested of course. He took an interest in everything but didn't have the energy anymore, nor that once-inexhaustible vitality he previously possessed. I had to assume the risk myself."

What emerged was the Porsche Project 356, a smooth aerodynamic open two-seater with a tubular chassis, air-cooled engine and a dry weight of 1300 pounds was designated the 356/1. On a shakedown run from Gmund to Zell am See, Ferry and one of his engineers encountered a terrific pounding from the rugged pavement of the Grossglockner Pass pavement that bent one of the rear frame tubes. They fashioned a two-piece metal sleeve to cover the weakened nub, which was reinforced later in applied production 356s. Good reviews came from the Berne, Switzerland show from British and European press and in the same month, the prototype won a 1000-1200 cc class road race in Innsbruck, Austria.

The next development was the 356/2, which was developed in parallel with the space frame roadster, not as a successor. Planned in coupe and cabriolet models, the Type 356/2 differed sharply with new frame construction, body style and engine position. The engine sat behind the rear-wheel centerline, giving more passenger and luggage space inside the vehicle. These first Porsches only put out a piddling 40 HP, but with the 1300 pound weight and slippery body, the car approach 90 MPH with no less than 27 MPG - more closer to 35 MPG as stated from many owners.

The 356 A, the official production car, was made in a variety of body shapes and engine sizes. The coupe, convertible and speedster were available with a 1.3-liter or 1.6-liter engine with each size in two states of tuning. The "S" suffix denotes a specially tuned engine. All engines were a flat four (opposed cylinders), air-cooled by an engine-driven blower. The fastest Porsche was the Spyder (Type 550), fitted with a 1.5-liter GS engine and tuned to 110 HP @ 6200 RPM with a top speed of 140 MPH. Over the years Porsche made changes to the cars from grilles, lights and interior comforts. In 1954 the standard VW gearbox was replaced with a synchromesh unit. Small engines dropped off the options list with bigger and more powerful ones. No car could compare to the performance of a Porsche, whether in the same price range or above.

By late 1950’s the Porsche factory had increased its workforce and output per worker. Yet, Ferry held to the by-now-famous no compromise in Porsche workmanship. The German's painstaking attention to detail must have driven the British and Americans crazy. Porsche was constantly making changes and improvements with each new model year. Other than mechanical refinements to the engine, Porsche was examining each little imperfection and correcting. T-2, a change to Cadillac-type bumper-guard exhausts which provided better protection and more ground clearance. Ferry Porsche had never liked the Speedster and thought a "stripper" car model didn't fit into the Porsche image.

Ferry Porsche thought his first six-cylinder production model would have a long life when introduced in 1963. He would never have guessed it would last well over three decades, maintaining a grand tradition. Porsche is far from finished with the 911 and it will live on, albeit with a redesign and improvement. But the familiar looks and layout continue because there is something timeless about the 911. Ferry Porsche started planning the 911 in 1956, as Project 695. It was to be a larger, four-seat car with performance comparable to the 356. Ferry later changed his mind, fearing that a full four-seater would put his firm in unaccustomed territory. By 1959 work was underway on the T-7 prototype (T-6 was the last 356 body). Styling was entrusted to one of Ferry's sons, Ferdinand Porsche III. Ferry knew what he wanted but was not a body designer. High performance, yet smooth, quiet riding. "We decided on a 2.0-liter six-cylinder engine because sixes are more comfortable and refined," he said in 1984. Per Ferry's instructions, the 911 (which originally was to be 901, but protests from Peugeot about numbers and patents rights forced Porsche to change it) boasted a split fold-down rear seats.

The engine in the new 911 was a 1991 cc flat six, designated 901/01, which was developed by Ferdinand Piech, Ferry's nephew, and Hans Tomala. To fill the price gap between the 356C and the 911, Porsche introduced the 912. Basically a 911 with a 1600 SC flat-four engine from the last of the 356C line.

In 1966, Porsche began planning for a new four-cylinder car that would replace the 912. The need to keep the price reasonable but with production restraints (911 sales were strong). The 914 was born but not destined to get buyers to beating down doors. In Ferry Porsche's words, the 914 project sprang "from the realization that we needed to broaden our [model] program at a less costly level [and] that we couldn't do it alone." Later, Ferry and NordHoff (VW) hatched a plan to design a car to accept the power train from a VW in a rear-engine sedan. It would be sold by Volkswagen an a "VW-Porsche". Porsche would supply the chassis & bodies.

In 1972, Ernst Fuhrmann took control of the company (after the Porsche and Piech families relinquished control) and became chairman. Porsche and his sister, Louise, became multimillionaires, but they shunned the spotlight. The Porsche company went public in 1972, but voting stock remained family-owned and generally divided equally. This apparently did little to smooth over family infighting, however. Porsche's son Butzi and his nephew, Ferdinand Piech, were often at odds throughout the company's history. The company was listed on the German stock exchange in 1984.

In the 1970s, critics berated the lower-cost, fuel-conscious Porsche 924 developed for the oil-deprived decade, but the firm rebounded and had its peak year in 1986, selling close to 50,000 cars. After the American stock exchange crash in 1987, sales fell, but a decade later, sales were up and the product line featured a cheaper, retro-style Porsche similar to the originals, called the Boxster. Much of this success was credited to engineer Wendelin Wiedeking, who took over as Porsche chairman after decades of family feuding and scandals, in addition to the financial crises that were weathered.

Colleagues often described the short and stocky Ferry Porsche as a soft-spoken and modest man. He married Dorothea Reitz in 1935; she died in 1985. Porsche retired from his company in 1993 and died five years later. He is survived by his four sons, Ferdinand, Gerhard, Peter, and Wolfgang.

courtesy the porsche archives


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