Friday 27th March 1998
Ferdinand Porsche Jr (88), who helped his father develop the Volkswagen Beetle before World War II and later founded the sports car firm that bears his name, died. Mr. Porsche, who was born near Vienna, had been involved in cars from childhood, driving his own small auto at age 10.
“I came into the world at the same time as the auto, if you will,” he once said.
The family moved to Stuttgart, Germany, where his father, Ferdinand, became a board member and technical director at Daimler Motoren AG.
The elder Porsche founded his own automobile workshop in 1931, and the son, known as “Ferry,” was his right-hand man, helping with the development of the Volkswagen, or “people’s car.” The first prototype left the family’s garage in 1936.
Four years earlier, he helped build the classic 16-cylinder Auto-Union racing car.
The cornerstone for the first VW plant was laid two years later, supervised by a beaming Adolf Hitler. But during World War II, automobile production was suspended in favor of armaments. During the war, Mr. Porsche designed tanks for Hitler’s armies. After the war, the company started work on what became the first Porsche sports car. In 1946, he began in Gmund, Austria, to put together by hand the first car to bear the Porsche name.
He took the design of the Volkswagen — a rear-engine, air-cooled, lightweight car — and squeezed more power out of it, producing the first Porsche, the 356, in 1948. The 356, which critics said looked like an upside-down soap dish, went into full production two years later. It racked up 77,000 sales before it was phased out in 1963, when the 911, another rear-engine, air-cooled car, became the backbone of the company’s sales.
The company, which originally thought it might manage to make only 50 cars, rolled its 1 millionth “sportwagen” off the assembly line in Stuttgart in 1996. Through half a century, Porsche cars have piled up more than 22,000 racing victories. The cars have followed a clear line from the original design of Ferry Porsche. Mr. Porsche became chairman of the company’s supervisory board in 1972, when the firm became a publicly traded company. During his years of leadership, Porsche became the epitome of sports cars and a prestige symbol of German engineering.
His wife, the former Dorothea Reitz, whom he married in 1935, died in 1985. Survivors include four sons. A family connection still exists between two great German carmakers: Mr. Porsche’s nephew, Ferdinand Piech, is board chairman at VW.