Ferdinand Porsche was an automobile engineer with over a thousand patents to his name and played an important role in the development of airplanes and the construction of tanks for the Wehrmacht. In the 1920s he was appointed chief engineer of Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart and later set up his own engineering workshop. There he designed, among other things, the Volkswagen. He served as head of operations at the factory where the Volkswagen was made, Wolfsburg, and at the end of the war he was interned by the Allies.
He was released a few years later and immediately began work on building his first car with his son, Ferry Porsche. This car was named Porsche 356 after Ferry, and it was a sports car with styling reminiscent of Volkswagen. In fact, it had the same four-cylinder boxer engine and used it mounted in the rear, just like the VW. That meant it was far from a powerful sports car, with a mere 40 hp and a top speed of 140 km/h. Distinguished by its elegant and innovative bodywork, the Porsche 356 was produced first as a convertible and then as a hardtop. Father and son developed it in the workshop of Erwin Komenda, a master of restrained rationalization who had been in charge of sheet metal and design techniques for Ferdinand Porsche since the VW Beetle. This new style of closed coupe designed by Komenda soon became the embodiment of the sports car, in part due to its “fastback”.
Erwin Komenda and Ferdinand “Butzi” Porsche, grandson of the founder, continued that tradition with the 911.
The 911 became instantly recognizable: it had an attractive sloping hood reminiscent of the 356, what later became characterized as “frog-eye” headlamps, curves running from the top edge of the windshield to the rear bumper, and a straight waist. From a functional and technical point of view, it had more in common with a BMW 1500, but retained the distinctive stylistic features of the original Porsche. The new 911 became the cornerstone of Porsche’s identity, although the design was not always fully appreciated. During the 1970s and 1980s, many Porsche designers tried to distance Porsche from its legendary design and nearly brought the company to the brink of disaster. The more modern model 924, “a Porsche of the people”, developed with Volkswagen, as well as the 928, fell short of expectations and did not allow the company to expand in new directions and styles.
However, in the 1990s, the company seemed to realize that what some perceived as a stylistic straitjacket was actually a market advantage. During this period, Porsche embraced the timeless nature of classic styling to become highly profitable. Nearly forty people now worked in the design department dedicated solely to further improvements to the long-running 911. Such developments included the 911 GTI, presented by in-house designer Anthony R. Hatter as a powerful combination of sports and racing cars. In 1999, Porsche’s chief designer proudly presented the new Boxster, allowing Porsche to establish a second independent lineup of successful models.