skip to content
Driving Line Mark Logo

The First Porsche: Ahead of It's Time

Porshce is finally getting involved with hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles, and we think it’s about time, right? I mean, hybrid technology is now as old as the first 1997 Toyota Prius, right? Well… no, not if you’ve been paying attention. The truth is the first Porsche that Dr. Ferdinand Porsche created was a full electric car and his second was the first-ever gasoline-hybrid car created… and this was way back in 1898! C Dr Porsche 1903 Although electric and hybrid cars may seem very 21st century to you, Dr. Porsche rolled with them (and Front Wheel Drive and All Wheel Drive), long before you, or your parents, were even born. Porsche 919 Hybrid in 2015 Le Mans colors Ferdinand Porsche was born in Austria in 1875 to a master tinsmith. Like most boys of the era, he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, Porsche was fascinated with cars, electronics, and racing - so he decided to become an engineer and enter the burgeoning field of automobiles. When Ferdinand was just 10 years old, Karl Benz invented the first viable car, so the challenges in the field were extreme at the time, but the possibilities were endless. Ferdinand took only a few classes, but picked up the concepts of engineering quickly – he was a brilliant engineer, unlimited in the scope of his abilities. A02 The first car made by Porsche for the Egger-Lohner company was, like most production vehicles of 1898, an electric car - its primary competition were steamies, as well as other electrics. Gasoline and diesels weren’t very popular yet, primarily due to the difficulties involved in starting them, the horrific smells that they produced, and the challenge of getting fuel. Porsche’s car was known as the Egger-Lohner electric vehicle C.2 Phaeton model, but is better known as the P1. Young Ferdinand etched “P1” into all the major components, standing for “Porsche #1,” of course. It hit the streets of Vienna, Austria, on June 26, 1898. It’s first serious test came in a race for electric cars in September 1899, the contestants had to complete 40km (24 miles.) With three passengers on board and Ferdinand at the wheel, the P1 smoked the competition with more than half the field failing to go the requisite distance. Only four electric P1s were produced and just the original is known to remain. After its discovery inside a warehouse last year, Porsche moved it to their recently-opened Museum in Stuttgart Germany. Much of the wood rotted while it was parked for 112 years, but the basics remains intact. A01 In order to give museum visitors a better idea of how the car looked in 1900, opaque panels were added, as seen in the above photo. B 14 For his next trick, Ferdinand Porsche designed a truly radical car. His first car was simply a better, more economical and faster version of what was already around, electric cars. But this creation, known as the Semper Vivus, and later sold as the Mixte, by the newly renamed Lohner-Porsche company, was unconceivable - except in the mind of Ferdinand Porsche. B11 At a time when everyone else had difficulty managing one method of propulsion, Porsche decided to address the biggest deterrent to the purchase of electric cars by adding a second mode of power. However, rather than simply adding an internal combustion engine and having it transmit power to the wheels via a transmission, he made the gasoline engines power the electric motors via a pair of generators. Let’s have a look at the drastic design of this car: B01 First, the prototype was front wheel drive with an electric motor on each front hub. Subsequent versions were all wheel drive, with all four wheels driven by their own motor. The Semper Vivus had two gasoline engines. Neither engine would actually power a wheel; rather they each drove an electric generator supplying both the wheel-hub motors and accumulators with electricity. This is what has become known as a serial hybrid drive. Essentially, this means that you never had to find an outlet to plug in your car (although you could). B09 The gasoline engines on the prototype sat between the front and back seats, making it a less-than-perfect situation. The car had other issues, too – as anything so radical must. The electric motors, 44 batteries, and gasoline engines combined for significant weight, as well as the wooden structure of the car (this was before the invention of carbon fiber) -and the setup allowed road grime and mud to enter the vehicle. Still, the car was so amazing that it killed at the Paris World’s Fair in 1900, with orders beginning to roll in. Customers would make special requests and Lohner-Porsche would fill them. This helped to change the design of the basic car, which soon had a single engine in the rear of the car, alleviating many of the prototype’s problems. B05 The name, Semper Vivus is Latin for “Always Alive” and is meant to allay range anxiety, a major setback for early manufacturers of electric vehicles. However, the high cost of the vehicle, which started at an equivalent of over $80,000 in today’s money, was too much for consumers and the automakers were forced to focus on more sellable products. And so the brand we all know today as Porsche evolved… and the rest is history. Porsche recently re-created a Semper Vivus hybrid as a tribute to its founder. The work began in 2007 and Porsche has provided the pictures of that build, led by coachbuilder Hubert Dresche, in the gallery below:

Return to Top

Recommended For You

Loading ...