Porsche - Origin of the Species
Porsche 356 Registry Magazine - November / December 2012
There being no shortage of Porsche - centered books on the market, enthusiasts may well wonder about yet another weighty (6#) volume with big red letters on the dust jacket and a $159 price tag. But for anyone who knows the work of Karl Ludvigsen, and especially for those who may not be so familiar, this book is a must have.
I was first struck by the title, which plays on Darwin's "Origin of Species". Here, Ludvigsen narrows the "origin" quest to just one species and considers just about every relevant aspect of the beginnings of Porsche sports car manufacturing.
The company was founded in 1931 in Stuttgart after Prof. Ferdinand Porsche decided to strike out on his own. It is generally understood that he intended to operate as a provider of engineering services and act as an independent consultant, after so many years serving as an employee whose creative scope was limited by his employer. But that is merely a jumping off point, from which the author incorporates and inter-relates literally dozens of thoroughly researched stories. He shows the reader how actual Porsche cars came to be and why there is still that strong and recognizable DNA in the cars we know today. Along the way, he traces the contributions of people whose names we may have heard, but whose effect on Porsche success has not generally been well understood. What sounds like a potentially over-complicated narrative became for me a completely engrossing story I couldn't put down - and will return to again.
For example, I had long since heard about Piero Dusio and the Cisitalia race car commission. But Ludvigsen points out that the whole matter of designing the Type 360 came about at the instigation of Tazio Nuvolari. The famous Italian driver was looking for a way to get back to the front in the premier form of racing which was about to resume after WW II. Nuvolari was in no position financially to act alone, but knew how to get the help he needed. He had obviously made a huge reputation driving Professor Porsche's Auto Unions before the war and was highly respected still. Enter Dusio, the well-known Italian industrialist whose fortune came from making boots for the war effort, among other things. He dreamed of building racing cars and was already successful as the constructor of the 500 cc D46 single-seater sold to many European privateers. Nuvolari was the "straw that stirred the drink" , writing directly to Ferry Porsche ,working on Dusio and cajoling others in the Italian racing community.
Porsche was very much aware of the advances in race car development and aerodynamics in Italy, even from before the war. His body specialist Erwin Kommenda incorporated many of those concepts in projects like the 1939 Berlin-Rome car, the sport car derivation proposed to Auto Union based on the GP car of 1935 and many others revealed here. The chance to go racing with access to the people who designed the silver arrows, and with passionate Italians to fund the effort, must have seemed a heaven-sent opportunity. That he secured contact with people like Carlo Abarth and others would prove to be of lasting value in subsequent years. Even in the short term, the Cisitalia contract was huge - it provided enough cash to liberate Professor Porsche from French captivity. Readers will find a complete and very nuanced account of what actually transpired and the pivotal help given by Dusio and Louise Piech.
Along the way, Ludvigsen points out that the move to Gmünd was not a simple escape from the bombing in Stuttgart, that Professor Porsche was the key to negotiating that deal in some very surprising ways and that some 300 people were involved in the relocation. The Porsche firm was a substantial employer of skilled engineers and the effects of the war are laid out in terms not well understood by most Porsche enthusiasts. Already, Austrians were vocal in their "anti-German" attitudes and the little sawmill we all know from grainy pictures and quick descriptions is shown to have been anything but an easy, foregone conclusion. Porsche father and son prove to be not only the great engineers we think we know, but also the determined, creative entrepreneurs concerned about not only products but the people who designed and built them for the company. The crucial role of Karl Rabe finally is revealed in some real detail. And if you ever wondered why Wendelin Wiedeking was so interested in Porsche tractors, you'll read here about the central role their design and manufacture played in the survival of the company right after the war ended.
Of course, Volkswagen features prominently in the narrative. Then, as now, proposals, completed projects, royalties and joint efforts marked the early years of Porsche. The real origins of Porsche No. 1 are detailed in a separate chapter. The inspiration for the car came as a result of Ferry Porsche wondering how he could make a sporting vehicle from VW parts in a fashion similar to that of Dusio and Cisitalia who were basing their cars on simple Fiat parts. He had done some work in this vein before the war (think 60K10) and now saw real opportunity.
There is so much more to discover here. There are pictures from the author's own archives as well as from Porsche. So many have not been seen before nor so thoughtfully presented as both inspiration and support for the narrative. The author acknowledges the contributions of Jerry Seinfeld, whose car is the focal point for the book and much more besides. Additionally included are drawings of the significant Porsche designs, along with an explanation of how Porsche Type numbers were really assigned.
What emerges in total is a sense of the magnitude of the struggle to establish and maintain the company, keep its many employees working in wartime and after, and create so many advanced designs for tractors, water turbines, Grand Prix cars and sporting cars. Ludvigsen also sheds some new light on the company's wartime activities. Such an immense and varied body of research is presented in as clear and concise a body of writing as I have lately encountered. Factor in the truly fine reproduction of photos, quality of paper and binding, great choice of type faces - and what we have is ample proof that books are in fact not a dying media. A splendid read by any calculation!
Review from and courtesy of Porsche 356 Registry Magazine