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The Porsche 356, introduced in 1950, put this renowned German automaker on the sports-car map. But even though the 356 was the first Porsche sports car, it was far from the first sporting Porsche.

Ferdinand Porsche was born on September 3, 1875, in the Austrian village of Maffersdor. Turning away from his father’s metalworking business, the young and imaginative Ferdinand pursued a fascination with electricity, and in the 1890s, even designed an electric car. His engineering acumen was obvious, and extended to the design of aircraft engines. After World War I, Porsche began to focus on the subject that would become his life’s passion, a pursuit that began with the design of a small, efficient open-two-seat sporting car, the 1.0-liter Sascha.

Porsche’s career path, however, drew him in the 1920s to the German automaker Daimler, where he helped design powerful 6.0- and 7.0-liter racing engines for expensive Mercedes-Benz classics such as the fabulous SSK. His small-car dreams never died, though, and would find an outlet with his design for an inexpensive air-cooled rear engine car built in the 1930s at the behest of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. This was the original Volkswagen, the people’s car. It was known almost from the start by its nickname, the Beetle. World War II derailed the project after but a handful were produced.

Porsche and his design firm, which included his son, Ferry, turned their attention to war production. They would emerge from the conflict battered but intact. VW went on to thrive under its own ownership, while Porsche and his son Ferry returned to that first love and created a small sports car based on the VW Beetle design.

The Porsches had already proved adept at building good sports cars from ordinary components, but it would be left to Ferry to realize the first production Porsche. As he related to CAR magazine’s Steve Cropley in 1984: “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, an associate from Ferdinand’s days at Daimler, again turned to a VW-based sports car in 1947. Ferdinand had been imprisoned by the French for a brief time after the war on charges relating to his design work for the Third Reich. By the time he rejoined his son and Rabe in August, they had the specifics firmly on paper. Ferry recalls his father being “very interested…of course. He took an interest in everything, but didn’t have the energy anymore…I had to assume the risk myself.”


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