Porsche Racing History
Porsche has won 23,000 races since its foundation in the desolate aftermath of World War II. This makes it a strong claimant for the title of the most successful make ever to compete in international motorsport. The company represents one of the great stories of the modern business world.
Porsche’s achievements are even more remarkable given the modest origins of the Porsche marque. Its roots lie in the thoroughly utilitarian Volkswagen Beetle designed by Ferdinand Porsche. From that unlikely origin, Porsche progressively evolved increasingly potent sports racing models which became unbeatable – initially in their class and later overall.
In the beginning, Porsche’s principal asset was its name. Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche created the colossal Mercedes-Benz SS-SSKL ‘supercars’ of the 1920s/early-1930s before his Büro design office became well known in Europe for creating the awe-inspiring, rear-engined Auto Union Grand Prix cars of the 1930s and the small Volkswagen “People’s Car”. Postwar, VW was struggling back into production in a bomb-damaged factory while Ferdinand Porsche’s ideas guided his son Ferry in the design of the first automobile to bear the Porsche name. From less than 60 Porsches made in Gmünd, Austria, production increased to over 300 cars in 1950 when the company returned to Germany.
In 1949, Ferdinand Porsche’s nephew, Herbert Kaes, had scored a class win in the company’s first, unofficial race, a round-the-houses event in Innsbruck, Austria. Private owners discovered the car’s potential with two class wins in rallies in 1950. When Ferdinand Porsche died in January 1951, the foundation for future excellence was solid.
“Competition is the cheapest way to sell cars,” W.O. Bentley had famously said in the 1920s, and Porsche certainly used motor sport as an effective marketing tool. The prevailing philosophy for Porsche’s rivals was “there is no substitute for cubic inches,” but on occasion the little powerhouse was able to humble these giants. Slowly, methodically, Porsche grew into the champion marque of today.
The 550 Prototypes and Spyders of the early 1950s were the first Porsche cars that had been engineered wholly for competition. Combining high performance, low weight, and superb handling in a compact package, the Porsche Spyder was the vehicle that turned a generation of talented drivers into seasoned professionals. Worldwide, it was the dominant car in its class and even had the impudence, on occasion, to win outright.
Throughout the company’s existence, Porsche’s philosophy has remained consistent. Unconventional — even radical — at the beginning, the Porsche ideology of air cooling, rear engine, unitary-body and ultralight tube-frame construction, independent springing, and aerodynamic sophistication has inspired rival designers down the decades. Yet Porsche itself has always avoided unconventionality for unconventionality’s sake, either for practical engineering reasons or because a principle had no validity in terms of a production automobile.