STUTTGART - Ferdinand 'Ferry' Porsche, who died last month at age 88, built a resilient, family-owned sports car company that has remained independent in an era when small carmakers are swallowed up by giants.
His father, the legendary Ferdinand Porsche Sr., designed the Volkswagen Beetle. But Ferry Porsche built the first Porsche-badged cars after World War II while his father was still held captive by the French.
Ferry Porsche served as chairman of the company's supervisory board until March 1990 and remained honorary chairman until his death.
Porsche died on 27 March in the Austrian mountain resort of Zell am See, where he bought a holiday home in the 1930s. He is survived by four sons, Ferdinand Alexander, Gerhard Anton, Wolfgang Heinz and Peter, and a sister, Louise Piech, mother of Volkswagen AG Chairman Ferdinand Piech. Ferdinand Alexander and Wolfgang are members of the supervisory board. His wife, Dorothea, died in 1985.
Ferry Porsche was born in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, on 19 September 1909, the same day his father drove an Austro-Daimler to a class victory in the Semmering mountain race in Germany.
He credited his technical ability and passion for cars to his father. As a youngster, Ferry Porsche accompanied him on weekend outings to the Austro-Daimler workshops. By age 10 Ferry was driving cars. At 12, he drove an Austro-Daimler Sascha in a race.
'I was born with the automobile,' he said. Porsche was 14 when his father became technical director at Daimler-Benz and moved the family to Stuttgart.
Porsche began working at his father's independent design office on the outskirts of Stuttgart from the day it was founded in April 1931.
The German automaker Auto Union appointed the Porsche firm to design a Grand Prix contender for 1933. The radical car was hailed as a breakthrough in racing circles with an unusual cab-forward driving position and a powerful 16-cylinder, supercharged engine located just behind the driver.
Ferry helped engineer the new Auto Union and also did test driving, prompting his father to say, 'I have enough drivers, but only one son.'
On 12 October 1936 the engineering company rolled out the first prototype of the car that became the Beetle. In 1939, when his father was directing the construction of the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, Ferry took over as managing director of the family business.
In 1945, after the war, Ferry Porsche and a handful of colleagues rebuilt the company from scratch.
The first Porsche
One of the first contracts was to design and develop the Cisitalia Grand Prix car - the first to use a mid-mounted engine and four-wheel drive. It took the automotive engineering world by storm and gave Ferry Porsche the stimulus to build his own sports car. He based the new model on the Beetle, practically the only car available at the time in Germany.
Porsche once said of his pet project: 'If I build a car that gives me satisfaction, then there must be others with the same sort of dreams who would be prepared to buy such a car.'
The development was partly funded by a production contract that gave the Porsche family a royalty on every Beetle produced in Wolfsburg.
In June 1948, the first car to bear the Porsche name rolled out of a factory in Gmund, Austria, where the company had resettled during the war. Called Type 356, it boasted a tubular space frame chassis, lightweight aluminum body and a rear-mounted 1.1-liter flat four Volkswagen engine from the Beetle.
Ferry Porsche returned the company to Stuttgart and began designing his own series of horizontally-opposed engines, the Carrera.
Ferry's father witnessed the start of Porsche as a sports car manufacturer before he died in 1951.
The follow-up to the 356, the Type 901, debuted in 1963. The new sports car was designed by Ferry's son Ferdinand Alexander 'Butzi' Porsche. The car was renamed 911 because Peugeot held rights to the name 901.
Porsche AG raised money on capital markets in 1972. Family members own 100 percent of the company's common shares and 13 percent of the preferred.
Sales of Porsche cars peaked in the mid-1980s, then faltered after the stock market crash of October 1987 and the rise of the German mark against the dollar. But the company has rebounded in recent years by raising efficiency and bringing out the Boxster and an all-new 911.
Reuters News Service contributed