Few names in the automotive world are as synonymous with performance as Porsche. And chances are you know the company has won more races around the world than any other. But did you know that the legendary 911 was very nearly the 901? Or that Porsche once designed a tractor specifically for coffee farming? Or that Ferdinand Porsche developed a four-wheel drive Formula One car in the early 1950s? Thought so.
To learn more, fire up your Porsche-designed grill (oh, they made grills, too), and check out below the 25 things you didn’t know about Porsche.
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1. Ferdinand Porsche, the eponymous founder of the company, made the world’s first hybrid electric vehicle…in 1899.
The Lohner-Porsche “Semper Vivus” was essentially an electric car with an internal combustion motor used as a generator. It was also the first car with brakes on all four wheels.
2. He was also one of the very first to prove that smaller cars could be faster in a race than larger, more powerful vehicles.
He developed “Sascha” for Austro-Daimler at the request of a rich filmmaker named...Sascha. It was significantly smaller than its competition, yet still won 43 races, including the legendary Targa Florio in 1922.
3. Later, he designed the legendary Auto Union grand prix cars that dominated the world.
The Auto Union P (for Porsche) featured a (then revolutionary) mid-mounted 16 cylinder engine. With drivers like Hans Stuck and Tazio Nuvolari—two of the best of their generation—behind the wheel, it was virtually unbeatable.
4. The very first VW Beetle was built in Ferdinand’s private villa.
Not a bad place.
5. Ferdinand designed the Mercedes-Benz type 80 to be the fastest car on Earth.
In 1939, the car’s projected top speed of 470 mph would’ve obliterated the land speed record. Certain global events meant it never got the chance to make a record run. The 470 mph mark wasn’t approached until a quarter century later.
6. Ferdinand Porsche developed a four wheel-drive Formula One car.
The Porsche 360 Cisitalia had 385 hp and could top 200 mph, but because of the owner’s lack of funding and a change to the rules, it never actually raced.
7. The prancing horse on the Porsche Crest is similar to the horse on the Ferrari Crest.
For Porsche, it makes sense: it’s actually integral to the coat of arms for the city of Stuttgart, Porsche’s home. Ferrari only uses it because an Italian fighter ace shot down a pilot over Stuttgart in WWI, and the ace’s mother told Ferrari to use the horse as good luck.
8. The very first road going sports car made by Porsche was mid-engined.
Everyone thinks of the Porsche 356 as a rear-engined car—and most were—but the first prototype, 356/1, had the engine behind the driver but in front of the rear axle for better balance. It also won its very first race, a hillclimb event in Innsbruck.
9. For two years, all 356 models were built in an old sawmill in Gmund, Austria.
They were also better, since they were made with aluminum bodies instead of the steel bodies the later German cars had, and were thus much lighter.
10. The Dutch Police used to drive the Porsche 356.
Porsche built 10 of them a full year after production had officially stopped, just for the Dutch. Rumor has it that the one you’re looking at belongs to one Jerry Seinfeld.
11. Most early Porsche automobiles were actually made with bodies by Recaro, which you know as one of the world’s premier seatmakers.
Reutter Carrosserie Werke manufactured car bodies and interiors, and contracted with Porsche to make the 356 bodies. By the early 1960s, Porsche bought the body-making part of the company, and the rest of the company changed its name to Recaro.
12. The Porsche 911, one of the most iconic names in all of motoring, was almost the Porsche 901.
Peugeot made them stop, as traditional Peugeot nomenclature is number-0-number, like 205.
13. In some respects, the Porsche 917 from the early 1970s could obliterate today’s race cars.
Depending on the series it was running in, it could have over 1,100 hp, and hit 240 mph.
14. And the first 25 917 racecars were called “secretary cars," because they were actually built by secretaries.
Pretty much anyone with a pulse helped assemble them at the last second so there would be enough examples to satisfy FIA inspectors, thereby making the car legal to race.
15. In 1972, Porsche Design developed the world’s first black chronograph watch.
It was all about functionality, so the face mimicked the gauges in a car. It also happened to be stunning.
16. They kinda kicked butt the first time F1 allowed turbos.
A trio of world championships with McLaren were the direct result of a 1.5 liter V6 that put out over 1000 hp. Not too shabby in 1984…or 2014, really.
17. Porsche racecars have won roughly 24,000 races across the globe.
No one can top that. Period.
18. Porsche designed tractors.
Porsche has a more fascinating tractor history than even Lamborghini. They even made a gasoline-powered tractor specifically for coffee farmers (shown here), so diesel fumes wouldn’t impact the flavor.
19. …and it designs some of the best forklifts in the world.
Since the early '80s, Porsche has continuously won awards for their designs of Linde Material Handling’s forklifts. Yeah.
20. Ever flown in an Airbus A300? Porsche Design did the cockpit.
Among the many advances were digital screens for the pilots instead of analog readouts.
21. The 959 was the most technologically advanced supercar of its generation.
The nearly 200 mph all wheel-drive supercar wasn’t just one of (if not the) very best cars of the 1980s, it won its class at the grueling 24 hours of Le Mans…
22. And the 959 also won the Paris Dakar rally, pretty much the toughest race on Earth.
Seriously. Over some of the world’s harshest terrain, this car dominated a bunch of race-prepped trucks. Let’s see any of today’s supercars do that.
23. The 1986 Porsche 944 was the first car sold in the United States with a passenger airbag as standard equipment.
This was at a time when most companies even charged you extra just to have an airbag in the steering wheel.
24. Harley Davidson uses Porsche engines in some of their bikes.
The Harley V-Rod features an advanced, 60 degree, double overhead cam engine that was developed specially for Harley’s racing division…by Porsche.
25. Porsche designed a grill.
Of course. Why wouldn’t it?
Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor. He very nearly bought a 944 once. Follow him on Twitter, where he still might buy one, one of these days.
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