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Very first Porsche goes on display after gathering dust for over a century


January 30, 2014

Built in 1898, the P1 was the very first Porsche

Built in 1898, the P1 was the very first Porsche

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Ask most petrolheads when the first Porsche was built and the likely answer you’ll get is 1948, when the Type 356 rolled out. In fact, that’s off by fifty years. This week, the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen will mark its fifth anniversary with the unveiling of the rediscovered and unrestored first Porsche, the P1 built in 1898. Recovered from a warehouse where it languished forgotten for over a century, it’s now the centerpiece of a new permanent exhibit telling the early history of Porsche and its founder.

The official name of the P1 is the “Egger-Lohner electric vehicle, C.2 Phaeton model,” but it gets its unofficial name because it was built by Ferdinand Porsche himself, who stamped “P1” standing for Porsche 1, on all the major components. It’s important historically, not only because it was the first car to be built by the founder of the Porsche company, but also because it contains a number of remarkable technological features.

For a bit of automotive history, the P1 isn’t in that great a shape. Though it’s been cleaned up and conserved against further decay, the years have not been kind to the little electric car. There’s not much left apart from the chassis and the heavy, wooden dash. The tires, seats, body and floor are all gone, and what's left looks more like a hay cart than a car, but the museum has fitted what remains with a translucent blue plastic body to give some idea of what the P1 looked like in its glory days.

The ironic thing about the P1 is that it wasn't born out of Porsche’s interest in petrol engines, but in electricity. In 1893, at the age of 18, he was apprenticed to the electrical engineering firm of Béla Egger & Co, which later changed its name to Vereinigte Elektrizitäts-AG. There he worked his way to head of the testing department and the first assistant in the calculations office, where he made the acquaintance of Ludwig Lohner, owner of the K.K. Hofwagenfabrik Jacob Lohner & Comp. The latter was in the luxury carriage business, but the dawning of the motor car was putting paid to the horse-drawn market and he’d decided to go into petrol and electric cars, and Porsche joined his staff.

After helping to develop a concept electric car, Porsche was given more of a free hand to produce a new vehicle aimed at production. The result of this was the Egger-Lohner C2, AKA the P1, and when it drove through Vienna on June 26, 1898, it was one of the first vehicles registered in Austria.

The rear-wheel drive P1 with stub axle front wheel steering was something of a convertible, with an alternating vehicle body that could be a coupé in the winter and an open topped Phaeton in the summer. Like many cars of its day, it had wooden wheels with pneumatic tires, and a wheelbase of 1,600 mm (62.9 in). Of its 2,977 lb (1,359 kg) of curb weight, 1,103 lb (500 kg) were the batteries and 287 lb (130 kg) went to the motor.

The heart of the P1 was the Octagon electric motor designed by Porsche with commutators wired both consecutively and in parallel, and a single-speed differential gear. It had a phosphor bronze motor shaft pinion that engaged a system of cast steel gear rings on internally toothed wheel hubs, and the motor itself was protected by shock absorbers and suspended to allow it to oscillate around the axle.

Power came from the “Tudor system” 44-cell accumulator battery providing 120 amp hours, with the individual accumulator cells able to be connected and disconnected. The P1 had a 12-speed controller with six forward gears, two reverse gears and four braking gears. There was also a mechanical hand brake and an electrical short circuit brake activated by pressing on the steering wheel rim.

Of course, this being 1898, performance left something to be desired with only 3 bhp (2.2 kW) of oomph, though it could do 5 bhp (3.7 kW) when overloaded. Top speed was 21 mph (33 km/h), with a cruising speed of 15 mph (24 km/h), and it had a driving range of up to five hours or about 49 mi (79 km).

But the P1 was more than just an early electric car. According to the company, it was also Porsche’s first racing victory. Entered into the international motor vehicle exhibition in Berlin in September 1899, it ran in a competition against 19 electric vehicle manufacturers in a 64 mi (40 km) race from Berlin to Zehlendorf and back that included high-speed sections, gradients, and a 4.8-mile (7.8-km) efficiency test. Ferdinand Porsche rolled the P1 over the finish line 18 minutes before the second place getter, while other competitors either failed to finish or were disqualified for not going fast enough. The P1 also came tops in efficiency with the lowest energy consumption in urban traffic.

Despite all this, the P1 wasn't exactly a roaring success. According to Porsche, only about four were built before Lohner and Porsche turned to a new design. Meanwhile, the P1 ended up in a warehouse in 1902, where it remained for over a century.

Part of an extensive redesign of the Porsche Museum, the P1 will serve as the beginning of the exhibit in the “prologue” section complete with an animated film describing the technology used. It will be unveiled on Friday by Wolfgang Porsche, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Porsche to a gathering of invited guests and goes on public exhibition from Saturday.

Source: Porsche

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

I note with interest the comment: "The P1 also came tops in efficiency with the lowest energy consumption in urban traffic." I wonder what they considered urban traffic to be back in 1899 and what they would make of today's urban traffic.

Mel Tisdale

The urban traffic in those days where probably horses and wagons and loads of pedestrians. They certainly did not give anything for traffic rules and dis not pay attention to probably very silent electric cars. OK they had wooden wheels so they were a bit noisy anyway

Vincent Bevort

Since all the vehicles had wooden wheels back then, it probably did not make any more noise than other vehicles of its time and was probably not loud enough to upset/startle the horses.

I think it is a neat part of history and am glad they are preserving it.


"Like many cars of its day, it had wooden wheels with pneumatic tires..."


Ask petrol-heads when Ferdinand Porsche built his first auto design and you'll get a different answer than you will if you ask when the first Porsche was built, since the Porsche company wasn't founded until after the war, while Ferdinand Porsche had a long career behind him at that point. Ferdinand was also well known as the designer of the Volkswagen, later known as the Beetle, the most successful car design of all time, over 20 million sold over 65 years of production.

The Volkswagen was an early-30s design, a virtual copy of fellow Austro-Czech auto designer and friend Hans Ledwinka's 1931 prototype Tatra T570. An 1931 prototype designed by Ferdinand Porsche called the "Type 12", sometimes offered as a forerunner of the Volkswagen was actually powered by a radial water-cooled engine, while the Tatra streamline models mass-produced from 1933 on were all air-cooled. Air-cooling was a primary design feature of the Beetle and an essential reason for its eventual success, so the Type 12 cannot really be considered a forerunner of the Volkswagen. Volkswagen had to pay Tatra a substantial sum in 1961 for patent infringement.

Another reason that Porsche would prefer to not get into the Volkswagen period of Ferdinand Porsche's career is that Ferdinand was not just a Nazi, but an SS officer. To help the Nazi propaganda campaign to promote him as "the great German engineer", Ferdinand gave up his Czech citizenship and was naturalized as a German citizen in 1934, and three years later joined the Nazi party and the SS, eventually reaching a rank equivalent to a junior general./senior colonel .

While the Volkswagen was Ferdinand Porsche's first design working as an independent consulting firm, he had been designing autos for Austro-Daimler as their chief designer since 1906. Even that is not the start of his career.

While working for Lohner (the company that sponsored the electric vehicle in the article), Ferdinand also designed the fist hybrid petrol-electric vehicles, selling over 300 in various forms. Despite the shady bits of his history, this is what really gives Ferdinand Porsche the status of true automotive pioneer.


does this have bearing issues too ?


In reply to EH So, he became a naturalised German citizen in 1934. Could be seen as a prudent career move. And four years later joined the Nazi party - another smart move; and the S.S. So the man had ambition, and did all the right things. You forget to put in the defamatory link - "He personally advised Hitler to arrange for the final solution to the Jewish problem, and was a zealous part time volunteer technician, helping with the valves for the poison gas installations. He spent his vacations making films of the terrified prisoners, which were to be edited as a "comedy" to boost morale. He collected the (christian) babies of anti-nazi traitors, and fed them to the Jews, in order to "prove " the claims of anti-semites," etc. etc. (Not)

He lived in central Europe. He lived in the Socialist Century of Collectivist Madness. He was not allowed to avoid taking sides. You had to be left or right. You cast aspersions on him because he did not side with the reds? What kind of tortured, ethically corrupt world do you inhabit? How little historical understanding do you wish to show? All adults between the wars were faced with similar moral problems. My own father, who started off as an Asquithian liberal, ended as a communist. He tried to emigrate to the USSR, but they said no, it was of more use to them to keep his job in London, as an "agent of influence". He was at this time a cartoonist for a variety of newspapers.

"SS" had various meanings and significances. Some of them were really squalid people, sick of soul. Others were just soldiers, drafted into the SS divisions, which were not altogether different from any in the Wehrmacht. Porsche was an "Honorary" (!)) member of the SS, but that was because he was near the top of his profession - he was in the "right" place at the "right" time - or so he thought: he designed the Volkswagen when the government wanted just that: they built a new town to house the workers to build it (Wolfsburg) and Porsche must have thought himself a made man. Would you turn down an opportunity to be the next Henry Ford? And was Ford to blame for the Great War? I understand the wartime attitude, "the only good German is a dead German" - it is an effective part of wartime propagande: but it is also dangerous, morally corrosive, corrupting, and not something to be kept up in the long run. We face MAJOR political/social/economic problems today, and will need to make very difficult choices in the near future. We may not get it right, but it certainly does not help to swallow the once useful mythic lies of yesteryear, and spew up opprobium on men whose possibilities of action/available opportunities you so clearly do not comprehend.

Grow up.

Chris Goodwin
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