The first sports car going by the name of Porsche was built in the middle of green pastures and forests – in Gmünd in the Austrian state of Carinthia. In difficult times, Ferry Porsche pursued a dream, thus sparking a success story.
Gmünd, Carinthia: Erwin Komenda, Ferry Porsche and Professor Ferdinand Porsche
Ferry Porsche had long entertained thoughts of making his own sports car. After the Second World War, the vision of the perfect sports car that should bear the family name took shape. In spring 1947, he formulated the idea of building a sports car based on Volkswagen parts for the first time. Its first name: “VW-Sport”, its construction number: 356.
A little later the first ever sports car going by the name of Porsche – planned, designed and built in Gmünd, Austria – was taken for a drive. On 8 June 1948, the mid-engined sports car with the chassis number 356-001 was given governmental blessing upon receiving the official operating permit from Carinthian authorities. Ever since, the day has been considered the Porsche brand’s date of birth.
In October 1944, Bombs fell for the first time on the premises of the Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche KG engineering offices in Stuttgart, prompting the then Minister of Armaments to order an immediate evacuation of the company. Ferry Porsche moved initially to Zell am See where the family had an estate – the “Schüttgut”. As there was little space there, the head offices were relocated to Gmünd. Surrounded by forests and green pastures, the town in Carinthia was at the time far-removed from the world’s troubles and could only be reached via a single road into it from Klagenfurt to the south. In November 1944, about half the Porsche workforce was already working in and around the former timber company.
After the war in 1946, Ferry Porsche – father Ferdinand was detained as a prisoner of war by the French – seized the opportunity to make a fresh start. The young company kept its head above water by making tractors, cutting fingers and cable winches. A vehicle construction contract for the Italian race car manufacturer Cisitalia provided the financial funds needed to fulfil the dream of a Porsche sports car. The design concept with the project number 356.49.001 emerged on 11 June 1947. At the beginning of 1948, a roadworthy chassis with a tubular frame had been completed, a roadster body for it was produced shortly after.
Only a few months later, the sports car with the internal construction number “Sport 356/1” was driving around the roads in Carinthia – and bore the famous number plate K45 286. In as soon as July 1948, the newcomer had mastered its first test drive. At a race held on the streets of Innsbruck, the Porsche 356 “No. 1” Roadster turned in a fast demonstration lap and observers were impressed by the only 3.86-metre-long lightweight that weighed in at less than 600 kilogrammes. The Swiss “Automobil Revue” magazine wrote the first driving report about the “youngest offspring of a great name” on 7 July 1948. With a displacement of 1.1 litres and a 35 PS power output, the mid-engined roadster heralded the start of a legendary sports car story.
Porsche 356/2 Gmünd Coupé at the factory site in Gmünd, 1948
Parallel to work on the 356 “No. 1” Roadster in 1948, production of a small series of the Porsche 356/2 – the air-cooled four-cylinder boxer engine was now moved to the rear for the first time – also started in Gmünd. A total of 52 handmade units were built there up until 1950. Like the Porsche with the chassis number 356-001, the first five Porsche 356/2 went to Switzerland. Right from the very start, export played a major role. Also, when the 356 model was produced in Zuffenhausen from 1950, and from where the writing of the Porsche brand’s unique success story was continued.
Ferry Porsche in the Porsche 356 “No. 1”