Ferdinand Porsche: Designer who made his name with the 911 and 904 Carrera GTS sports cars

After his career designing cars, he turned to luxury goods, including a Blackberry phone priced at £1,275

Ferdinand Porsche, designer of the Porsche 911 and the beautifully crafted and highly successful Porsche 904 Carrera GTS, went on to establish his own prestigious design company, which also carries the family name. Having joined the company in 1958, "FA", as he was known to colleagues, took over as head of the company's design studio in 1962, when he was 27.

The 911's roots lay in sketches drawn by Porsche in 1959. With more rear-seat room and bigger doors for easier access, it was developed as a more powerful, larger and more comfortable sibling of Porsche's much-loved first model, the four-cylinder 356. Porsche worked on the chassis and body while his cousin Ferdinand Piech developed the rear-mounted six-cylinder engine. With a slightly longer wheelbase and aerodynamic body shape, the new-generation Porsche was unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1963 as the Porsche 901. However, the French competitor Peugeot claimed a patent on all three-digit car names with a zero in the middle, and with a change of a number the fabled "911" was born. Its elegance and the simplicity of its shape quickly made it a classic.

Production began in September 1964; only 45 are known to exist. Now in its seventh incarnation, the 911 remains recognisably the same vehicle, with its sloping roofline, long, low hood and prominent headlights; it was recently voted one of the best cars of the 20th century.

Manny Alban, president of the 106,000-member Porsche Club of America and owner of two 1990 911s, compares the design to the Coca-Cola bottle, an outline instantly familiar even to those who are not aficionados. "It's very German," he said. "Everything has a purpose, every button, it all makes sense. There are no gizmos. You won't look back 20 years later and say 'why did they put that on there?'."

The former Porsche designer Freeman Thomas recalled being "smitten and inspired" by the 911 in the 1960s, adding that Ferdinand's design philosophy influenced his work when he designed the Audi TT sports car.

Born in Stuttgart in December 1935, Ferdinand Alexander "Butzi" Porsche was the oldest of four sons of Dorothea and Ferdinand "Ferry" Porsche. As a child he enjoyed designing and building his own toys and spent hours in his grandfather's workshops and design facilities in Zuffenhausen. Ferdinand studied design at the Hochschule fur Gestaltung in Ulm before joining Porsche in 1958.

The company, originally founded by Ferdinand's grandfather, also Ferdinand, in 1931, initially offered development and consultancy work and did not build any cars under its own name. Following Hitler's rise to power in 1933, one of the company's first assignments was to build a "car for the people", a Volkswagen. This resulted in the VW Beetle, one of the most successful car designs of all time. The Porsche 64 was developed in 1939 using many components from the Beetle. During the Second World War Porsche was involved in the design of the Kübelwagen, a military version of the Beetle and designs for the Tiger tank.

It was Ferry Porsche who had turned his father's business from an engineering and design company into a manufacturer as well. He designed its first product, a lightweight rear-engine roadster, the Porsche 356, which was introduced in 1948 and put into wide production in 1950.

Soon after the 911 came the 904 Carrera GTS. Having retired from Formula One at the end of the 1962 season, the company focused again on sports car racing. Designed by Ferdinand, the 904 anticipated, from a technical point of view, much that later became the norm in racing car manufacturing: mixed steel/fibreglass reinforced resin construction, low weight, small frontal area. It was also the first Porsche with a plastic body. Porsche designed the GTS variant to compete in the FIA-GT class; the street-legal version debuted in 1964 and demand outstripped supply.

Five months after it was launched, Porsche achieved its fifth victory in the classic Targa Florio endurance race in April 1964 with a production 904. Further victories followed including the Tour de France, the 1,000 kilometre race at the Nürburgring, the Le Mans 24-hour race and the Reims 24-hour race, while it came in second in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally despite a snow-covered course. And to the Americans' surprise Porsche claimed the C-Production and E-Sports Racing titles from SCCA. The 904, fitted with four, six and eight-cylinder engines was not only a hugely successful racing car, but is still regarded as one of the most attractive.

Porsche left the operational side of the company with other family members in 1972 and founded the design business, Porsche Design Studio, which moved two years later from Germany to Zell-am-See in Austria. The studio created mostly high-end men's accessories with the Porsche branding, including sunglasses, watches and pens, and worked on a variety of industrial products, household appliances and consumer goods for other companies, including a smartphone for Blackberry (priced at an eye-watering £1,275). As a designer, he stressed function over decoration: "A formally coherent product needs no decoration. It should be elevated through pure form."

Porsche served as chairman of Porsche AG from 1990-93 and helped steer the family firm through a crisis as sales plunged in the late 1980s under pressure from global competition and a strong German mark that hindered exports. Under his chairmanship, the company brought in a chief executive, Wendelin Wiedeking, who turned the company around.

Ferdinand Porsche, car designer: born Stuttgart 11 December 1935; died Salzburg 5 April 2012.

Suggested Topics
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Sport
Jose Mourinho restrains his assistant manager Rui Faria, Fabio Borini celebrates his winning penalty and Connor Wickham equalises for Sunderland
sportChelsea 1 Sunderland 2: Deafeat is extra bitter as former Chelsea player Fabio Borini scores late penalty to seal victory
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit