The first Porsche was the inverted bathtub known as the 356, produced in embryonic form in 1948. Right? Wrong, actually. That was the first mass-produced car, but Ferdinand Porsche’s first car, code-named P1, was actually electric. And he built it in 1898.
The P1, unseen and untouched in a warehouse since 1902, has just been unearthed, and it's heading for the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. It will take pride of place there as a permanent display. In a way, it’s as cool as the company's new and insane 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid.
The three-horsepower P1 (above), a glorified carriage weighing 2,977 pounds (1,103 of which was batteries), was built when electric cars were the rage and Ferdinand was 22. It had 12 speeds and could travel up to 49 miles on a charge — which would be OK numbers for an electric car today. It could reach 21 mph, and cruised at 15.
The P1 first hit the streets of Vienna in June of 1898. Then in September 1899, it took part in a 24-mile all-electric race in Berlin — and won by 18 minutes. It also came in first in efficiency.
Incidentally, Ferdinand’s innovation was just getting started. His second car was the Lohner-Porsche, with steered wheel hub motors, and the company says it “caused a sensation at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900.” A racing car with wheel motors became the first all-wheel drive passenger car, and it also debuted the concept of four-wheel brakes.
But even more distinctive was Semper Vivus (above), the world’s first hybrid, also from 1900. This one combined the hub motors with two combustion engines. The gas motors didn’t drive the car, but were connected to generators that supplied the hub motors. “The birth of serial hybrid drive!” Semper Vivus could also run on pure electricity.
Finally, Porsche refined his hybrid into the Lohner-Porsche Mixte, which debuted in 1901. In this one, a big 5.5-liter, 25-horsepower engine from Daimler worked as the electric generator. The Mixte had a smaller battery pack to reduce weight, and could go only a few miles without the gas engine generating power.
I love this one: The Mixte’s generator, by reversing polarity, could be used as a starter motor to crank the gas engine. I always thought that this innovation was created by Charles Kettering for General Motors. Well, Kettering certainly popularized the invention, and it first made it into production on the 1912 Cadillac.
Let's go to the videotape. This is some just-unearthed footage of the P1, aka the Egger-Lohner c.2 Phaeton: