Porsche’s from Ashes to Pop Culture – Part 1

By Daniella Enriquez

Porsche is a multi-million dollar car company integrated in the heart of various car collectors and car enthusiasts in the United States. The company has become popularized within American culture because of its unique style which stays true to its original cars. So how did a company with its roots deeply integrated in Hitler’s Nazi Germany become so popular in the U.S.? Dive into Porsche history with us as we trace their roots and uncover the Porsche culture in the U.S.

Ferdinand Porsche Sr. started his own automotive company during the European Great Depression, unfortunately leading to the company’s bankruptcy during World War II. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin requested Ferdinand Porsche Sr. to lead vehicle production within the Soviet Regime, however Ferdinand declined the offer. Ironically, in June 1934, Adolf Hitler, and the Reich Association of the German Automotive Industry commissioned Ferdinand to create a design for “Volkswagen named the People’s Car.” Ferdinand collaborated with his son Anton Ernst Porsche, better known as Ferry, to develop the first designs of the Volkswagen car.

Ferdinand Porsche standing next to his Beetle, Circa 1940s

After WWII, Ferdinand was arrested for his collaboration with Hitler and served a 22-month sentence. During this time, Ferry brought his idea designs to life in the small garage warehouse in Stuttgart, Germany. The first vehicle produced by Ferry was the prototype “356”, an advanced modified Volkswagen Beetle. Fifty-two were hand built in the small Porsche garage in Stuttgart, Germany. Resulting directly from the success of the Porsche Type 356, Ferry and Ferdinand relocated the factory to Zuffenhausen, Stuttgart in Germany.

One of the first Porsche Type 356, Circa 1948

Porsche’s new shop was a leased space located inside of the Reutter Coachwork Factory. Reutter, founded in 1906, were German custom coachbuilder body shops known for their unique beautiful limousine bodies during the 1920s. Reutter and Porsche became affiliated during the 1930s when they began building the bodies for Volkswagen Beetles. Subsequently in 1950, Porsche commissioned Reutter to build the bodies for the Type 356 increasing productivity and surpassing quotas for the year building 369 vehicles. The Porsche Type 356 became known as the Gmund Porsche in honor of the town in Austria where they were hand built.

Porsche and Reutter Employees with a Gmund Porsche, Circa 1950

The success of the Reutter built Gmund Porsche attested to the exemplary standard coaches built better than most custom coachbuilders at the time. Porsche notoriety skyrocketed; the lightweight bodies allowed for agile handling allowing owners to make simple modifications to make it racetrack ready. The vehicle was fitted with a rear engine, extremely unique for sportscars at the time. However, rally racing was extremely popular within Europe at the time and racers would modify the Gmund Porsche with extra lights, minor suspension modifications, and off-road tires.  The Gmund Porsche became road safe in Germany on June 8, 1948. 

Gmund Porsche, Circa 1950

How did a car brand rooted deep within Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany become introduced and popularized with the United States ? 

Stay tuned for next week’s installment of Porsche from Ashes to Pop Culture

Annotations:

  1.  “Ferdinand Porsche – Cars, Life & Facts.” 2021. Biography. April 5, 2021. https://www.biography.com/business-leaders/ferdinand-porsche.

  2.  “Porsche Historical Background: 1948-2007 – Dr. Ing. H.c. F. Porsche AG Press Database.” n.d. Dr. Ing. H.c. F. Porsche AG. https://press.porsche.com/prod/presse_pag/PressResources.nsf/jumppage/unternehmen-pcna-history?OpenDocument.

  3.  “Porsche Reutter Coachworks | Cartype.” n.d. Cartype.com. Accessed March 8, 2023. https://cartype.com/pages/85/porsche_reutter_coachworks#:~:text=Founded%20in%201906%20by%20Wilhelm%20Reutter.&text=%20Carosserie%2DWerke%20became%20known.

  4.  Vaughn, Mark. 2016. “This Is Porsche’s First Race Car, Returned to Its Prime.” Autoweek. October 13, 2016. https://www.autoweek.com/car-life/a1855906/found-and-restored-porsches-first-race-car/.

  5.  Cars, Dusty. 2018. “The Motorsport Success of the Porsche 356 – Dusty Cars.” Dusty Cars. May 18, 2018. https://dustycars.com/model-histories/motorsport-success-of-the-porsche-356/.

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