Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ferdinand Porsche in the Great War

Ferdinand Porsche in 1898 – Two World Wars Awaiting Him

Probably most readers know that during the Second World War, automotive genius Ferdinand Porsche – creator of the the first front-wheel-drive car, the Volkswagen, and innumerable fine racing and road vehicles — designed tanks for the German Army.  Little is written, however, about the Austrian-Czech designer's work during the First World War.

Like any good subject  at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he made his contribution to the war effort. An interesting prequel to his work during the war is that — during his national military service in 1902, he served as a chauffeur for Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose preferred transport was an early design of Porsche, know as the Lohner-Porsche.

Replica of Porsche's First Hybrid Automobile, 1900

Anyway, as the war drew near, Porsche was technical director at Austro-Daimler, the Austrian branch of Daimler motor works. For the Skoda works he designed the transporter for the huge 305mm siege mortars. In 1912 he designed a mixed-drive system in which petrol-engine-driven generators produced electric current that could be conveyed to multiple cars. The system could be applied to such military uses as supply trains and artillery tractors. Known as Landwehrzug or "C-Trains", they were adaptable to both roadways and rail lines. As a spin-off he also designed mobile generators.

Tractor for 305mm Skoda Artillery Piece

Before the war, Porsche's attention had also been drawn to aircraft and airship engines. As early as 1911, the Lohner-Daimler Pleilflieger, with an engine designed by Porsche, won the Vienna-Budapest-Vienna air race. By the outbreak of the war, some experts considered the 120-hp engine produce by Austro-Daimler to be the most reliable in the world. By 1917 Porsche had produced a 225-hp engine used in a number of aircraft by the Central Powers. His team was working on even more powerful engines when the war ended.

C-Train Demonstration

The Armistice, of course, would remove all demand for military products. Porsche would concentrate in other areas, such as sports cars, until Germany and its new Fuhrer drew him back to weapons of war.


  1. Interesting article. One correction though. The Volkswagen had/has the engine mounted in the rear driving the rear wheels. It started production in 1937. There is some disagreement at to the first front-wheel drive automobile. Excluding early steam powered vehicles, the first FWD most likely was built between 1895 and 1898 by the Austrian firm Graf &Stift. Only one was produced.

  2. I was going say about the VW - had a couple but not in 1937. 8-)