he early car-design career of Ferdinand Porsche teaches us a powerful lesson. It is that he believed wholeheartedly in subjecting a new design to the rigors of competition. He manifested thisconviction with all his early designs. Few indeed were those that inone form or another he didn’t put to the test of a race, sprint, rallyor hillclimb. It mattered not whether it was a small car or large luxury model. If it could be tested against its rivals on road or track, Porsche would do so.He had several reasons for this. One of course was that dedicated proving grounds were still far in the future. Cars were tested on the road, and whenmeasured against their rivals this gave a good index of engineering progress.Those rivals could most easily be found in open competitions. Another was that success in races and hillclimbs was an excellent source of publicity. This was a powerful incentive in the industry’s early years and indeed was still strong moti-vation for racing participation in the twenty-ﬁrst century.Yet another reason was that Ferdinand Porsche found that he really enjoyedfast driving. He proved this with his long journeys across the continent of Europeat a time when roads left a lot to be desired. Porsche soon developed a take-no-prisoners style at the wheel. “He was a very, very rough driver, more of a racing style,” recalled his grandson Ernst Piëch. “He would always get faster and fasterand faster. He couldn’t really see a car in front of him. He’d always be looking inthe mirror, but not in front. But he was very good—a very good driver.”
A further reason for taking part in the early competitions was that they wereplanned and designed to improve the state of the art. While from 1906 the Frenchconcentrated on their Grand Prix races, circuit competitions for out-and-out racing cars, the Germans turned to events for four-seaters that were framed to promoteprogress in the design of road cars. Germany’s Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, wasamong the most auto-friendly monarchs. We recall the Kaiser’s backing for the1907 Taunus races in which tire problems kept Porsche’s Mixtes from competing.His younger brother, Prince Heinrich of Prussia, was an authentic car enthusiast who even held a patent on a windshield wiper.Touring cars were catered to by a new event launched in 1905, the HerkomerCup. This was the brainchild of Prof. Hubert von Herkomer, who returned to hisnative Bavaria after a spell in Britain to encourage an event for amateurs driving ordinary autos. A Mercedes was the 1905 winner, a Horch in 1906 and a Benz in1907, the Herkomer’s ﬁnal year.
1. Ernst Piëch said that his mother inherited a similar driving style.
At Bad Homburg,
for the finish of the 1910 Prince Heinrich tour, the victorious team posed on the cobbles with Count Schönfeld on the left, Eduard Fischer in the center and Porsche on the right. These were demonstrably the fastest touring cars of their day.
: While his crew members argued procedures with officials, left, Ferdinand Porsche waited impatiently at the wheel of his entry in the 1909 Prince Heinrich tour. His was the shaft- drive car while his teammates had chain-drive models, similarly capable of 73 mph.