Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche, who died on 27 March aged 88, established the most successful sportscar marque of all time, steering the independent company throughout booms and busts with unmatched corporate verve.
He was born in 1909 in Vienna to a father already regarded as an engineering genius Ferdinand Porsche. Porsche Sr was chief engineer at Austro-Daimler then Daimler-Benz. He perfected the supercharged engine that made the Mercedes-Benz SSK a formidable Le Mans contender before being called upon to create both a grand prix winner, the V16 Auto Union, and a people’s car – the Volkswagen Beetle.
Young Ferry became his father’s right-hand man, and was the driving force in creating a fun, lightweight and aerodynamic sportscar based on the reliable VW. The 356 went on to sell some 77,000 examples until it was replaced by the evolutionary 911 in 1963. In 1996, Porsche sold its millionth car.
The engineering recipe worked spectacularly on the race track. In 1951 (the year Ferdinand Sr died) a 356 won its class at Le Mans, and Porsches have won there more often than any other marque 15 times. The magnificent Porsche 917s were the pinnacle of the company’s racing achievement, but Porsches triumphed off the tarmac, too. In 1969 a 911 won the Monte Carlo Rally, and in 1986 a 959 was the first sportscar to win the Paris-Dakar rally. In all, Porsches have won over 22,000 competition trophies.
In both competition and road cars, Ferry Porsche’s ethos was constant and painstaking refinement of the firm’s core design of air-cooled, rear-engined sportscars. But it was the front-engined, water-cooled 928 that remains the only sportscar to scoop the coveted Car of the Year Award. Giles Chapman