Since the construction of the first sports car to bear the Porsche name, the 1948 Type 356, Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG has been regarded as the world’s leading sports car manufacturer. Yet the company’s history in fact dates back to a much earlier period. In 1898, Ferdinand Porsche presented the ‘Egger-Lohner electric vehicle, C.2 Phaeton model’ (known as the ‘P1’ for short) – the world’s first Porsche design. After 116 years, the original and unrestored vehicle has been rediscovered and is set to enrich the collection at the Porsche Museum as a technical and historical worldwide sensation.
Five years since it opened in January 2009, the addition of this exhibit sees the Porsche Museum rearrange its permanent exhibition. Alongside a restructuring of the layout of the area dedicated to product and motor sport history, the ‘P1’ now forms a centrepiece which introduces visitors to the first part of the exhibition – the Prologue. The innovative vehicle concept of the ‘P1’ will bridge the gap between the past and present day developments such as the Porsche 918 Spyder. As a technological benchmark, the plug-in hybrid 918 Spyder super sports car follows a long tradition that first started 116 years ago with the ‘P1’.
The ‘P1’ – designed and built by Ferdinand Porsche – was one of the first vehicles registered in Austria, and took to the streets of Vienna on 26 June, 1898. Porsche engraved the code ‘P1’ (standing for Porsche, number 1) on to all of the key components, thus giving the electric vehicle its unofficial name. The sheer volume of ideas realised within this vehicle remains remarkable even today. The highly compact electric drive, weighing just 130 kg, offered an output of 3 hp. For short periods, up to 5 hp could be achieved in overloading mode, allowing the P1 to reach speeds of up to 22 mph (35 km/h). When driven in this manner, the vehicle speed was regulated via a 12-speed controller. The overall range of the vehicle could span up to 50 miles (80 km), a considerable feat for a vehicle of that period. A further innovation was the Lohner alternating vehicle body, which allowed the vehicle to be used in both summer and winter.
The first practical test awaited the ‘P1’ in September 1899 at the international motor vehicle exhibition in the German capital of Berlin. Even as early as 1899, the competition to produce the best drive systems was already fierce. A race for electric vehicles over a distance of 25 miles (40 km) was announced in Berlin on 28 September to test the performance of the vehicles, with a prize awarded to the winner. The route demanded a great amount of skill from the participants, who had to tackle various challenges such as gradients. With three passengers on board, Ferdinand Porsche steered his ‘P1’ across the finish line 18 minutes ahead of the next competitor. More than half the participants failed to reach the finish line due to technical difficulties. Ferdinand Porsche also came out on top in the efficiency test, as his ‘P1’ recorded the lowest energy consumption in urban traffic.