Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: BlackJack’sBriefs
As with my series on drivers, I started with the Wiki ‘List of Formula One Constructors’ and quickly reduced 136 to 43 eligible constructors by removing the Champions, and those hopefuls who failed to last beyond two or three seasons, and also those who only competed before 1958. [See Part-20 – Intro for details.]
“I feel the need – the need for speed!”
Considering the international fame of the Porsche name there is amazingly little written about the company’s F1 history on the internet. OK, it was brief, lasting barely three years, so perhaps a little pre- history is deserved.
Ferdinand Porsche was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1875, taking Czech nationality after WWI, and then German, in 1934.
Helping in his father’s workshop from childhood Ferdinand joined the Lohner coachbuilding company in Vienna in 1898 and, in 1901, produced his second auromobile design, perhaps the first ‘hybrid’ vehicle, with a Daimler ic-engine driving a generator that drove individual electric motors mounted within the wheel hubs. This car won the Exelberg Rally in 1901 and broke several speed records.
1902 provided a short hiatus as military service saw Ferdinand doing duty as chauffeur to Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.
In 1906 Ferdinand joined Austro-Daimler as chief designer, and ten years later was Managing Director. He produced several very successful racing cars until, in 1923, he left the company after disagreements about it’s future but was soon given the place of Technical Director in Daimler’s parent company in Stuttgart, where he continued to create successful cars, culminating in the Mercedes-Benz SSK.
Ferdinand helped with the merger of the two companies into Daimler-Benz but his desire to produce a small light- weight car was not supported by the board and he left again, in 1929, for Steyr, but the Depression sent this small, light-weight company to the wall.
So 1931 saw the establishment of the design-consultant company of Porsche, in Stuttgart, and he and his son, Ferdinand Jr. (known as ‘Ferry’), joined forces to produce Ferdinand’s small-car dream, first supported by Zundapp, and then NSU.
In 1932 Ferdinand also developed a new single-seater racing car based on the 1923 Benz ‘Tear-Drop’, for the current 750kg. formula where the car, without driver, fuel, oil, water and tyres could not weigh more than 750kg… and that was about all. At the same time Auto Union was formed and they wanted a ‘show-piece’.
In 1933 Hitler declared every German should be able to own either a car or a tractor… and he also instigated a state motor-racing programme by giving 500,000 Reichsmarks to Mercedes-Benz… Porsche created prototypes for the ‘peoples’-car’ which so pleased Hitler the racing grant was suddenly split in two, with 250,000 going to Auto Union, creating intense exchamges between the companies, on and off the track.
Ferdinand was dubbed ‘the Great German Engineer’… until it was realised he was Czech, and Hitler regarded the Czechs as ‘sub-human’, so Ferdinand jumped ships… took German nationality, and also joined the SS.
Mercedes-Benz produced the W125, and Auto-Union the TYPE-A, -B, -C, & -D… and that part of the story is sufficiently well known for us to move on. Both cars were known as ‘Silver Arrows’.
After the war Porsche, father and son, were imprisoned, as ‘war criminals’, with Ferry being released first, He moved the Porsche operation to Austria, and designed the 4WD Type 360 Cisitalia, which never raced but the fee was used to bail dad out of jail. In 1948 Porsche also started work on the classic ‘356’, the first car to carry the Porsche name.
Now strongly ensconced in sportscar manufacture it’s not surprising the company became involved in sportscar racing. The Volkswagen company was now churning out the ‘Beetle’, and Porsche earned a royalty on all 20,000,000+ models made. Ferdinand finally visited the VW factory in Wolfsburg in November, 1950. The following month he suffered a stroke, and died in January, 1951. ‘Ferry’ Porsche continued to control the company until 1972, and remained a director until 1990. He died in 1998. In 1999 Ferdinand Porsche was declared ‘Car Engineer of the Century’.
Porsche won its class at LeMans in 1951 and their RSK sportscar was so successful it achieved an odd notoriety – during the 50’s the FIA often found itself drawing up regulations that nobody wanted. During 1950-1951 the only regular ‘works’ teams were from Alfa Romeo, Talbot, Maserati, and Ferrari, using a 4.5 NA / 1.5 SC formula but, in 1952 Alfa Romeo pulled out and Ferrari were left as the only serious F1 contender… so the FIA decided to award the Championship to the F2 races, which were for 2.0L NA engines.
Even so Ferrari won every race, and Ascari the Championship, against works cars from Gordini, HWM, Connaught, and Maserati… and a private Cooper Bristol driven so well by Mike Hawthorn he was given a works Ferrari drive for 1953… which saw a virtual repeat of 1952, Ferrari winning all but the Italian GP, which was taken by Maserati.
1954 saw new regs. with F1 now being run to 2.5 NA / 1.5 SC engines and Ferrari, Maserati and Gordini, and a host of various private entries (mostly running the previous year’s F2 cars) were joined by the might of Mercedes.
1955 saw the arrival of Lancia, for one year, and Vanwall, and 1956 finally saw BRM getting to grips with the grids. Meanwhile the 1.5L F2 was providing good racing for British companies using a much modified Coventry Climax engine that had been designed as a lightweight ‘pump’ for fire appliances. The company were keen to develop this new market and soon bored out the engine to 2.0L, and then 2.2L as numerous privateers battled it out, often as makeweights, at the back of the field.
But, by 1957 there was still often a shortage of entries and several GP organisers allowed F2 cars to compete as well, although the FIA ruled they would not be elligible for Championship points… and Porsche finally arrived at the German GP with two cars for Edgar Barth and Umberto Maglioli, plus a private entry for Dutchman, Count Carel Godin de Beaufort…
For a couple of years the Porsche 718RSK sportscar had been entered in F2 races, first by fitting a single, central seat, and then by removing bodywork to make them ‘open single-seaters’, which achieved some success behind the Coopers, and now they were appearing occasionally at the rear of F1 grids, until 1960… when the regs. changed again.
In sportscar racing Porsche won, outright, the legendary Targa Florio.
For reasons which nobody understood at the time, and which only Ferrari seemed to support, the FIA upgraded the 1.5L F2 to F1 status for 1961 which provided a very natural entry for Porsche to become fully-fledged F1 competitors. Fielding the 718/2, and then the 787, for Jo Bonnier and Dan Gurney, Porsche ran a full season, backed by de Beaufort’s private entry, and occasional entries for Hans Herrman.
With three 2nd places in France, Italy and America Porsche finished their first season in F1 in 3rd place, behind Ferrari and Lotus, and well ahead of Cooper and BRM… and Gurney finished 4th in the Drivers’ Championship.
An interesting feature of F1 at this time was the number of non-championship races… While the Championship was fought out over eight rounds, there were twenty-one non-championship events, one of which, the Coppa Italia, was won by a Porsche driven by Giancarlo Baghetti.
Unbeknown to many a third generation was already hard at work at Porsche and Ferry’s son, Ferdinand Alexander, who would also be involved with producing the 901/911, had been burning the midnight oil.
Porsche arrived with a whole new car, the 804, their first ‘proper’ single-seater design that owed nothing to their sportscars, and were probably expecting great things. Their previous car had looked ‘lumpy’ and heavy but the new one was svelte and looked the bees-knees. Ferrari, after sweeping the 1961 Championship firmly under the Maranello carpet, found themselves at ‘sixes & sevens’ after the ‘Winter Walkout’. Ferrari only entered six of the nine Championship-qualifying rounds and, despite scoring three podiums in the first three races, even Ferrari don’t enjoy talking about 1962.
But Porsche’s potential challenge was eclipsed by the British teams getting themselves together and both Coventry- Climax and BRM came up with brilliant V8 engines which just took over F1 racing. BRM, Lotus and Cooper won the first three races (one each), and took the first three places in the Championship, winning every event… except the fourth round – the French GP…
The front rows at Rouen were taken by Clark, Hill, Bruce McLaren, Brabham, and Surtees, with Gurney 6th… and is it odd that five of these drivers were soon to produce their own F1 cars…? Certainly the 60’s were very different to today. It was a very hard race, on the bumpy Rouen road circuit and, one by one, most of the field fell by the wayside but the ‘under the weather’ Gurney and his Porsche just kept going, and kept going, and lapped everyone else to score his first F1 GP win, and Porsche’s only victory. Gurney would go on to score Brabham’s first victory, and also the first for his own Eagle car…
The following week Gurney also won the non-championship Solitude GP, at Stuttgart (with Bonnier in 2nd), and later put the Porsche on Pole in Germany, and raced long and hard with Hill and Surtees, in a rain-soaked race, until having to accept 3rd place, with four seconds covering all three… but, at the end of the year the factory pulled the plug. Allegedly Porsche felt they couldn’t make their air-cooled engine as powerful as the British V8s… or they found it all too expensive… or the Porsche dealers were unable to sell sportscars on the back of F1 success… but it also seems Ferry Porsche was simply not a great supporter of F1…
De Beaufort continued to run his 1960/61 cars for a couple more years, and that was it… but, in just two full seasons, and seventeen races, this small racing effort won 1 GP, recorded 1 Pole, and scored 4 podiums – it wasn’t great, but it had been enough to justify staying longer…
Jo Bonnier moved to Rob Walker’s private team for a couple of years, without much success. Indeed, without his 1959 Dutch GP win for BRM, his was not a great career… but he lasted for sixteen years in F1, and frequently stood on the podium of non-Championship races.
Bonnier was more successful in sport-cars, twice winning the great Targa Florio, the 12 Hours of Sebring, a 12hr. race at Reims, the 1,000km of Nurburgring, and Montjuich, and at Montlhery, and finished second at Le Mans… which was also the scene of his death, in 1972, after a horrible crash spun his car over the barriers and into the trees.
Dan Gurney found an ideal niche for himself with Brabham where, in three years, he scored 2 wins and eight further podiums, before founding his own All-American Racers, and his Eagle car. Apart from one win, and a further podium, he experienced continual engine problems, and far too many retirements.