Found: The First Porsche — And It Was Electric!

The very first car developed by Ferdinand Porsche was not a sleek speed machine. The wooden-framed, open-carriage P1 was recently unearthed in a garage in Austria where it sat for more than 100 years. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Achim Stejskal, director of the Porsche Museum about the surprising find.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Porsche, the name is almost a synonym for sleek and fast. But the first car Ferdinand Porsche designed in 1898, when he was just 22, was boxy-looking and sputtered over streets at 21 miles per hour. And the P-1 was powered by electricity. The car has been parked in a garage in Austria since 1902. It is now on display at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.

We're joined by the director of that museum Achim Stejskal. Thanks very much for being with us.

ACHIM STEJSKAL: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: So to look at it, would it look like a car or more of a carriage with the horses gone?

STEJSKAL: Honestly, it looks totally different than a Porsche looks like today. It looks more like a carriage.

SIMON: Now, why was this powered by electricity as opposed to gas?

STEJSKAL: In the time when Ferdinand Porsche invented the first cars, there were three engine types competing to each other. This was gas, steam and the other engine was electrical power. And for Ferdinand Porsche, his true interest was in the field of electricity, and so he was very keen on creating very efficient electrical cars.

SIMON: Efficient, so that was a consideration even then, in 1898?

STEJSKAL: Yes, of course. Even other aspects which are today very interesting, for example, pollution or noise reduction, so this was also the interest of Ferdinand Porsche to create an electric car, because there was no admission, there was no noise. Ja.

SIMON: So why didn't it go into production widespread?

STEJSKAL: It went into production a few years later. In the year 1900, he further developed the idea of an electrical car with a hybrid system. So in addition to the electrical power supply, he placed two combustion engines in another car, and a few cars were sold as the first hybrid cars in the world in the year 1902.

SIMON: So why did the combustion engine become predominant in the industry, do you think?

STEJSKAL: The problem was the weight of the cars. This battery pack weighs around 500 kilograms, so this was almost half the weight of the whole car. And the combustion engines, they were much smaller then. So I think it turned from the electrical engines into the combustion engines. And then they made their way to the successful, still successful, power supplies for the cars of the future.

SIMON: Have you been in the car, Mr. Stejskal?

STEJSKAL: Yes, of course. Ja.

SIMON: Does it work? Have you taken it for a spin?

STEJSKAL: We intentionally avoided to drive the car. But what is really interesting, after 162 years, we conducted this - we call it octagon engine because of the shape of the exterior of the engine. And we connected it to a battery supply and the engine is still working today.

SIMON: So you've started it up.

STEJSKAL: We started it up and it's working.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Stejskal, thanks. Happy trails to you, sir.

STEJSKAL: Thank you, likewise. And it was great talking to you.

SIMON: Achim Stejskal is director of the Porsche Museum.

This is NPR News.

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