The name Porsche has traditionally been associated with fast, rear-engine sports cars, and more recently with fast heavy SUVs and fast heavy four-door luxury sedans.

But it all goes back to pioneering engineer Ferdinand Porsche.

He also designed the prototype for what became the Volkswagen Beetle, and would found Porsche AG after World War II.

Designing the first hybrid

Porsche's role in creating what is acknowledged to be the first functional hybrid-electric vehicle in the world is now getting more attention, since virtually every automaker is working on hybrids--including Porsche itself.

The company has been selling the 2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid sport-utility vehicle for several months now. It will officially launch the 2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid at next week's Geneva Motor Show.

Lohner-Porsche series hybrid

Lohner-Porsche series hybrid

In-wheel motors, two engines

To commemorate these new models, Porsche commissioned a replica of that first hybrid design, the 1900 Porsche Semper Vivus.

The company's engineers have meticulously re-created the car as exactly as possible over a four-year period, and it will be fully unveiled at the Geneva show.

The Semper Vivus featured a pair of in-wheel motors at the front, powered by lead-acid batteries that were recharged by a pair of combustion engines. In other words, the engine never provided torque to the wheels, making it a "series hybrid" like the 2011 Chevrolet Volt or 2011 Fisker Karma.

Production: Lohner Porsche

Two years later, an evolution of the design was put into production by his employer at the time, the Austrian coachbuilder Lohner, which had begun making cars in 1896. In honor of his pioneering design, the cars were known as Lohner Porsches--marking the first time the Porsche name appeared on a production vehicle.

The 1902 Lohner Porsche was a larger vehicle, displayed with wheel motors at all four corners, making it possibly the first all-wheel-drive passenger car offered for sale. The bulk of the 300 vehicles sold from then through 1906 were two-wheel drive, although some buses were fitted with four motors.

Porsche Cayenne Hybrid logo

Porsche Cayenne Hybrid logo

The Lohner Porsche line continued in production until 1906, using engines from Daimler and Panhard, among others.

But the "mixte" system of engine plus wheel motors plus battery pack proved too expensive in comparison to the gasoline-engined vehicles of the day.

From hybrids to WW1

An historical footnote: Porsche was drafted into military service in 1902, and became a chauffeur to Archducke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. It would be his assassination just a decade later that would lead directly to the First World War.

The Semper Vivus replica will be housed at the new Porsche Museum in Stuttgart after the show.

The video below shows more details. You can disregard the distinctly martial music; the photos tell the story, and there is no narration.

[Porsche via MotorAuthority; Wikipedia; CarKeys]


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