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Porsche's electric-vehicle roots: the "P1"

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Most people know Porsche no. 1 as the mid-engined 356 prototype built in 1948, but the first “Porsche” was a two-and-a-half-ton electric car — perhaps horseless carriage better describes it. Built in 1899 by a 22-year-old Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, the “Egger-Lohner electric vehicle, C.2 Phaeton model” predated the Porsche brand by nearly half a century and featured no horizontally opposed cylinders. Unofficially, the vehicle is known as the P1, for “Porsche number one,” because Dr. Porsche etched his name onto all of the key parts.

The P1 was equipped with a 1,103-pound battery and 287-pound electric motor, nearly half of its 2,977-pound weight. The electric motor was mounted to the wooden chassis at the rear and good for the equivalent of 3 horsepower normally or 5 hp in overdrive mode. The power was put to the ground via wooden wheels wrapped in pneumatic tires; wooden leaf springs soaked up the bumps.

The P1 could attain a top speed of 21 miles per hour in overdrive mode, but perhaps more impressive for the time was its 49-mile range at a cruising speed of about 15 mph. Speed was managed via a 12-speed control unit, so technically Dr. Porsche’s first vehicle had cruise control.

The P1 even has some competition history. On September 28, 1899, it completed a 24-mile race in Berlin against other contemporary electric vehicles. It crossed the finish line first, 18 minutes before its nearest competition, and used the least amount of energy.

It is thought that four P1s were built. The one seen in these pictures recently was found in a warehouse, “untouched since 1902,” according to Porsche. It hasn’t undergone a restoration but is missing some body pieces, and today resides permanently in the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart as the centerpiece to the product and motorsports exhibition. That’s fitting, as modern road and race Porsches equipped with hybrid electric powertrains have come almost full circle since the first “Porsche.

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