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Legendary sports car designer Ferdinand Porsche is dead at 76

April 05, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch
  • This 1963 photo shows Ferdinand Alexander Porsche leaning on a Type 901 Porsche. The creator of the legendary Porsche 911 died at the age of 76, the car manufacturer announced Wednesday.
This 1963 photo shows Ferdinand Alexander Porsche leaning on a Type 901… (Porsche AG )

Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, who designed the first 911 sports car and went on to found a consumer products design firm that also carried the Porsche name, died Thursday in Salzburg, Austria.  He was 76.

Born in Stuttgart, Germany, he was the eldest son of Dorothea and Ferry Porsche, who along with Ferry’s father Ferdinand Porsche founded the business that grew into the sports car maker.

Porsche grew up in the auto business and during a turbulent time. His grandfather designed the original Volkswagen Beetle for the Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s as well as tanks that were used by the Germans in World War II.

As a child, “Butzi” – as he was known to his family and business associates – enjoyed designing and building his own toys. He attended the Waldorf School and studied at the Ulm School of Design before starting work in the design department of the auto business in 1958.

Porsche officials recall that he quickly demonstrated strong  design skills by producing the first plasticine model of a successor to the 356 series – the 40- to 60-horsepower sports cars the automaker was developing at the time.

The Porsche 911, developed directly from the model and his drawings, was shown for the first time in September 1963 at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

The Porsche 911 went on sale in 1964. With the first model starting at $5,500, the rear-engine 911 evolved over the next four decades to become among the best known sports cars internationally. The automaker debuted the seventh generation 911 late last year.  It now sells for about $115,000.  

Porsche headed the company’s design studio from 1962 to 1972.

“There has not been a single individual whose contribution to the Porsche brand over the decades since the '60's has been greater than that of Ferdinand 'Butzi' Porsche,” said Mike Sullivan, who owns the Porsche dealership in Torrance. “His iconic design of the original 911 has elevated Porsche to the top of the automotive world.”

Sullivan noted that the 911 that Porsche launched almost four decades ago “has singularly dominated sports car racing for most of the last 40 years as well as making Porsche the world's most profitable auto manufacturer.” 

“He established a design culture in our company that has shaped our sports car to this very day,” said Matthias Muller, chief executive of Porsche AG. “His philosophy of good design is a legacy to us that we will honor for all time.”

His designs have had global influence, said Stewart Reed, Chairman of Transportation Design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. 

"Every designer has tremendous respect for Butzi’s influence.  His work underscored the proof that small, passionate teams can accomplish great things," said Reed, who on one visit to Porsche in his home viewed   the original 911 plans with the designer. 

Porsche also is credited with developing the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS racing car. 

He was the honorary president of the automaker’s supervisory board at the time of his death but played a bigger role with the company as president of the board from 1990 to 1993, a period during which he helped execute an economic turnaround for the automaker.

In 1972, Porsche left the automaker to establish his own design studio, relocating it two years later from Germany to Zell am See in Austria.

He built the business by designing mostly men’s accessories such as watches, spectacles and writing instruments, which were marketed under the “Porsche Design” brand.  His design team also took on products working on a variety of industrial products, household appliances and consumer products for other companies.

“A product that is coherent in form requires no embellishment. It is enhanced by the purity of its form,” Porsche said of his design work. “Good design should be honest.”

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