Formula 1 Insight

Porsche and VW Connections

I see that VW/Audi and Porsche have once again stated their intention to leave F1 alone, citing cost and the Mosley sex scandal as the reasons. Like everyone else, I think this is a great pity, although not unexpected. I have fond memories of Porsche's brief foray into F1 in the sixties and would love to see a repeat of the exercise. In the grand tradition of its founder, Dr Ferdinand Porsche, the company invariably has a fresh and different approach to design and this was typified in its last F1 effort, the 804 of 1962.

Porsche 804
Porsche 804

But Dr Porsche is given slightly more credit for innovation than he deserves. His most famous creation, the VW Beetle, and its layout of rear engine and rear wheel drive, was not actually his idea at all. It came, in fact, from a little known Czech car manufacturer, Tatra.

Tatra is one of the oldest car manufacturers of all, third after Daimler-Benz and Peugeot. In 1934 they produced the T77 model in which all the essential ideas for the Beetle were present - rear-mounted engine, swing axles, etc. It was also the world's first aerodynamic production car, boasting an extremely low drag coefficient, but that is not really the point.

The connection comes when we learn that Tatra's chief engineer, an Austrian named Hans Ledwinka, discussed his ideas for the T77 with a certain Dr Ferdinand Porsche. In 1938 Porsche designed the car that the world was to know as the VW Beetle. And the coincidence was more than just apparent; in 1961, after a long legal struggle, Tatra were awarded damages by a German court.

Tatra ceased car production many years ago but still make all-wheel drive trucks, primarily for military use. And I thought it might be appropriate to remember their contribution to cars and motor sport as we watch Porsche once again stepping back from involvement in F1. If Hans Ledwinka were still around, maybe he would have been prepared to give it a go...


Steven Roy
Interesting post Clive. I had never heard of the Tatra involvement in VW or of the court case. It is quite incredible how many times the people credited with doing something in reality didn't do it at all. Bill Gates gets credit for DOS being such a successful operating system but he didn't write it he bought it and transposed the deignation of the A and C drives. That was the only part of DOS he wrote.

I think VW and Porsche are just playing politics as neither had the slightest intention of entering F1.
Date Added: 20/04/2008

Oh, I'm sure VW/Porsche just took this as an opportunity to register their disapproval of Max, Steven. And they threw in the F1 thing as a free gift. ;)
Date Added: 20/04/2008

Interesting story. One thing's for certain, Ledwinka certainly wouldn't have thought it a good idea to meld two old V6 Porsche turbo engines together to create the Porsche V12 atmo engine - possibly the marque's most embarrassing motorsporting moment!
Date Added: 20/04/2008

I always think Porsche should stick with flat engines - it's what they know. And look how different the air-cooled flat six makes that 804 look!
Date Added: 20/04/2008

Dunno about that Clive - seems the V8 in their RS Spyder P2 prototype seems to be doing rather well! Many people also point to the 928 as something of a forgotten gem chiefly because of its smooth, powerful V8.
Date Added: 23/04/2008

I'm sure you're right, Neil. But it is also a matter of the heart - like all Ferraris should be red and have a V12, all Kawasakis should be green and so on. Against all logic, but with a certain truth somehow...
Date Added: 23/04/2008

Interesting story about Porsche copying Tatra's rear engine design, Clive. I never knew that. I was once driven through Prague in a little four-door, 1970-something rear engine Tatra sedan by a lead-footed Czech. What a white knuckle ride that was - scared the bejesus outta' me. LOL That car was fast, but I never knew Porsche / VW copied the idea from Tatra, not the other way around.
Date Added: 05/10/2011

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