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Ferdinand Porsche, Sports Car Designer, Dies At 76

Thu, 04/05/2012 - 12:29pm
David McHugh, AP Business Writer

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The Porsche 911, with its sloping roof line, long hood and powerful rear engine, has been a sports car-lover's fantasy for the half century since its 1963 introduction. Its creator, Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, grandson of the automaker's founder, is dead at age 76.

Porsche died Thursday in Salzburg, Austria, Porsche AG said Thursday. No cause was provided.

Known as F.A. to his colleagues, Porsche headed the company's design studio in the early 1960s when it needed a replacement for its first car, the Porsche 356. He came up with something sleek, ruthlessly stripped of decoration, and packing a six-cylinder engine where the 356 had a four-cylinder. It's a combination that the company has evolved instead of replacing and which turns on car enthusiasts even today.

The 911, now in its seventh version, remains recognizably the same vehicle, though with much updated mechanical parts and technology. The new version was mobbed and groped when it was unveiled in September at the Frankfurt auto show. Showgoers left the doors and roof smeared with fingerprints as they scrambled for a chance to sit behind the wheel.

The new car was originally designated the 901, but the number was changed because French competitor Peugeot claimed a patent on car names formed with a zero in the middle.

Manny Alban, president of the 106,000-member Porsche Club of America and owner of two 1990 911s, compares the design to the Coca-Cola bottle — an outline that's instantly familiar even to people who are not auto enthusiasts.

"It's a car that has evolved since 1963 quite gracefully," he said, adding that although the latest version has "Porsche Carrera S" on the rear end, "a lot of people would say you don't need that because a Porsche enthusiast would say you can look at it and know it's a 911."

"It's very German. Everything has a purpose, every button, it all makes sense, there are no gizmos. You won't look back 20 years later and say why did they put that on there."

Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller paid tribute to the 911 creator, saying in a statement that he "founded a culture of design in our company that distinguishes our sports cars even today."

Porsche was the son of former Porsche Chairman Ferry Porsche, who died in 1998, and the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who started the company as a design and engineering firm in the 1930s.

Born in Stuttgart on Dec. 11, 1935, F.A. Porsche was initiated into the family business while still a boy, spending time in his grandfather's workshops and design facilities. He studied at the Ulm School of Design and joined the company in 1958, taking over the design studio in 1962.

Porsche left the operational part of the company with other family members in the early 1970s, and in 1972 founded a design business, Porsche Design Studio, where he created eyeglasses, watches and pens.

As a designer, he stressed function over decoration. "A formally coherent product needs no decoration, it should be elevated through pure form," he once said.

He served as chairman of Porsche AG from 1990 to 1993 and helped steer the family firm through a crisis as sales plunged in the late 1980s under pressure from global competition and a strong German mark that hindered exports. While he was chairman, the company brought in a new CEO, Wendelin Wiedeking, who is credited with turning the company around. The company also makes the Cayenne sport utility, Panamera four-door and the Boxster sports car.

Porsche AG, the automaker, is owned by the family's holding company Porsche SE and by Volkswagen AG. An attempt to merge the automaker into Volkswagen has been held up by legal issues, but the companies share a CEO, Martin Winterkorn, and already cooperate extensively. Another grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, Ferdinand Piech, is the chairman of the Volkswagen AG board of directors.

Porsche was to be buried in a private ceremony in the chapel at Schuettgut, the Porsche family's estate in Zell am See, Austria. A memorial ceremony will be held in Stuttgart, the company said.

In this publicly released 1968 black and white file photo provided by Porsche AG, Car designer Ferdinand Alexander Porsche is photographed at unknown place with a model of the Porsche 911. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, the design chief credited with the classic 911 sports car and grandson of the automaker's founder, has died. Carmaker Porsche AG said Porsche was 76 and died Thursday April 5, 2012 in Salzburg, Austria. (AP Photo/ho/Porsche AG)

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