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2002 Robert Bentley, Inc. We encourage visitors to link to this page if you’d like to share this information with others. Please do not copy this excerpt to other web sites. It is protected by copyright and represents significant resource investment by Bentley Publishers.

(4 page excerpt)


The Official Order

Porsche was by then in an irritable mood, he was tired of the whole Volkswagen project. All that seemed to interest these people in Berlin was price, price and price again. He could not see how the car could be produced at 1,550 Marks, let alone 1,000 Marks; he mentioned this figure purposely in his memorandum so as not to be taken to task for having submitted an extremely low estimate. Now he had to think how this car could be sold for 1,000 Marks. He had had enough of the whole matter-he was no magician, only an engineer.

But at the back of Porsche’s mind, although he was now very much engaged in the racing-car project for Auto-Union and much of his time was taken up with his patents regarding trailing arm torsion bar suspension, there was still this problem " Volkswagen." He did not want to devote any more time to a project which in the end might turn out to be nothing but a politician’s dream. On the other hand, he was interested if it were at all possible to sell the car at the figure suggested. The all-steel body which he would choose was the cheapest to produce once the necessary tools were available. The chassis was of the platform type and again a cheap sheet-metal construction. The wheel suspension front and back was by torsion bars, and there was no cheaper suspension. Nothing could be reduced as far as tyres, wheels and brakes were concerned. The interior figments of the car were the plainest he could think of. Then there was the engine, simple again and air-cooled as requested. But was it necessary to employ a four-cylinder four-stroke engine, would not a two-cylinder, two-stroke engine do? A two-stroke engine would be cheaper as there would be no expensive valve gear, camshaft drive, camshaft, push-rods, rocker-arms, valves, etc.. But then the general performance characteristic of a two-stroke engine is so much different fro-.n a four-stroke engine. In any case he was not a particular believer in two-stroke engines, they would not stand up to the wear and tear of a similar sized four-stroke engine. A two-stroke is not self-retarding, unlike a four-stroke engine. This would mean that if a two-stroke engine were employed, larger brakes would be needed. In Germany there are plenty of mountains, and the brakes which he had chosen, together with the braking action of the four-stroke engine, were just sufficient for the steepest mountain roads. If he was to use a two-stroke engine, larger and more expensive brakes would be absolutely necessary. No, as far as he was concerned a two-stroke engine was-out. In any case he had plenty of problems with other projects and why spend time on something which could only materialize as a politician’s dream?

Weeks went by and Porsche heard nothing further about the idea; occasionally he would discuss some details with Rabe or Kales, but otherwise there was no news on the development of the matter and as far as Berlin was concerned the memorandum had certainly landed on some dusty shelf by now. Two months had passed since Porsche had seen the Minister of Transport-no, there was no news when he had phoned Berlin some two weeks before.

Then in the last week of May Werlin made an appointment with Porsche, he would be in Stuttgart the following day and he wanted to discuss some urgent matters, would Porsche be available on that afternoon? When that call came through, Porsche was busy observing some final test of the Auto-Union racing car, some hundreds of miles away in south-eastern Germany. Rabe, who took the call, had some idea what Werlin wanted to discuss with Porsche and he made certain that Porsche would be available, irrespective of the importance of the tests.

Werlin arrived shortly after Porsche returned, tired from the long journey, but he soon forgot all about that. " My dear Dr. Porsche," Werlin started, " what I have to tell you is very confidential, in fact I was only speaking about the matter with Hitler two days ago. You will shortly receive an official order to proceed with the development of the Volkswagen. This order will not come from the Ministry of Transport but from the Society of German Automobile Manufacturers. Do not be surprised, Dr. Porsche, but you see, Hitler has come to the conclusion that such a car could be produced at the price he suggested, if various automobile manufacturers were to supply certain components. But this is only a mere detail which will be left to administrative advisers and all you will have to do is to produce the required prototypes as fast as possible. As far as you are concerned, you don’t know anything about what I have just told you." Werlin’s visit did not last long, he asked a few leading questions about the Auto-Union racing car, but Porsche knew how to deal with such questions. He would always reply, but the questioner would never get any wiser. The racing cars were Porsche’s favourite subjects, especially as the tests had just proved that his trailing arm suspension was doing its job at the high speeds of which a racing car was capable. Stuck, the famous racing-driver, had told him only two weeks previously, after winning the German Grand Prix with the first Auto-Union to be built, ahead of Fagioli on a Mercedes and Chiron on a Talbot, that it was the trailing arm suspension and the rear engine which gave the vehicle such excellent road-holding. Better, in fact, than any he had ever experienced before on any other racing car. These superb road-holding characteristics enabled him not only to win, but also to do the fastest lap of the day. What triumph and success for Porsche and his team! Twelve months before, the car was nothing but lines on white paper, in fact it was only tested on January 12th for the first time. Now Porsche had made some modifications and was keeping a watchful eye on tests in preparation for the forthcoming Swiss Grand Prix. As far as he was concerned he was determined to give Mercedes a run for their money, irrespective of his association with Werlin. Porsche thought at that time that Werlin was trying to tie him up so much with the Volkswagen project that he would not be able to devote any time to Auto-Union. But Werlin did not know Porsche; quick work and plenty of it was just what he was used to all his life and the number of different projects never worried him, he disliked only those projects which could not be finished because other people concerned would not make up their minds.

It was in the first week of June that Porsche received a letter from Herr Allmers, the Director of the Society of German Automobile Manufacturers, saying that the Minister of Transport had instructed him to make further arrangements in connection with the development of a Volkswagen. Time was an important factor and it made it necessary to discuss matters at an early date. Most of the third week of June Porsche spent in conference with Herr Allmers at the offices of the Society at Frankfurt-am-Main. There were many points arising out of the contract which Porsche was asked to sign. The Ministry of Transport after receiving Porsche’s memorandum certainly treated it with bureaucratic thoroughness, in the way only ministry officials are capable. A few sheets of type-written matter and five drawings within not quite five months had become three hefty files, and within those last few weeks some of Herr Allmers’ equally bureaucratic staff showed their capabilities not only by preparing a lengthy and very involved contract, but also an endless number of notes on points which had to be discussed at those meetings.

Porsche, who knew Herr Allmers casually, and then only from meeting him at social functions, had never previously met him in a business capacity. Through Porsche’s many opportunities during his career, meeting people in various walks of life and of many nationalities, he was able to weigh up people closely, but he never claimed any abilities of judging people accurately within a short time. There was something in Herr Allmers which made him wonder. No doubt he had a pleasing, somewhat forceful personality, he was also efficient to the last degree and highly thought of by people in the industry. Porsche could not help noting that he was also an experienced negotiator, but there was something which made him wonder if Herr Allmers was really interested in the Volkswagen project. After all, he should have been, for it would help solve employment problems in the industry which he was representing. Some firms in the automobile industry had experienced a very slack period in the last few months, and the number of unemployed in the industry already caused some concern. But Herr Allmers took a detached interest in the matter, at least he showed this attitude many times during the discussions which now took place; all he seemed to be interested in was to conclude the negotiations as quickly as possible and obtain Porsche’s signature on the contract.

To Porsche this contract seemed to contain clauses which gave him very little latitude; after all, if one were to develop something new, one could not foresee all the problems and difficulties to be encountered, and it was almost impossible to agree to a date when the entire development, including prototype tests, had sufficiently far advanced that production could start. Between the last prototype test and the final production drawing there are usually a number of problems to solve which are just as involved as the original development work. Now, according to the contract, Herr Allmers wanted him to have the first prototype car completed within ten months-yes, ten months! How Porsche was going to do this would be his own affair, he was only concerned with concluding a contract. Then there was the clause that the actual production cost of a vehicle was not to exceed 900 Marks, supposing a series of 50,000 vehicles to be produced. This was just outrageous to Porsche: there was Henry Ford’s own industrial empire, building never less than 1,000,000 vehicles of a particular type at a net cost equivalent to nearly 2,640 Marks, and he was not only to develop a design of a car to be produced at 900 Marks, but he was also to sign a document guaranteeing that this figure would not be exceeded.

He had developed plenty of vehicles in his career, he had also signed plenty of contracts in connection with special development work, but he would never have thought that someone could draw up a contract like this and ask an engineer to sign it. He had no objection to those figures in the contract, perhaps one day they might not be impossible to achieve, but what he objected to were clauses which did not permit the slightest variation from the figures mentioned.

He knew that there was only a budget of 200,000 Marks, not quite 10,000, available to him to produce the three prototypes required. He was willing to take this risk, but he was not prepared to sign a document which would make him a charlatan in the eyes of his professional colleagues.

The meetings discussing and amending clauses of the agreement dragged on the best part of a week. Then on June 22, 1934, the contract became acceptable to both parties concerned. Herr Allmers signed on behalf of the Society of German Motor Manufacturers, as the official sponsors of the Volkswagen development project, and Porsche signed as the consultant whose practice was to furnish the designs and prototypes.

This document may one day be regarded as one of the most interesting in the history of the automobile, but to both parties concerned it was nothing but a fantastic and very doubtful scheme. There was no clause saying that the car was to be produced and sold eventually. It was just the official order, not from the German Government as one might assume, but only from the Society representing the German automobile industry, to develop a "Volkswagen."


End of excerpt

2002 Robert Bentley, Inc. We encourage visitors to link to this page if you’d like to share this information with others. Please do not copy this excerpt to other web sites. It is protected by copyright and represents significant resource investment by Bentley Publishers.