No automotive historian manages to get closer to his subjects than Karl Ludvigsen. With nearly 50 titles to his credit, and written and edited from the perspective of a longtime automobile company executive (GM, Fiat, and Ford, among others) and all-around student of the industry, Ludvigsen’s scope is grand, his lens focused, and his ability to distill essential information acute.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Ludvigsen’s historical biography Ferdinand Porsche: Genesis of Genius. The book was produced by Bentley Publishers in 2008, and while not new, in its nearly 500 pages this big volume remains timeless.
The book’s subtitle hints at what’s in store for readers: Road, Racing and Aviation Innovation 1900 to 1933. These are early days then, a period of mechanical experimentation that predates the machinery the world has come to recognize as unmistakably “Porsche.” Plenty of writers—Ludvigsen among them—have tackled the history of the Porsche marque. And that’s what makes this volume so refreshing. We are granted incredible access to the developing philosophy of an automotive pioneer at a time of great industrial achievements in Europe and elsewhere. There are hints along the way at what Porsche would achieve in the post-WWII years.
Readers are treated to Porsche’s earliest electric vehicles, including his first race car, the 1900 Type J. There are the Semper Vivus gas-electric hybrids of the same era, and the Austro-Daimlers that carried his first Otto-cycle engines. A few chapters recognize Porsche’s contributions to World War I, including his work on airplane engines, while later chapters delve into his work on the Mercedes SS and SSK race cars, a brief stint at Steyr and the famed 16-cylinder Auto Union C-Type streamliners of the mid-1930s.
In addition to Ludvigsen’s well-researched prose, Genesis of Genius is loaded with rare black-and-white images from nearly every stage of Ferdinand Porsche’s early career, along with newspaper articles, period advertisements and copies of correspondence. These are complemented by a handful of lovely full-color cutaway engineering illustrations by technical artist Wolfgang Franke.
I’ve not encountered a more thorough account of Ferdinand Porsche’s early career in the automotive industry. It’s likely none exists. The blend of accessible history with advanced technical analysis is spot-on, and both fans of the marque and students of auto history alike should welcome this large, lofty book into their libraries. At less than $100, it offers plenty of pioneering German bang for the buck.
Buy it at amazon.com or direct from the publisher.