At Press Days for this year’s New York International Auto Show, Porsche revealed the Panamera S Hybrid. A sensational car in its own right, yet hardly a new concept for the storied German manufacturer. You see, Professor Ferdinand Porsche created the first functional hybrid vehicle The Lohner-Porsche, 111 years ago. Dubbed the “Semper Vivus” (always alive) it was an electric car with wheel-hub motors driving the front wheels. Soon after, this car featured all-wheel drive and four-wheel brakes, another world first.
At a special party to herald the 2012 Panamera S Hybrid and Porsche’s hybrid efforts in total, the Semper Vivus was on display, and actually started and drove into position. The model we witnessed is a recreation of the original, which was lost during WWII.
In November 2007, the Porsche Museum embarked on the construction of the replica shown in New York. Even 111 years after its invention, rebuilding the world’s first functioning hybrid car was a great challenge for Porsche. Ultimately it was not just about an extreme attention to visual details but also achieving the same performance as the original. The Porsche Museum entrusted the workmanship to a team of experts led by coachbuilder Hubert Drescher, who had already proven his competence in numerous difficult restoration projects.
To recreate the car, exhaustive research in various archives the across Europe was the first step. The outcome was a handful of black-and-white photos and an original technical drawing serving as the project’s foundation. As with Professor Porsche, the Semper Vivus replica initially began as a blank sheet of paper. This meant that in addition to a good deal of imagination, the project required extensive research and calculations in order to be faithfully recreate an accurate and working likeness of the electric wheel-hub motor. Since no specifications or other helpful records had survived, experts initially created ready reckoners and design drawings on graph paper in the time-honored fashion. This involved the painstaking study and laborious measurement of photos and drawings. As there was no functioning wheel hub motor in existence, technical details such as performance and range had to be resurrected and calculated from scratch.
Today, Professor Porsche’s innovative spirit lives on at Porsche AG’s Research and Development Center in Weissach, Germany where the company is applying its engineering strength to develop various hybrid systems. Porsche’s first production hybrid, the 2011 Cayenne S Hybrid SUV, uses the parallel full hybrid system that will be adapted for use in the Panamera S Hybrid that goes on sale later this year with a MSRP of $95,000. Porsche engineers are also developing the 911 GT3 R Hybrid racecar for further competition while continuing work on the 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid super sports car the company first showed at the Geneva Auto Show in 2010, and again at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, 2011.