With the Porsche Taycan finally making its way to customers, we thought it worth looking back and remembering Porsche’s first battery-electric car. In this case, that means all the way back to 1898 and the Egger-Lohner electric vehicle, C.2 Phaeton model. Thankfully, Porsche himself referred to the car simply as the P1.
As a young man, Ferdinand Porsche was fascinated by electricity and chose not to follow in the footsteps of his small-town tinsmith father. In 1893 he moved to Vienna at the age of 18 to begin an apprenticeship at electrical firm Bela Egger & Co. while simultaneously enrolling as a student at the Imperial Technical University in Reichenberg.
This ambition and hard work paid off, as he was given a management position at Egger & Co. within just a few years of starting as an apprentice. Now the head of the company’s testing department, 1897 was a milestone year for Mr. Porsche: he built an electric wheel-hub motor; he met with carriage manufacturer Jacob Lohner & Co.; and he began working on an electric car. Ferdinand Porsche was still just 22 years old.
As a collaboration between electrical firm Bela Egger & Co. and Jacob Lohner & Co., the Egger-Lohner electric vehicle, the C.2 Phaeton model, was a novel merging of two worlds into the newly created world of automobiles. The Lohner firm thought that electric cars would be particularly marketable, given their lack of noise and exhaust fumes. They commissioned Porsche to design and create the electric drivetrain, while they handled the chassis and body work.
The very first Porsche car?
The result, which debuted on the streets of Vienna on June 26, 1898, was the P1. It is prescient that Porsche had the confidence and ambition to nickname the car the P1, trusting in himself that there would be more Porsche cars to come. It was Porsche’s first car, and it was also among the first vehicles registered in Austria when it debuted on the streets of Vienna on June 26, 1898.
The P1 itself was quite a machine—for the time and today as well. Foregoing Porsche’s new wheel-hub motor, the P1 employed a rear-mounted drive unit. That’s right, the first car that Porsche designed and built had its motor in the back! Mr. Porsche’s “octagonal electric motor”—so named because of its housing shape—weighed in at 287lbs (130kg) and produced a bracing 3hp (2.2kW).
With only that single-digit power, 1,100lbs (500kg) of batteries and another 1,897lbs (860kg) of vehicle to move around (that’s a total vehicle weight of 2,997lbs/1,359kg for those counting at home), the top speed of the P1 was 21mph (34km/h). However, just like the modern Taycan, the P1 had an “overboost” function that pulled a full 5hp (3.7kW) out of the engine for dealing with steep inclines.
The similarities don’t end there, either. Like the Taycan, the P1 did not use a single gear like most modern EVs. Instead, it sported a 12-speed controller that put power to wheels. Six of those 12 speeds were for forward control, two were actually reverse, and four acted as brakes. If not driven at top speed, the maximum range of the P1 was a robust 50 miles (80km)—farther than many gasoline-powered prototypes of the day.
Porsche wins his first-ever race
The first Porsche also won its first race, beginning the pedigree way back in September 1899. The event was a 24-mile race in Berlin meant as an international exhibition of 19 electric vehicle manufacturers, and the P1 won it handily by a full 18 minutes. Mr. Porsche himself drove the race along with three passengers (as required by the rules), and he successfully navigated gradients, high-speed sections, and an efficiency test. More than half of his competitors failed to even reach the finish line, and others were disqualified by their failure to maintain the minimum speed requirement. The P1 won not only the race outright, but also the top place for efficiency by consuming the least energy while in urban traffic.
Four P1s were made during this time, after which he joined Lohner as chief designer and went on to create the Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus, which is now recognized as the world’s first hybrid car, one we’ve featured on the site in the past. The Semper Vivus, naturally, was also raced by Porsche himself. It would seem you could not keep the man, or his cars (all 122 years of them), away from racing. Taycan, you’re up next.
Listing image by Porsche