356 Designer Komenda with Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche and the first Porsche 356; 1948

Life in Gmünd was dominated by poverty and isolation.  The engineers lived in wooden huts, which they humorously named villas.  Despite many sacrifices and difficulties, the Porsche team spent the first years of peace in good spirits.  

 

 

The entire aluminum body of the very first Porsche sports car was hand beaten over a wooden buck. Here Erwin Komenda is discussing the buck with Otto Huslein. 

The first built After-war passenger car. Erwin Komenda’s bodywork for the Porsche 356-001 was that of an open-topped Roadster;  stream-lined and sporty. On the 8th of January 1948, the construction management department of the Carinthian regional government inspected the Porsche 356-001 and  issued a single permit without any particular conditions.  The first open-topped Porsche 356 was given the number K 45.286. 

 

 

Komenda Patent invention: Motor vehicle body construction

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In-house memorandum regarding the manufacturing costs of the Porsche 356 in Germany.  The memorandum was received by Professor Porsche, Ferry Porsche, Dr Piech, authorised company representative Hans Kern and Erwin Komenda.  At that time, these men had to decide where Porsche should set up business in Germany.  There were three options to choose from: Drauz in Heilbronn, Reutter in Stuttgart and Binz in Lorch, in Württemberg. Initially, it was thought that 500 Porsche 356 sports cars could be produced per year; a monthly rate of 40 cars.

 

 Painting by Michael Jekot; Acrylic on canvas, titled "Das War Der Anfang". 

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PORSCHE 356

 

Everyday life for the Porsche team become more difficult following the end of the war.  Zell am See, Porsche’s main place of residence, was located in the American zone and Gmünd fell into the area controlled by the British.  The Porsche construction office in Stuttgart was also in a zone occupied by the Americans, who brought in Karl Kirn to manage Porsche’s assets there.

The shock of Porsche’s imprisonment and the economic depression cast gloom on the design team, who remained in Carinthia.  The Morgenthau plan, named after the American finance minister, intended that German industry be completely scrapped and that Germany should be changed into a purely agrarian country.  The end of the design office appeared to have arrived.  One officer from the occupying forces of the time commented, “If Professor Porsche had been a shoemaker, then he would have certainly worked again.  However, he will definitely never build cars again.”  

The period of occupation was marked by the military authorities’ suspicion.  Every design drawing had to be submitted to the British authorities in Klagenfurt to be examined, in order to prove that new, secret weapons were not being designed by the engineers. In May 1945 Obering. Karl Rabe was forbidden from carrying out any further design work.  And there was still worse to come. Following the end of the Second World War, the country was subjected to the denazification process.  As a result Komenda, Ferry Porsche and other engineers found themselves in the American internment camp at Glasenbach.  Liberation followed extensive questioning of the Porsche development engineers who were found to have spotless records.  Shortly afterwards however the male members of Porsche’s family became French prisoners of war.  

The remaining, hastily thrown together members of the Porsche team developed automobile legends such as the Cisitalia racing car, the Porsche 370 four-seater and the legendary Porsche 356.  Komenda designed the bodywork of the Porsche 356, the form of which met with a very positive public response.  

In November 1946, in Gmünd, Erwin Komenda’s ideas for a sports car, whose the manufacturing process would be cheaper, were committed to paper.  He sketched a articulate design for a 2 seater sports coupé, which at that time was without a name.  The technical features of the car, such as the engine, gearbox, brakes, wheel suspension and the form of the bodywork, came very close to those of the Porsche 356, appeared later.

Officially, the Porsche 356 project began on the 11th of June 1947.  As a result of information already available, provisional bodywork structures and frames were completed by the 17th of July 1947.  Only a few people knew that Erwin Komenda began design work on the Porsche 356 coupé and convertible at the same time.  

Komenda's design studies for the prototype of the open-topped Porsche 356-001 was a sports car built from many VW parts, with low bedded aluminium bodywork which had graceful, soft contours. Many technical inventions for the Beetle and for the Porsche 356 resulted in patent applications Komenda also took charge of the calculations for the construction of the Porsche 356 bodywork.

During the winter of 1948/49, production in Gmünd was slow and irregular.  Major difficulties of the post-war period were the procurement of materials, the prevailing lack of tools and restricted mobility due to occupation.  The project in Gmünd was never profitable, therefore other companies were given the vehicle manufacturing contracts.  In addition to the Swiss company Beuttler, bodywork construction companies Keibl in Vienna’s Landstraße district, Tatra in the Simmering district of Vienna and Kastenhofer in Margareten in Vienna built the first Porsche 356.  All of the companies were given the design plans as well as raw materials, which included the chassis with front section and accessory parts, for assembly manufacture.  The creation of the first model of the Porsche 356 by five different companies demand a great deal from Erwin Komenda, who held the central role in the design and manufacturing department.  During the post-war years, Komenda travelled to Switzerland many time, in order to supervise the production of the Porsche 356 bodywork.

Soon Komenda’s influence reached far beyond the German and Austrian borders.  In 1947 he worked for Cisitalia in Turin, Italy.  He repeatedly travelled to Switzerland to deal with the production of the Porsche 356 there.  In 1949 there were problems in the Volkswagen construction office in Wolfsburg.  After the completion of a consultation contract between Porsche and Volkswagen, Komenda was summoned to the Volkswagen development department in Wolfsburg for one year.  Komenda also spent time professionally in the United States, in 1952 and 1953 he worked on development contracts in Great Britain and he even travelled to China for professional reasons. 

In 1949, when Professor Porsche was allowed to enter Germany again, the family applied for the return of the occupied areas of their company for the first time. During the post-war period, the American military had used Porsche’s premises to produce engines for US army vehicles.

Thus, in early 1949, three comparative tenders for the planned production of the Porsche 356 in Germany were received in Gmünd. These tenders were from Reutter in Stuttgart, Druaz KG in Heilbronn and from Binz & Co in Lorch.  Initially, it was thought that 500 Porsche 356 sports cars could be produced per year; a monthly rate of 40 cars.

Although in price, Reutter’s tender fell between the two others, they were awarded the contract.  A business deal was established.  Unnecessary transport costs were saved thanks to Reutter’s premises being located right next to Porsche’s.  Additionally, Reutter had prove to be a good business partner over the years.  Once, Reutter had produced Komenda's Wanderer’s stream-lined coupé, the Zündapp and NSU prototypes, the KdF model from the VW 38 series and the 3 pre-prototypes for the Porsche 60 K 10.  Moreover, Reutter had a large premises at their disposal, which Porsche could rent if required.  In 1963, Porsche finally bought up Reutter’s no. II premises.  Following that, the manufacture of Recaro sports seats was the only work which continued to be done by Reutter in Stuttgart’s Augustenstraße.

In 1950, with the beginning of the Porsche 356 production in Stuttgart, the engineers returned from Carinthia.  Porsche acquired a 200m2 wooden barrack buildings for temporary accommodation of the construction department. 

On Maundy Thursday in 1950, a dream became reality: the first pale grey painted Porsche 356 left the Reutter plant in Stuttgart.

 
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