Prof. Ferdinand Porsche developed the world's first hybrid car, advanced electric car, and all-wheel drive car a century ago, and now Porsche brings a recreation of his Semper Vivus to New York.
Porsche’s Semper Vivus (Always Alive) recreation is a tribute to Prof. Porsche’s visionary invention. The fully functional Semper Vivus replica, based on original drawings and exhaustive research, is a collaborative effort between Porsche Engineering and Karosseriebau Drescher, a coachbuilding company based in Hinterzarten in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. This beautiful replica, whose visionary design impresses to this very day, is on display at the New York Auto Show press day on April 20, 2011.
Prof. Ferdinand Porsche was busy designing and developing his cars as early as 1896. The first fruit of his endeavors was an electric vehicle known as the Lohner-Porsche. It was driven by steered wheel-hub motors, and it caused a sensation at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900. This was soon followed by an even more impressive example of Prof. Porsche innovative spirit. A racing car boasting four wheel-hub electric motors became the world’s first all-wheel drive passenger car and marked the automotive engineering debut of four-wheel brakes. No less visionary was Prof. Porsche’s next idea; in 1900 he combined his battery-powered wheel hub drive with a petrol engine, thus creating the serial hybrid drive principle.
Prof. Porsche had entered uncharted territory with the Semper Vivus, the world’s first functional, full-hybrid car. In this vehicle, two generators paired with petrol engines formed a single charging unit, simultaneously supplying electricity to wheel-hub motors and batteries. In Fall of 1900, Prof. Porsche set to work on a first prototype with petrol-electric hybrid drive. Presumably he based the world’s full hybrid car on a conversion of his electric racing vehicle from the Semmering-Bergrennen race. He combined his electrical wheel-hub motors with two combustion engines and no mechanical connection whatsoever to a drive axle. Instead, they each drove an electric generator supplying both the wheel-hub motors and accumulators with electricity. This was the birth of serial hybrid drive. As a full hybrid concept, the Semper Vivus was also able to cover longer distances purely on battery power until the combustion engine had to be engaged to recharge the batteries.
To save weight and create room for a petrol engine, Prof. Porsche swapped the original 74-cell accumulator in his electromobiles for a smaller battery with only 44 cells. In the middle of the vehicle he installed two water-cooled 3.5 PS (2.6 kW) DeDion Bouton petrol engines -- driving two generators to create electricity -- each producing 2.5 hp (1.84 kW). Both engines operated independently, each delivering 20 amperes with a voltage of 90 volts. The electricity generated by the dynamos initially flowed to the wheel-hub motors, with the surplus power being sent on to the batteries. An added bonus was that it was also possible to use the generators as electric starter motors for the petrol engines by reversing the direction of rotation.
The reincarnation of the Semper Vivus (Always Alive)
In November 2007 the Porsche Museum embarked on one of the most interesting and challenging projects in its history: the construction of a faithful replica of the 1900 Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus. Even 111 years after its invention, building the world’s first functioning hybrid car was a great challenge for all. 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. As with a number of racing car projects, the aluminum body of the Porsche Type 64 museum exhibit originates from the Hinterzarten coachbuilder workshop, as well.
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 Prof. 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.
When it came to selecting materials, coachbuilder Drescher took his inspiration, among other sources, from coaches and carriages from the dawn of the 20th Century. This required the assistance of experienced suppliers who were entrusted with the manufacturing of the special materials. The fully functioning Semper Vivus replica, which took approximately three years to build, does not solely include replica components. For example, it was possible to fit some original components including combustion engines.
Today, Prof. Ferdinand 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. You can see the spirit of Hybrid/Electric/AWD carsliving in Porsche 918 Spyder.