Ferdinand Porsche at the wheel of his 1900 La Presque Contente electric car

29.05.20 Liveryman David Burgess-Wise

Porsche’s first electric cars

Pictured above: The 1907 Mercedes-Mixte hybrid racer with Porsche driving

Electric vehicles were a serious innovation in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were significant drawbacks not least of which was the weight of the lead-acid batteries, but the intention of creating a quiet means of transport was already in place.

In 1898, when he was 23, Ferdinand Porsche was hired by Ludwig Lohner of Vienna, coachbuilder to the Austrian Emperor, to design silent electric carriages. They proved a sadly flawed concept, hampered by the immense weight of batteries needed to give even marginally acceptable performance.

Ferdinand Porsche at the wheel of his 1900 La Presque Contente electric car

Porsche’s 1900 La Toujours Contente had electric motors in all four hubs, carried 60 lead-acid accumulators and scaled an awe-inspiring five tons, yet failed to complete the British Automobile Club’s Electric Vehicle Trials, in which it was entered by Porsche’s British agent, EW Hart of Luton. La Presque Contente, a second Porsche electric with rear-wheel drive by chains, was also entered for the trials by Hart but was not ready in time.

Next, Porsche patented a “Mixte” vehicle with a petrol engine driving a dynamo which supplied electric current to hub motors. In 1905 he joined Austro-Daimler, Mercedes’ Austrian subsidiary, as chief engineer, and in 1907 the company built two rear-drive Mercedes-Mixtes for the Kaiserpreis race.

Porsche tested the first 8-litre Mercedes-Mixte racer on the Semmering hill-climb course and found it capable of 80mph, but neither car got through the eliminating heats for the Kaiserpreis.

The Mixte transmission added a horrifying £660 premium to the £940 cost of a conventional 45 hp Mercedes, and the option was withdrawn from the catalogue in 1908. Porsche’s expensive hybrid transmission lived on in heavy military equipment like the 100 hp “Land-Train” used by Austria against the Italians in 1917, which had hub motors on every wheel of the huge tractor and its long string of trailers.