1930s / Editorial / German / Porsche / Volkswagen

Porsche Designs: Project 12 to Type 32

Project 12 had been an ongoing endeavor at the new Porsche company nearly from the start, although there was no commission for it. Ferdinand Porsche had already drafted his own criteria for how the vehicle should be designed, with an emphasis on affordability (including ease of manufacture), efficiency, and practicality. These considerations led Porsche to abandon a traditional box-like body mounted on frame as was, and remained for decades, the standard of the auto industry. In the interest of efficiency, the use of an aerodynamic body was key. Furthermore, for structural integrity as well as light-weight, a chassis integrating the body with a “back-bone” was decided upon. The shape of this car would have to be both streamlined as well as rigid.

Interestingly, the first large contract that the new Porsche firm received (designated as Project 7), was for a series of small displacement cars for Wanderer. Of these, a single prototype for an aerodynamic coupe was produced. It should be noted that Porsche had often consulted with Hans Ledwinka; designer for the Czech firm Tatra, and somewhat tellingly, aerodynamics were prominent in contemporary Tatra designs. Ferdinand Porsche kept the Wanderer prototype for his personal use, and the shape of the streamlined tail section was applied directly to the small car project. This rounded back would become a signature feature of all the prototypes for Project 12.

Ferdinand Porsche’s personal one-off Wanderer prototype

Amidst the worldwide economic depression, Project 12 progressed within the company and Porsche began to seek financial support for further development and production of the vehicle. The first functional prototypes for the small car were produced in conjunction with the German motorcycle manufacturer Zundapp in 1932. They bore an uncanny similarity to the Wanderer prototype, looking very much like a scaled-down version of the same car. Unfortunately, Zundapp lost interest after early testing. Porsche was allowed to keep all the development work done with Zundapp and, shortly thereafter, he approached another motorcycle company, NSU.

Porsche Zundapp Type 12

With NSU, further prototypes were produced. This styling of this evolution of the small car design is attributed to Erwin Komenda, though clearly under the direction of Ferdinand Porsche. Again, the retained the rounded back of the Zundapps, but this time, the front was rounded as well. This feature was allowed by the use of an air-cooled, horizontally-opposed engine at the rear, instead of the rather bizarre water-cooled radial engine used at Zundapp’s request. The absence of a radiator meant that there did not need to be a grille and airflow could be directed more easily over the hood. With this feature, Ledwinka’s designs at Tatra bore an even more striking resemblance, particularly to the Tatra V570 and subsequent models. As for Porsche’s vehicle, eventually, a contract between NSU and Fiat halted development of the car – now known as the Type 32. However, Porsche had again managed to further develop and refine the design.

Above: Tatra V570. Below: Porsche Type 32.

2 thoughts on “Porsche Designs: Project 12 to Type 32

    • In my opinion, perhaps the most influential vehicle in the lineage leading to the 356 was the KdF “Berlin-Rome” car… it’ll be coming up in a future installment on Porsche designs. (This is part of an ongoing series) That car seems to be the one that really bridged the gap from the final Type 1 form to 356.

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