Countering Porsche’s Hybrid Primacy

Turns out, Ferdinand Porsche only built one -- and it was far from the first

by | Sep 6, 2019 | Journals

Photo Credit: Ludvigsen Partners

Countering Porsche’s Hybrid Primacy

Turns out, Ferdinand Porsche only built one -- and it was far from the first

by | Sep 6, 2019 | Journals

Photo Credit: Ludvigsen Partners

In the early years of the automobile, electric cars were very much in style. Buyers appreciated their painless starting, smooth power delivery, quietness, and the fact that they never had to worry about where and when to buy fuel.

Not surprisingly, some inventive engineers thought of providing an engine that could top up an electric cars battery supply when needed. In fact, Londons Herbert John Dowsing applied for a patent on the interconnection of a vehicles engine with a motive-power battery and dynamo motor that fulfilled all the functions of what we now call a parallel hybrid all the way back on May 19, 1896.

Herbert John Dowsings Dynamotor

Dowsing, who patented prolifically from 1893 to 1915, specialized in electrical devices, several of which were for automobiles. His hybrid as we would call it today patent was not just a paper exercise. He was the owner of an 1896 Arnold Motor Carriage, the first of a dozen built on Benz lines by William Arnold and Sons, Agricultural Engineers. In that very year Dowsing equipped it with his apparatus for the production, storage and utilization of electricity in connection with vehicles driven by mechanical means, particularly applicable to motor cars.

His description of the device was as follows:

An electric generator or dynamo of the continuous current type is fixed on the vehicle and properly geared to the engine, so that the surplus power given off from the engine when driving the vehicle is utilized in driving the dynamo, the current so produced being stored in a secondary battery provided for the purpose.

The connections between the dynamo and battery can be so arranged that when the speed of the machine falls below the normal and electricity is produced at a lower pressure than that of the storage battery, the current from the battery flows through the machine which then becomes an electro motor producing mechanical power.

Automatic contrivances can be employed for making or breaking connection according to the varying speed or current and these may be worked by electromagnetic or mechanical means.

In his patent, Dowsing gave examples of such automatic contrivances, showing the depth to which he had elaborated his invention. As an example of its abilities he remarked that in dense traffic of streets like Cheapside it might be preferable to shut off the petrol engine and drive on the electric motor alone.

While Herbert Dowsings Arnold survived, only bolt holes marked the location of its pioneering dynamotor. Nevertheless, adequate evidence remained to verify the inventors role as builder and operator of the first hybrid automobile.

Less than a year later, on February 26, 1897, Ludwig Epstein of London applied for a patent on a configuration that was illustrated in the form of a practical machine. This used an engine to drive the motor/dynamo to charge a vehicles batteries while at rest. The engine could then be disengaged so the motor could provide propulsion. If needed, the engines output could be shifted into the cars gearing to give supplementary thrust in the manner of a parallel hybrid.

The Munson Machines

Based on earlier tramcar designs, Chicagos W. H. Patton built vehicles in 1898-99 that drove their wheels by an electric motor powered by batteries that were charged by an on-board gasoline engine and generator series hybrids. On May 16, 1898, John Henry Munson of the Munson Company of La Porte, Indiana applied for a patent on the control network of a workable gasoline-electric system which he was introducing in production for two sizes of passenger car and a one-and-a-half-ton delivery vehicle.

In Munsons machines a two- or four-cylinder gasoline engine drove what Munson called the electric machine. According to the speed of the engine, this automatically operated either as a generator or a motor, the armature or revolving element of the electric machine serving as the engines flywheel. These being slow-speed units, operating between 250 to 500 rpm, they were carried under the vehicle on a frame between the front and rear axles. The storage cells were in a box beneath the seats.

One object of my invention, said John Munson in his patent, is to provide and so equip an electric-motor vehicle that the same will be capable of replenishing or recharging its batteries during the hours that the battery is in actual use, my particular object being to furnish the purchaser of a motor-vehicle with a machine that need never be taken to a storage station and which may be kept in perfect working order and condition and at its full strength or efficiency at any place or in any part of the city or country. In other words a Semper Vivusalways alive.

Henri Piepers hybrid vehicle of 1898-99 had its air-cooled engine at the front and its electric motor amidships in an unsprung chassis. Curving leaf springs carried its body.


The Collier AutoMedia Inside Track

Inspiring stories and market insight on exceptional automobiles - delivered to your inbox weekly.

European Competition

Belgium had its own hybrid contenders. A sophisticated mixed-system vehicle was exhibited in Paris in 1899 by Liges SA des tablissments Pieper. Its German-born founder Henri Pieper, who had built the firm into a leading producer of handguns and rifles, died in 1898. In 1889 he had shared with his son of the same name the creation of the Compagnie Internationale dElectricit in which the younger Pieper developed electrical systems and components that were widely adopted.

In 1898-99 Henri Pieper designed, built, displayed and demonstrated a light car with a vertical air-cooled single-cylinder engine at its front which drove into a dynamo/motor at the center of an unsprung chassis. From there a shaft to a ring and pinion powered the rear axle with its larger wheels. The body, with its storage batteries, was carried by leaf springs above this chassis. This was an authentic hybrid that drew wide appreciation contemporaneously with Lohner and its one-off Porsche-designed hybrid.

1900 Lohner Porsche Photo Credit: Porsche

1900 Lohner Porsche Photo Credit: Porsche

1900 Lohner Porsche

Taking up the appealing Pieper concept, engineer Thodore Pescatore played a key role in the 1905 formation of lAuto-Mixte SA at Herstal near Lige to manufacture parallel hybrids for sale as automobiles and commercial vehicles. Patents on their vehicles were taken out in the name of Henri Pieper. Thus did Belgiums Auto-Mixte manufacture true hybrids that used the term mixte to characterize its products as did Lohner for the electric-transmission cars (not hybrids) it was producing to Ferdinand Porsches designs.

Auto-Mixte had its first products ready for the auto shows of 1905, attracting Maurice Bolland who joined the company as a designer. Its products found acceptance in Belgium while its patents were licensed to companies in Britain, France and Italy. In 1912, however, the decision was made to wind-down Auto-Mixte after it had put numerous hybrids on the road. The company continued at Herstal as a maker of conventional vehicles in the name of Thodore Pescatore.

The Porsche-Lohner Hybrid

Similar ideas were in the minds of Ferdinand Porsche and his backer Ludwig Lohner, as readers of Viennas AAZ were aware. In the February 25, 1900 issue, the inventor and entrepreneur told the publication that they were not satisfied with the range of their first electric car and wanted to supply the vehicle with a portable charging station, which would enable it to generate so much fresh current during the journey that it could cover 95 miles. After a record-setting climb of the Semmering road in September, Ferdinand Porsche finally had time to build such a vehicle. He used the chassis of his Semmering racer as the basis of its design.

Behind its front seats Porsche installed two three-and-a-half-horsepower single-cylinder de Dion engines from Lohners extensive inventory of past experiments. Each drove a generator and a pump that delivered its cooling water to a gilled-tube radiator alongside the former racers frontal prow. To compensate for the added 595-pound weight of this charging station, plus its 220 pounds of full fuel and water tanks, Porsche cut the battery-cell count back by 30 to 44. Thus his self-charging vehicle, now fitted with a proper rear seat, at 2,650 pounds weighed little more than the same machine in all-electric racing form.

Each gasoline engine operated completely independently in all its equipment and interconnections to the batteries and motors, delivering a current of 20 amperes at 90 volts. The generators output was fed directly to the front-wheel motors unless it wasnt required, in which case it was diverted to the batteries. The latter then were switched into the circuit to augment the output of the generators when required, for example on upgrades. An appealing feature of the layout was that the generators were operated in reverse as motors to start the de Dion engines.

Named Semper Vivus to reflect its always alive capability, with its lack of rear suspension and its exposed booster engines this was only a breadboard layout of the kind of vehicle Porsche had in mind. His mind had already raced ahead to new families of motor-wheels and new ways of powering them. By the time Semper Vivus was displayed at the 1901 Paris Salon, together with a Lohner-Porsche electric car and fire truck, it was all but forgotten by its creator.

The test cars success in providing a link between a petrol engine and electric road wheels opened new horizons for both Porsche and Lohner. But it led them away from the hybrid. Instead they produced vehicles they called Mixte which in effect had electric transmissions, engine-driven generator driving electric wheel motors, with no significant battery-energy storage.

Ferdinand Porsche did build one hybrid. It was not the worlds first, but it was certainly his last.

More from Auto Biographies


Sign Up for the Inside Track

Receive our latest car biographies, market insights and coverage of exceptional automobiles delivered to your inbox weekly.


Additional Interests

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest