Erwin (left) with Ferry and Ferdinand Porsche and the first proper Porsche, the 356/1. Naturally, there’s a Beetle in the background
It’s Ferdinand Porsche who is generally credited with the birth of the Beetle. However, when any car is created, it’s far from just one person who does everything, and the
Volkswagen’s transition from idea to reality was a team effort, with Ferdinand as the figurehead. Equally as important in its development was the less well known Erwin Komenda, head of
body design at Porsche for over three decades, from 1931 to 1966.
Born in Weyer, Austria in April 1904, Erwin’s education destined him for an engineering career, with studies at the local Technical Institute for Iron and Steel Work and a subsequent
coachbuilding course in Vienna. He stayed there to work as a draughtsman, designing tools and cars, from 1920.
The year of 1926 proved a pivotal one. He married Auguste Eugenie Hauptmann, their son (also called Erwin), was born, and he took up a position with Steyr at its factory near his
home town. Before long, a new technical director by the name of Ferdinand Porsche joined Steyr and the two equally inventive automotive minds came together. For when Ferdinand
founded his own design consultancy company in Stuttgart in 1931, it was Erwin he headhunted to be his bodywork construction manager. By then, Erwin was chief engineer for
Daimler-Benz, a very highly-paid job, so jumping ship to the fledgling Porsche concern showed just how much faith he had in his old colleague.
” His basic styling would go on to be realised on 21,529,464 cars “
His early designs pointed the way to what would eventually become the Beetle, such as the rear-engined 1932 Porsche Type 12 for Zündapp (the first time the term ‘Volkswagen’ – people’s
car – was applied to a vehicle) and the similar-looking Type 32 for NSU. And just to prove he wasn’t only skilled at cars aimed at the masses, Erwin was also behind the
extraordinary Auto Union Silver Arrow Grand Prix race car. But both Erwin and Ferdinand’s dreams of a small, cheap car available to everybody meshed with the ideas of the governing
Third Reich, and when Ferdinand submitted his 1934 Exposé Regarding the Construction of a German Volkswagen to the Ministry of Transport, his firm was commissioned to bring it to
While other Porsche engineers worked out the mechanical details, Erwin concentrated on looks. As the NSU Type 32 was stillborn, he was free to refine this aerodynamic concept.
At this time, most cars were boxy and upright, so the curvaceous and streamlined appearance of the future Beetle was radical. Both saloon and convertible prototypes were completed,
the former having small slits instead of a rear window. Okay, some refinements were still needed…
But by January 1936, Erwin had come up with the definitive Beetle profile, including a rear window, headlamps integrated with the front wings and a rugged and rust-resistant ’shell.
With only a few further tweaks, his basic styling would go on to be realised on 21,529,464 cars. That’s quite some legacy.
Yet there was more to come. He also penned the 1939 Porsche 60 K 10, a sports car with similar looks to the Beetle, for the Berlin-Rome race. With a 95mph top speed, it was
also intended to shine some of its glory on the less rapid Volkswagen it was based on. During the war, he came up with the Schwimmwagen and Kübelwagen – somewhat reluctantly, as he
was no fan of the Third Reich – and a way of powering vehicles by gas made from burning wood. Immediately after the conflict, he was briefly imprisoned by the Americans, but then
resumed his work with Porsche (albeit with spells in Italy, Switzerland, Great Britain and even China). The 356 and its assorted variations were down to him, as was the Porsche
badge itself. He also fashioned the 356’s successor, the 911 of 1963, despite finding himself marginalised by new blood at Porsche.
Erwin died on August 22 1966, leaving behind his wife, two children, over 100 patents and some of the best-loved car shapes there will ever be.
Read more at http://www.volksworld.com/blog/vw-icons/erwin-komenda-32388#M6xLrO5DFDpO3dh6.99