Discovered: The very first Porsche was an electric racer (and McLaren won’t be happy)

If you thought the revolutionary Porsche 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid was breaking entirely new ground for the company, you’d be wrong. Because, as it turns out, the first ever Porsche, dating from 1898, was pure electric.

The discovery of this historic car in an Austrian garage means that while the technologically astounding 918 Spyder is every bit as mind-blowing as we’re led to believe, it’s merely a return to form, of sorts.

The ‘Egger-Lohner electric vehicle, C.2 Phaeton model’, to give its full name, predates the first Porsche of popular opinion, the 1948 Type 365, by no less than half a century. It’s now, quite incredibly, been recovered after 116 years in its original and unrestored condition and will soon find a home as the centrepiece in the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart.

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The first Porsche harks from a time when you could drive your car up the garden path

Designed and built by Ferdinand Porsche, the Egger-Lohner electric vehicle underwent its first practical test at the Berlin international motor vehicle exhibition in 1899. Later that year it won a 40km race for electric vehicles with no less than three passengers on board, including Ferdinand himself behind the wheel.

No only did the Porsche finish 18 minutes ahead of its nearest competitor, but it also topped the efficiency test, recording the lowest energy consumption in urban traffic in what was probably a more realistic appraisal than modern NEDC tests. Porsche clearly offered little in the way of compromise, even in the nineteenth century.

While it wasn’t anywhere near as fast, the Egger-Lohner Porsche had a greater electric range than the 918 Spyder, and could (and presumably can still) travel 50 zero emissions miles. The compact electric motor delivered 3hp but could channel as much as 5hp in overboost mode. It weighed just 135kg and gave the now-antique electric car at top speed of 22mph.

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A draft blueprint shows the potential for interchangeable bodywork

Perhaps the greatest and most visionary part of the Egger-Lohner was its modular nature. The body could be changed atop the chassis, making the car either an open-air roadster or a more sporting coupé. At a push, you could argue that the ethos is not too dissimilar to that of the new Porsche 911 Targa unveiled at this year’s Detroit Motor Show, and perfect for Europe’s changing seasons.

Amusingly, the car’s nickname – it was dubbed ‘P1’ for short – will no doubt irk Porsche’s modern-day rival McLaren a little. The British company enthusiastically reminds us at every opportunity that the name of their latest plug-in hybrid supercar is firmly trademarked. Mclaren’s car is, of course, called the P1. Or rather P1™.

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The P1’s compact electric motor was good for 5hp at maximum attack

The P1 gets its official second unveiling this Friday, while members of the public will get to see it for the first time this century over the weekend. If you’re in Stuttgart, feel free to send us some more close-up pictures of this most holy environmental relic.

Posted by Richard Lane

Richard is a London-based automotive journalist specialising in future mobility and sustainable design. Having fallen for cars because of the virtues of a particular German flat-six, it's what we'll all be driving next that now interests Richard most. Dream garage: Alfa Romeo GT 1300 Junior and a Detroit Electric SP:01.

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