Initial All-Wheel Drive Porsche: A Military Off-Roading Innovation

Porsche 597: A Versatile Vehicle for Land and Sea

The digits “597” may bring to mind the internal moniker of a vintage Porsche sports car. However, these three numbers hold a completely distinct meaning. The versatile vehicle pictured here was created by the company in response to a bid put forth by the German military in the 1950s. For those unfamiliar with the term, a bid is essentially an invitation for suppliers to submit a proposal in response to a request from a government or private organization.

The primary requirement for the German army was a durable and efficient automobile that could handle all types of terrain and could be easily maintained. The engineers at Zuffenhausen were tasked with creating such a vehicle, resulting in the development of the 597, affectionately known as the “Jagdwagen” (which translates to “hunting car” in German). Among the three companies that answered the call for proposals, Porsche was one, while the others were Auto Union (now known as Audi) and Goliath, a branch of the original Borgward automaker.

Although there may be a temptation to claim that the 597 was connected to the Volkswagen Type 181 (“The Thing” in the United States) due to their similar appearances, it should be noted that the VW was actually released much later, in the late 1960s. The initial all-wheel-drive vehicle from Porsche featured a rear-engine design and utilized a modified flat-four engine based on the one found in the 356 sports car. This 1.6-liter boxer unit produced 50 horsepower, which proved sufficient for reaching a maximum speed of 62 mph (100 km/h).

Porsche has long been renowned for its high-performance vehicles, but the 597 model was specifically designed to excel in agility and off-road capabilities. With a remarkably light weight of just 1,918 pounds (870 kilograms), this car utilized a specialized four-speed manual transmission that included an off-road gear. This feature may bring to mind the 959 all-wheel-drive supercar of the 1980s, which also boasted a “G” short gear known as the Gelände, meaning “terrain.”

The 597 demonstrated exceptional skills when navigating challenging terrain, effortlessly ascending inclines as steep as 65 percent while the engine maintained a mere 1,000 rpm. Its waterproof, tub-shaped body provided the military vehicle with the ability to float across water, resulting in early Porsche models omitting doors. At a compact length of 141.7 inches (3.6 meters), this off-road machine boasted impressive agility and maneuverability.

Although the 597 may appear simple at first glance, it is actually equipped with advanced technology. Porsche meticulously designed the car with features such as independent suspension, telescopic shock absorbers, and a unique front axle coupling that allowed for selectable all-wheel drive. The engine, although air-cooled, was carefully calibrated for durability rather than maximum speed. It efficiently transferred power to the front axle through a fixed front differential attached to the body, connected to the wheels via oscillating axle shafts.

In 1958, Porsche ended production after producing a total of 71 units due to Auto Union’s acquisition of the contract for their more cost-effective Typ F91 Munga. It is thought that around 50 of these vehicles have managed to survive over the years, and the majority of current owners belong to what may be the world’s most exclusive Porsche club—the Porsche Jagdwagen Registry e.V. Out of the 71 units, only 49 were intended for civilian use, while the remaining 22 were constructed for military purposes.

Due to their scarcity in the present day, these vehicles have significantly increased in worth. In a Monterey auction a few years back, RM Sotheby’s managed to sell a military-grade 597 for an impressive amount of $665,000.

While the 597 is recognized as the initial Porsche model to feature all-wheel drive, it should be noted that the brand’s creator, Ferdinand Porsche, had already dabbled in this technology fifty years prior. This can be seen in the 1900 Lohner-Porsche, which not only boasted four wheel hub motors but also held the distinction of being the first passenger car to have four-wheel brakes. Coincidentally, the Semper Vivus (“Forever Alive” in Latin) was also introduced in the same year, making it the world’s very first functional hybrid vehicle.

The Semper Vivus utilized a unique configuration. It featured two individual single-cylinder engines that served as generators, supplying power to the wheel hub motors and a smaller battery. The internal combustion engines worked autonomously and produced 2.5 horsepower each. The maximum distance it could travel was stated at 124 miles (200 kilometers), with a maximum speed of 22 mph (35 km/h). This vehicle weighed in at 3,747 pounds (1,700 kilograms).

One year later, the Lohner-Porsche Mixte officially debuted with a fully functional design and a powerful 5.5-liter, four-cylinder Daimler engine producing 25 horsepower. This unique vehicle also served as a generator for two wheel hub motors, generating additional energy. In contrast to the Semper Vivus, it was significantly lighter at approximately 1,100 lbs (500 kg) due to a smaller battery. Initially equipped with Daimler engines, only seven models were constructed before switching to Panhard & Levassor in 1903.

Source: Porsche

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