A Porsche Hybrid from 1900: Meet the "Semper Vivus"
Every time that an automaker rolls out a performance vehicle with a hybrid drivetrain, the traditionalists scoff. This has been the case with Porsche, which has a Panamera Hybrid and Cayenne Hybrid. Not only did the introduction of an SUV incense Porsche purists, but then the subsequent debut of hybrid powertrains did not help. What those traditionalists are missing is that Porsche has been doing the hybrid thing well before they ever built the first 356 or 911. In 1900, Professor Ferdinand Porsche unveiled his design for a vehicle that ran on both gas and electric power. It had a two single-cylinder combustion engines, and electric motors at the wheels, making it the first hybrid as well as the first four-wheel drive vehicle on the planet! PHOTOS: See more of the 1900 Porsche 'Semper Vivus'
It was called the Semper Vivus “Always Alive,” hinting towards the ability to run on two forms of fuel. The vehicle was a series hybrid, meaning that it could run on electric power until the batteries were depleted, then the combustion engine would kick in. The engines were built by De Dion; a French company that made some of the finer vehicles at the end of the 19th century.
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Each engine made 2.5 horsepower, and the electric motor made 2.7 horsepower per wheel, for a total system output of 10.4 horsepower. Top speed was 22 mph and the vehicle had a range of 122 miles. This is all in a vehicle that weighed 1.7 tons.
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The car was first shown to the public at the 1901 Paris Motor Show as a fantastical vision for the future. The vehicle lacked exterior body panels, and although the concept must have been impressive for showers in Paris, Porsche knew that the concept could not be supported by the technology of the day.
PHOTOS: See more of the Porsche 918 Sypder
Today, Porsche’s premier vehicle, the $845,000 Porsche 918 Spyder is the a plug-in hybrid vehicle. It has a 4.8-liter V8 making 608 horsepower, combined with a pair of electro motors developing a combined 279 horsepower. The whole package makes 887 horsepower, and does 0-62 mph (100 km/h) in just 2.6 second on its way to 214 mph. These two vehicles represent the bookends of the entirety of Porsche’s evolution through the years. It is important when some critique hybrid powertrains to understand that the hybrid has been here all along.