Porsche showed a fine mechanical aptitude while being young. He got a recommendation for a job at Bela Egger in Vienna at the age of 18. After work he sneaked into university classes, he never received any more formal engineering education than this.
After working for Bela Egger for five years, Porsche entered the automobile industry when joining Jacob Lohner. Their first design, the "System Lohner-Porsche" was a carriage run by a combustion engine powering wheel mounted electric motors. They presented the car on the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. The up to 35mph fast carriage won several Austrian speed records, and stronger combustion motors from Daimler and Panhard provided enough power to win additional speed records. In 1905 he won the Poetting price as Austria's outstanding automotive engineer.
In 1906, Austro-Daimler recruited Porsche as their chief designer. Porsche's most famous Austro-Daimler he designed for the Prince Henry Trial of 1910. Examples of this streamlined, 85 horsepower car won the first three places, and the car is still better known by the nickname "Prince Henry" than by its name "Modell 27/80".
Austro-Daimler's main business was war material: trucks, motorized canons and motors for aircrafts. Porsche became managing director in 1916 and received the honorary doctorate degree, "Dr. Ing. h.c." from Vienna Technical University in 1917. Porsche successfully continued to construct raing cars, e.g. winning 43 out of 53 races with his 1922 design. In 1923 Porsche left Austro-Daimler after differences about the future directions of their cars.
Only a few months later he got a new job as Daimler's Technical Director in Stuttgart, a center of automotive industry. He received another honorary doctorate from the Stuttgart Technical University for his work for Daimler. He constructed more very successful racing cars, dominating racing in the 1920s. His idea of a small, light-weight Daimler-Benz car was not much liked by Daimler's board. He left in 1929 for Steyr, but the Great Depression made Steyr collapse and Porsche was unemployed.
In January 1931 he founded his consulting firm, Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH Konstruktionsbüro für Motoren-, Fahrzeug-, Luftfahrzeug-, und Wasserfahrzeugbau, in Stuttgart, where he returned. Several people he had worked with before joined him:
At about the same time, Porsche designed a racing car for Auto Union to compete with Daimler's Silver Arrows. The car became known by the name P-Wagen and was both innovative and successful.
Ferdinand Porsche became involved in the construction of the factory in Wolfsburg. He handed over the racing projects to his son, Ferry. Ferdinand accepted further projects from the Third Reich, including the construction of tanks. Those projects also involved forced labor, e.g. in the construction of the Volkswagen factory.
After the war, in November 1945, Porsche was asked by the French to continue the design of the Volkswagen in France and to move the factory equipment to France as part of the war reparations. Differences within the French government and rejection by the French automotive industry stopped this project before it had begun. Ferdinand Porsche, Anton Piëch, and Ferry Porsche were arrested as war criminals on December 15. Ferry was set free, but the other two went to prison in Dijon for 20 months, without a trial.
While Ferdinand was in captivity, Ferry tried to keep the company in business. A contract with Piero Dusio was concluded for a Grand Prix racing car, the Cisitalia 360. They also repaired cars, water pumps or winches. They also started the design of a new model, the Porsche 356, the first to have the name Porsche. The company still resided in Gmünd in Austria, where they were evacuated to during the allied bombings of Stuttgart. The company started building the Porsche 356 in the old saw mill in Gmünd and 49 were built, entirely by hand.
Porsche was contracted by Volkswagen for additional consulting and received a royalty on every Volkswagen built. Porsche, now having a good financial situation, returned to Stuttgart in 1949. There the Porsche 356 was built with a steel body instead of an aluminium one that was used in Gmünd. More than 78.000 Porsche 356's were built in 17 years.
In November 1950 Porsche visited the Wolfsburg Volkswagen factory for the first time after the war. It was already producing the VW Beetle in large amounts at that time. Some weeks later, Porsche had a stroke. He never recovered completely from the stroke and died on January 30, 1951.