In December 1945 the French government invited Porsche to Paris, ostensibly to discuss licensing manufacture of a French Volkswagen. Ferdinand, Ferry and Anton Piech traveled to Paris but quickly found themselves in a political pressure cooker. The French government intended seizing the Volkswagen factory and moving it to France as reparations and they wanted Porsche’s patents. When Porsche stonewalled, the trio were arrested as war criminals. After four months imprisonment Ferry was released and hurried back to Stuttgart. To raise funds to secure his father’s release, Ferry began to promote a custom sportster that he’d been developing in Gmund. The first cars were entirely hand built from assorted VW parts in barn. Now Ferry moved the operation to Porsche’s Stuttgart workshop and started taking orders – with payment up front.
While Ferry was busy founding Porsche, his father was engaged in a battle of wills with the French government and, surprisingly, Porsche was winning. In France, as in England, a ‘behind the scenes’ political storm was raging between the government and the auto industry. The government wanted to seize Volkswagen’s assets and begin its own nationalised car project, but the two majors of the French auto industry, Citroen and Renault, had ideas of their own.
Citroen and Renault had been eager observers of Germany’s Volkswagen project. Both companies realised that if successful, the German Volkswagen would come to dominate the European small car market and so they set about designing a suitable competitor. Citroen started work on their ‘very small car’ project that would eventually become the ubiquitous Citroen 2CV in 1936.
Renault however did not make a start on their project until 1943. The Renault project, carried out in utmost secrecy right under the noses of their German overseers, was modeled on the Volkswagen itself (which Renault engineers had observed at the 1938 Berlin Auto Show) and would later become the Renault 4CV. Both companies realised that if the government’s Volkswagen project, it would be a direct threat to their business, so they began lobbying against the government’s plans. As the government was a major shareholder in both companies, they quickly realised the Volkswagen plan was against their own interests and shelved the idea.
The pressure on Porsche now relaxed, but he was not immediately released. The French authorities still wanted his technical expertise and he was only freed after begrudgingly agreeing to provide consultancy to Renault. By this time the development of the Renault 4CV was too far advanced for Porsche to have any real influence on its design, but did make a few unenthusiastic suggestions, which did little to endear him with his French counterparts. Finally, in August 1946, he was freed to return home. Interestingly, the French government have sealed the records of Porsche’s case until 2047.