Although the Porsche design studio had been established in Stuttgart in 1931, the first car to carry the Porsche name did not appear until 1948 when Ferdinand Porsche's son Ferry and a small team of designers produced the 356 model in Gmund, Austria. The car went into production and in 1950 the company returned to Stuttgart.
The company entered the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1951 and won its class, beginning a long association with sportscar racing which developed in the 1950s as Porsches crept gradually towards the front of the grids. The development of successful 1.5-liter sportscars led the company to take a look at Formula 2 in 1957. The factory team made its first appearance at the German GP in August with drivers Umberto Maglioli and Edgar Barth and a private entry for Dutchman Carel de Beaufort. Barth won the F2 class. Porsche's program continued in 1958 with Jean Behra and Barth driving RSK models at various races. Behra won at Reims and Avus. The following year Behra developed a car for himself while Wolfgang von Trips and Jo Bonnier appeared at Reims in a variety of machines but there was still no concerted effort. That season marked the company's first victory in a World Championship sportscar event on the Targa Florio.
Hans Herrmann joined the driving staff in 1960 after von Trips moved to Ferrari. The company produced the 718 chassis this was supplied to a variety of private F2 entrants, notably Rob Walker who ran the car for Stirling Moss and the Equipe Nationale Belge which ran Olivier Gendebien. Moss won the BARC 200 at Aintree that year with Bonnier and Graham Hill second and third in factory cars and there was further success at the F2 German GP when Bonnier and von Trips finished 1-2. By the end of the year the Porsches were dominant.
The new Formula 1 regulations in 1961 resulted in F2 being canceled but the 718s were now eligible for F1 and so Porsche hired Bonnier, Herrmann and Dan Gurney to be its factory drivers and arrived at Monaco for the first World Championship race of the new formula. The cars were competitive but Gurney scored only three second places, although this was enough to place him joint-third with Moss in the World Championship. In 1962 the old cars were supplied to privateers while the factory team ran the new 804, with a new air-cooled flat-four engine. The cars lacked horsepower but they handled well and in July Gurney won at Rouen when all his major rivals fell by the wayside. A week later at the Solitude circuit outside Stuttgart Gurney and Bonnier finished 1-2. The rest of the year was not as successful.
At the end of the year Porsche decided that the air-cooled units could not be competitive and so withdrew to concentrate on sportscar racing instead. A string of further successes finally resulted in the first World Championship title with the Porsche 908 in 1969. There were further titles in 1971 and 1972 with the fearsome 917. There was success in CanAm, TransAm and IMSA and in the late 1970s the 935 and 936 models added further victories.
In the early 1980s the company developed the Porsche 956 for the new Group C sportscar regulations and this enjoyed incredible success winning seven Le Mans 24 Hours victories in a row and five consecutive World Sportscar titles.
In rallying Porsche also enjoyed successes with the Carrera driven by Hans-Joachim Walter in the early 1960s. The 911 also began to collect victories in the mid-1960s and in 1968 Vic Elford and David Stone won the Monte Carlo Rally, followed home by Pauli Toivonen, who went on to become the European Champion that year. Bjorn Waldegard added another two Monte Carlo victories in 1969 and 1970 and in the second year Porsche won the International Manufacturers' Championship. Jean-Pierre Nicholas would add a fourth 911 win on the Monte Carlo in 1978. In 1984 Porsche won the Paris-Dakar Rally with the 959.
In 1981 Ron Dennis approached Porsche and asked if the company would be willing to build a turbocharged Formula 1 for McLaren. Porsche agreed to do it if McLaren could find the money. Dennis convinced Mansour Ojjeh of TAG to invest $5m and the TAG Turbo Engines company came into existence. The new engine was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in early 1983 and raced for the first time at the Dutch GP in August.
In 1984 McLaren-TAG drivers Niki Lauda and Alain Prost dominated the World Championship, scoring 12 wins in 16 races, with Lauda World Champion. In 1985 they won six times and took both titles again but in 1986 the Honda engines were becoming increasingly competitive and McLaren won only four times. Prost won the Drivers' title for the second time in succession, but Williams-Honda took the Constructors'. The 1987 season was the last for the TAG Turbos and Prost won only three races.
At the end of the year the program ended. McLaren switched to Honda and Porsche turned its attention to Indycar racing. The company unveiled the 2708 chassis, designed by Porsche engineers and built by Messerschmitt Bolkow Blohm in Munich. Al Unser Sr. was named as the lead driver. The car not a success and in 1988 Porsche acquired March chassis and hired Teo Fabi to drive. The Italian won at Mid-Ohio in 1989 but at the end of 1990 Porsche stopped the program and announced that it was going back to Formula 1 with a new V12 engine for the Footwork team. This was a complete disaster and the team gave up on the engines in mid-season.