The racing heritage of Porsche has been part of the DNA even before it was a formally established company. Ferdinand Porsche designed highly successful Grand Prix cars in the 1920s and 1930s both for Mercedes and Auto Union.
The Porsche company started building it's own cars in 1948, and in under a decade was building highly competitive sports car racers. Through the late 1950s, they continued to evolve their sports car models, and kept winning with a series of small, lightweight mid and rear engine and cars.
By 1957, the Porsche 718 RSK was introduced, and quickly became highly successful in closed wheel sports car racing. Interestingly, at that time, the Formula 2 series was running similar displacement to the RSK (1.5 liters), and the rules otherwise permitted it to run in the class. The lap times were competitive, even with the added seats and bodywork, the full-bodied cars held their own versus the formula cars.
So by 1958, the RSK was being modified to become more of a real formula car. They removed one seat, placing the other in the center of the car. They modified the chassis and body accordingly to make a proper open wheel race car, even if it was noting more than a highly evolved 718 RSK. Similar to the RSK, these formula cars are referred to as 718s.
By 1959 additional RSK's were being converted to single-seat racers for the Formula 2 series. Porsche scored a sweep of the podium in 1960 at Aintree with Stirling Moss, Jo Bonnier, and Graham Hill - all behind the wheel of the 718 formula car. To show it wasn't a coincidence, they repeated the same finish again later in the year at a race in Austria.
When the Formula One series switched to the 1.5 liter specification in 1961, Porsche decided to enter three of the 718s, piloted by Dan Gurney, Hans Herrmann, and Jo Bonnier. Gurney managed 3 second-place finishes that year, providing him fourth place in the drivers championship by season's end. This respectable finish from what was a essentially a modified sports car compelled Porsche to build a dedicated Formula One car for 1962 – the Porsche 804.
Unlike the previous flat-four cars, the 804 utilized a 1494 cc flat-eight air cooled engine. It developed 180 hp at 9200 RPM, and was built on a new chassis. Dan Gurney took pole position at the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring with the car, and claimed victory at the French Grand Prix. Despite this taste of success, the BRMs and Lotuses proved too much. After only one season as a constructor in Formula One, Porsche withdrew from Formula One, claiming the costs were too high. They were cost- sensitive, considering they had just acquired a new production factory. They were also concerned a focus on Formula One race car development would take them further away from developing technology that would translate into better road going cars. But they never stayed away from sports car racing, where they felt the learnings would be able to improve the quality of their production cars.
Porsche stayed away from Formula One until 1983, when they supplied water cooled V-6 turbo engines, branded as TAG engines, for the McLaren team. So despite providing engines in more recent times, Porsche's only Grand Prix victory as a constructor in a championship race remains the Dan Gurney-piloted Porsche 908 at the 1962 French Grand Prix.