This year marks the 50th birthday of the most iconic sports car of them all, the Porsche 911. Now you can go the Jeremy Clarkson way and start bitching about how the whole idea of putting the engine in the rear was stupid, or start an argument about how it is only a tuned up Volkswagen, but no matter what you think, the 911 is here to stay. And we are glad for that.
911s are very special cars, even if they sold over 820,000 of them in the last half a century, which makes it more likely for your lawyer or dentist to have one. Yes, it's the Volkswagen of the sports car world, but that's what makes it so refined and keeps it being relatively obtainable. Every petrolhead should have respect for that, just like they respect a good two thirds of Porsche's 30,000 race victories to date, which were notched up by some sort of a 911.
So let's see how Stuttgart went from the 1963 "901" with 130 horsepower to the 2013 991 4S with 400 horsepower, with each generation remaining true to the 911 badge all along. It was quite a journey...
Ferdinand "Butzi" Porsche started playing around with the idea of a successor for the 356 in 1959. The new car remained a 2+2 instead of a proper four-seater, but the air-cooled 1.6-litre four-cylinder got replaced by a 2-litre flat-six producing 130 hp in its early tune. Porsche's second car made its public debut at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show as the 901, but since Peugeot had the rights to car names formed by three numbers with a zero in the middle, it went on sale the next year as the 911. The 356 remained in production until 1965, but since there was still demand for a four-cylinder car, Porsche introduced the 912, the 356 with the 911's body. In 1966 came the 911S with Fuchs wheels and 160 horsepower. The next year, the 912 was replaced by the 911T with a detuned six-cylinder, and the Targa was introduced, since Porsche was afraid that the NHTSA would outlaw fully open convertibles at some point. The B-Series coming in 1969 increased the wheelbase from 87.0 to 89.3 inches, in order to improve the car's handling at the limit.
From 1969 to 1973, the 911 ran from C to all the way to the F-Series, with the engine growing to 2.4-liters. Mechanical fuel injection and K-Jetronic was introduced from Bosch, while the entry-level 911T remained carbureted in Europe. A stronger transmission from the 908 racecar was put into the 911s as well, while Porsche tried to make the car less deadly by relocating the oil tank. But since that meant putting the oil filler door on the right rear quarter panel, gas station attendants were putting gas in the oil tank by mistake, so it went back to it's original place after just one year.
The RS was introduced in 1972 so that Porsche could go racing. The engine was enlarged to 2.7-litres developing 210 horsepower, while the car had bigger brakes, stiffer suspension, wider rear wheels and rear wings, and the legendary ducktail rear spoiler. In RS Touring form it weighed 2370 lb, but the Sport Lightweight cut 220 lb from that as well by its panels being made out of thin-gauge steel, and using thinner glass all around. 1580 were made, and for many, the 2.7 RS is the ultimate 911. The Carrera RS 3.0 of 1974 improved on that with 230 horses, while one of the very limited Carrera RSR Turbos (powered by a 2.1 turbo engine because of the 1.4x equivalency formula) came second at the 1974 24 Hours of Le Mans, wearing the Martini Racing Team's livery.
What worked at the race track was good for the road as well, so the second generation 911 Carrera (G-Series) introduced in 1973 got the 2.7 engine and wider rear wings straight from the RS, giving the cleverly integrated impact bumpers the job of saving you from the effects of 210 tricky horses. To help with that, three-point safety belts and integrated headrests now came as standard. The G-Series remained in production until 1989, and gave us one of the most important premieres in the company's history: the first 911 Turbo.
The Porsche 930 was introduced in 1975 with a three-litre 260 hp engine and enormous rear spoiler. Development on a turbocharged 911 started in '72 for racing purposes, but when homologation regulations changed, new chairman Ernst Fuhrmann kept going to create a top of the line model. The revised suspension, larger brakes, wider track and stronger gearbox were all used to make the car more stable, although the four-speed box was not popular as a five-speed was available for the cheaper Carrera.
The turbo went on sale in the US in 1976, only to result in product liability lawsuits against Porsche from customers who couldn't deal with the oversteer. Two years later, they raised the power to 300 horses by enlarging the engine to 3.3 litres and adding an air-to-air intercooler. It also got brakes similar to the 917 Le Mans car. For a bit of extra cash, performance could go up to 330 hp with a new 4-pipe exhaust system and an extra oil-cooler. Starting in 1981, the hand crafted "slantnose" could be ordered. 1982 gave us the first 911 Cabriolet, while in 1989, it was all about the new Speedster. For the last model year, the 930 also got the G50 5-speed transmission, which improved its 0-62 figure to 4.9 seconds.
Porsche claimed that 85 percent of the 964 was brand new. In the 1988 911 Carrera 4, the engine was a 3.6 with 250 horses, while the car came with ABS, Tiptronic, power steering, airbags, and rode on a completely redesigned chassis with light alloy control arms and coil springs instead of the previous torsion-bar suspension. In 1990 came the new turbo, first with the old 3.3 boxer, then from '92 with the 3.6 and 360 horsepower. For Europe, a new Carrera RS was developed with magnesium wheels and thinner everything to make it 345 pounds lighter than the US spec Carrera 2.
The Carrera RS was not sold in the USA because Porsche Cars North America felt the car's aggressive tuning was not suited to the American market. However, 45 almost RS-spec cars with airbags, electric windows , American lighting, American bumpers, aluminum wheels, and standard seats were imported to participate in the Carrera Cup series, which was cancelled before it began. These were sold with a dash plaque saying "Carrera Cup USA Edition", but not through normal Porsche channels, since by that time, the RS America went on sale as well. That was only 77 pounds lighter than the normal car, because while it came with a whale tail spoiler, a partially stripped interior, sports seats and firm suspension, it also retained the standard brakes, engine and gearbox of the US Carrera 2.
The last air-cooled Porsche was designed by an Englishman and a Dutchman named Tony Hatter and Harm Lagaay. Compared to the previous 911, it had an all-alloy multi-arm rear suspension attached to an all-alloy subframe, which made the rear wheel arches even wider than before. It came with a six-speed manual as standard, or the new Tiptronic S four-speed automatic, which was now capable of recognizing climbs and descent.
The all-wheel drive system was improved (and lightened) as well, with the center differential being replaced by a viscous coupling unit, just like in the 959 supercar. Targa, Cabrio and Speedster body styles were available, while the Turbo got twin-charged with all-wheel drive. In 1997, the Turbo S model reached 62 mph in 3.7 seconds while going all the way up to 188 mph. For racing, the GT2 was introduced with turbocharged performance in a rear-wheel drive chassis. Its most recognizable feature was that the fenders of the Turbo have been cut back and replaced with bolt-on plastic pieces in order to accommodate large racing tires and to help ease the repairs of damage on the track. A limited number of street GT2s were created for homologation purposes, first with 430 hp, then with 450 after twin-ignition was introduced. These are highly collectable today.
With the 996, the performance of the cars reached a level where the efficiency of a air-cooled engine was no longer enough. Therefore the whole car got redesigned around a brand new water-cooled, 24-valve 3.4-litre unit with integrated dry sump oiling and 300 horsepower. After the usual coupe or cabriolet versions with rear or all-wheel drive, Porsche introduced the new Turbo in 2000 with a 3.6 litre, twin turbocharged and intercooled flat-six producing 420 bhp and a 0-60 time of 4.2 seconds. The Turbo S came five years later with 450 bhp and carbon brakes as standard. From 1999, the naturally aspirated GT3 was also available next to the batshit crazy 462 hp GT2. The GT3 was based on the Carrera, but was stripped, featured stiffer, adjustable suspension and upgraded brakes, a six-speed manual and used the bodyshell of the four-wheel-drive version, which incorporated additional front-end stiffening. Mark 1 GT3s had 360 bhp, while later cars came with 380. These street legal racecars produced 1.03 g on the skidpad.
The ugly headlamps were replaced by proper oval ones for the 997, and that wasn't the only improvement Porsche had up its sleeve for 2005. The Carrera got 325 horsepower from the 3.6, while the Carrera S got bored to 3.8-litres to get 355 hp. Active suspension came as standard, while the Turbo was the first gasoline-powered production car using twin variable-geometry BorgWarner turbochargers. That was good for 480 horsepower and a top speed of 200 mph. Once again, the Targa got a glass roof and hatch. The GT3 came with a new variable intake system and 415 horsepower. In 2008, the Mark 2 997 got a dual clutch transmission, while the new GT2 was equipped with Porsche's launch control system to help with its 530 horsepower. After 2010's 450 hp GT3 RS, 600 special 4.0-litre GT3 RSs were made, producing 500 horsepower at 8250 rpm. The 997 was also a very successful racer, both as a works car and in the hands of private teams.
Here we are in 2013, with the 991 being with us for almost two years now. This car was built on an entirely new platform from the ground up, and it feels it. Its engine was positioned in a way that the car acts almost like if it had a mid-engined layout. The 991 is 2.2 inches longer than the 997 was, with its wheelbase enlarged by 3.9 inches, and its front track widened by 2 inches. Its hybrid steel/aluminium construction makes it lighter, while even the entry-level 3.4-litre engine makes 5 horsepower more than the 997 Carrera did. It's got the world's first seven-gear manual transmission, while with the PDK gearbox and the optional sports chrono package, the 400 horsepower Carrera S can do 0-62 in 3.9 seconds. You can imagine what it will do after it get's the usual twin-turbo/stripping treatment. This year, the four-wheel drive versions went on sale, which are distinguishable by wider tires, wider rear body-work and a red-reflector strip that sits in between the tail-lights. When you see one on the street, think about how nice evolution looks in the flesh...
Photo credit: Porsche AG