These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges

These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges

Illustration for article titled These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges
Photo: Audi

Flip through the history books of an automaker as old as Porsche, and you’re bound to find some curious creations lurking in the past. From race cars built for doomed motorsports to unexpected forays into new segments, it’s safe to say that if you can imagine it, Porsche probably at least thought about it at some point in the last 90 years or so.

Perhaps the strangest Porsches are the ones that aren’t technically Porsches by name. We’re talking about vehicles developed at least in part by the German sports car maker, yet didn’t bear the familiar crest. And given Porsche’s history as an engineering consultancy firm before building its own cars, there are far more examples of this in the company’s history than many realize. Here are 10 notable examples, from the most celebrated to the most obscure.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik. 2017 Fiesta ST. Wishes NASCAR was more like Daytona USA.

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1990-95 Mercedes-Benz 500E

1990-95 Mercedes-Benz 500E

Illustration for article titled These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges
Photo: Mercedes-Benz

We begin with the poster child of Porsche engineering in a non-Porsche car — well, aside from the Beetle, which seemed too obvious to devote an entire entry to.

The early ’90s were a troubling time for Porsche, as it was hemorrhaging money and fading into irrelevancy. Fortunately, Mercedes-Benz was keen to take on the E34 BMW M5 at right about the same time, and required the 911 maker’s services to do it.

Porsche was tasked with fitting the 5.0-liter V8 out of the R129 SL into the W124 E-Class chassis. What Mercedes perhaps didn’t foresee were all the other aspects of the W124 that’d have to be tweaked and bolstered to support the big engine. The suspension had to be redesigned, the front track needed to be expanded for effective cornering, and all this in turn widened the car. So much so that it no longer fit on Mercedes’ production line.

The result was the venerable 500E, and Porsche wound up manufacturing the car itself, mostly by hand. All told, just under 10,500 examples of the sleeper sedan rolled out of Porsche’s Zuffenhausen factory.

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1994-95 Audi RS2 Avant

1994-95 Audi RS2 Avant

Illustration for article titled These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges
Photo: Audi

Once Porsche was finished with the 500E contract, it turned to its acquaintances over at Audi to lend its expertise to a high-performance version of the Audi 80 Avant.

Called the RS2 Avant, Porsche transformed the wagon in every respect. The Audi 80's 2.2-liter inline five-cylinder received a bigger turbocharger and intercooler, as well as an upgraded radiator and fuel injectors. Porsche equipped better brakes and suspension, and even loaned a few sets of its signature Cup wheels to complete the look. You could say the company did a decent job in the end; after all, the RS2 Avant could beat the McLaren F1 in the 30 mph dash.

I’m frankly not sure what else to say about the RS2 Avant, considering just about everything that could be written about this iconic Audi already exists on the internet. But for a sense of what it’s like to actually drive one of these unicorns, check out Alex Goy’s review from back in 2019.

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1999-2005 Opel Zafira

1999-2005 Opel Zafira

Illustration for article titled These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges
Photo: Opel

Porsche worked alongside General Motors to develop the first-generation Zafira “A” for Opel (and consequently Vauxhall, Holden and Chevrolet) in 1994. Four years later, the MPV debuted at the Paris Motor Show, and a year after that, the Zafira went on sale.

Let it be known Opel didn’t merely hand over a finished Zafira and ask Porsche “hey, can you check our work?” Porsche itself considers this a “complete vehicle development,” and once the company received the platform from Opel, it reportedly carried the ball the rest of the way.

The Zafira’s third row of seats could be folded flat into the floor — a system called Flex 7 that was one of the MPV’s standout features. The other was overall build quality, for which the car received high marks from German product evaluation body TÜV. It considered the Zafira far and away “the best Opel on the market” in 2002, following three years already on sale.

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2003-05 Renault Clio V6 Renault Sport “Phase 2”

2003-05 Renault Clio V6 Renault Sport “Phase 2”

Illustration for article titled These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges
Photo: Renault

I will always be amazed that the Clio V6 ever happened. From 2001 to 2005, Renault built more than 1,000 of these curious hot hatches, with the 2.9-liter ES9 V6 from the Laguna sedan stashed where you’d normally find the rear seats in an ordinary Clio. It’s a concept too absurd and enticing to exist, but exist it did. And Porsche played a role in making it better.

Granted, unlike some other cars on this list, Porsche didn’t develop the Clio V6 from the ground up, nor did it manufacture the car in one of its factories. Rather, Porsche tuned the engine for the redesigned Phase 2 models, which saw a power bump from about 227 horsepower to 252 HP. It’s said that this made the revised Clio V6 the most powerful hot hatch in the world upon its release.

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1976 VAZ-Porsche 2103

1976 VAZ-Porsche 2103

Illustration for article titled These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges
Photo: AvtoVAZ

Here’s a weird one. In the mid ’70s, Porsche chairman Ernst Fuhrmann got to talking with Viktor Polyakov, the USSR’s automobile industry minister. The two settled on an agreement that Porsche would improve the VAZ-2103 — a.k.a. the Lada 1500, which itself was derived from the Fiat 124. One Porsche-tweaked 2103 was built, and ultimately the Soviet automaker declined to put the proposal into production.

Still, Porsche did go to the trouble, and its rendition of the 2103 sports some interesting changes. For one, Porsche ditched the usual chrome trim and replaced the 2103's bumpers with ones entirely made of plastic. Not really sure what that might’ve done for performance, though I suppose it does make the car look a little more German.

Underneath that exterior was a tuned suspension and an engine modified to better handle poor fuel. The interior was punched up as well, with leather upholstery and a modern steering wheel that would’ve looked right at home in a Porsche 928.

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1984-2003 VAZ-2108/Lada Samara

1984-2003 VAZ-2108/Lada Samara

Illustration for article titled These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges
Photo: AvtoVAZ

The VAZ-2103 was not the beginning and end of Porsche’s strange relationship with Lada. Less than a decade later, the two collaborated on a project that did actually see production: the Lada Samara, known internally as the VAZ-2108, and dubbed Sputnik in its home market.

Porsche’s contribution to this vehicle isn’t quite as clear as with the VAZ-2103 prototype. The company doesn’t hide the fact it worked on the Samara — in its own literature, it says the car’s “robustness was specially designed to cope with Soviet road conditions.” Though details are scant. A bit on Wikipedia attributed to a French auto magazine suggests Porsche also worked on the cylinder heads of the Samara’s inline-four engines.

Yet any discussion of Porsche’s work on the Samara would be incomplete without recognizing the Samara T3 — a Paris-Dakar rally car initially built for the World Rally Championship’s Group B class, before those regulations were cancelled. The T3 featured a 3.6-liter Porsche flat-six and, amazingly, the same all-wheel drive system as the 959. It wasn’t able to beat Ari Vatanen’s Peugeots in its two years of competition in 1990 and ’91, but then again, few could.

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2000-03 Subaru Legacy B4 Blitzen

2000-03 Subaru Legacy B4 Blitzen

Illustration for article titled These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges
Photo: Subaru

Purists would say the Legacy B4 Blitzen doesn’t belong in this list, as it wasn’t engineered by Porsche proper, but rather customized by subsidiary Porsche Design. Porsche Design has modified special editions of laptops, shoes and smartphones in the past, so yeah — we’re not talking a 500E or RS2 Avant-level effort here.

That said, I believe the Blitzen deserves a mention, for two reasons. One, half of Porsche’s contribution to the VAZ-2103 earlier was cosmetic; and two, the Blitzen is the coolest edition of the best Legacy: the performance-minded B4.

Porsche sculpted the body kit, designed the rims, tweaked the interior and lent exclusive color options to this flavor of Subaru’s premium sport sedan. And how about that split rear wing? It was one of the first things you noticed driving the Blitzen from the chase cam in Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, which to this day is the only racing game I can recall it appearing in.

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1953 Porsche 542/Studebaker Z-87

1953 Porsche 542/Studebaker Z-87

Illustration for article titled These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges
Photo: Porsche

I’m sure you could write a book on the tragedy of the Porsche 542, a prototype four-door sedan the company built for Studebaker in 1953. Two versions were made, both powered by a 120-degree, 3.0-liter V6: an air-cooled model, called the 542L, and a water-cooled one, dubbed the 542W. The 542 had fully independent rear suspension and measured several inches shorter than Studebaker’s Champion.

Unfortunately, the story goes that Studebaker was too preoccupied with staying afloat to really pay its undivided attention to Porsche’s pitch. By the time it did, in 1956, the 542 was behind the curve. Studebaker’s director of experimental engineering — a fellow by the name of John DeLorean — criticized the car’s harsh vibrations and preference for oversteer, and passed on the plans. If you ask Porsche, though, the 542 died “only because of a lack of capital of the American contractor.”

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1984-93 SEAT Ibiza “System Porsche”

1984-93 SEAT Ibiza “System Porsche”

Illustration for article titled These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges
Photo: Seat

Open up the hood of the first-generation SEAT Ibiza, peer at the engine cover, and you’ll see a curious label. “System Porsche,” it reads. Seat turned to Porsche to design the Ibiza’s inline-four and transmission, though those weren’t the only elements of the Ibiza’s production that were outsourced. The body was designed by Italdesign, while Karmann helped SEAT streamline manufacturing.

Keep in mind that during this time, SEAT had yet to be snapped up by Volkswagen, and had only begun to sever its ties with Fiat. Thus, a partnership with Porsche wasn’t as appropriate as it would have been, say, two decades later. Case in point: SEAT had to pay Porsche a fee per car to stamp the company’s name on the Ibiza’s engine cover.

This stands in contrast to the time Porsche was paid not to put its name on the valve covers of its championship-winning F1 engine. That turbo V6 of the 1980s was branded as TAG: Techniques d’Avant Gard.

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2006-15 Daewoo Tosca/Chevrolet Epica

2006-15 Daewoo Tosca/Chevrolet Epica

Illustration for article titled These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges
Photo: General Motors

Turns out this rather unassuming-looking sedan that vaguely resembles a sixth-generation Subaru Legacy from a parallel universe was, in fact, Porsche-powered. The Daewoo Tosca, sold in other markets as the Chevrolet and Holden Epica, sported a transversely mounted inline-six designed by the German automaker, available in 2.0- and 2.5-liter sizes. Both could be mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox.

The Tosca was largely unremarkable, but that smooth-purring compact straight-six differentiated the sedan from rivals like the Toyota Camry, Ford Mondeo and Hyundai Sonata, which employed inline-fours and V6s as was customary for the time. That makes the Tosca sort of special on the inside — even if you’d never, ever suspect that just by looking at it.

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2002-18 Harley-Davidson V-Rod

2002-18 Harley-Davidson V-Rod

Illustration for article titled These Porsche-Designed Vehicles Didn't Have Porsche Badges
Photo: Porsche

We end this trip through some of Porsche’s unlikeliest collaborations with a two-wheeled assignment. At the turn of the millennium, Harley-Davidson called upon Porsche to develop the water-cooled, dual-overhead cam V-twin for its upcoming muscle bike, the V-Rod.

The design was reportedly based on one of Harley’s competition engines, and it represented a massive departure for the motorcycle maker due to its liquid cooling. Strangely enough, this wasn’t the first time Harley recruited Porsche to work up such an engine, as Stuttgart quietly contributed to Harley’s abandoned Project Nova in the late ’70s.

The V-Rod was anything but a typical Harley, though it still enjoyed a long production run from 2002 to 2018. Porsche looks back fondly at the privilege to work on the V-Rod, and even displays an example of the bike at its museum.

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Staff Writer at Jalopnik. 2017 Fiesta ST. Wishes NASCAR was more like Daytona USA.

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