When Ferdinand Alexander Porsche died at the age of 76 on 5th April 2012, he left behind a rich, iconic history trail. Ferdinand Porsche was the design chief who gave us the timeless wonder of the Porsche 911.
FA Porsche was the son of Ferry Porsche and the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche; the man who originally founded the Porsche automobile company in a somewhat troubled Germany in 1931.
Initially Porsche did not build cars themselves, but offered a motor development and consulting service, with one of the company’s first successes in this field being the Volkswagen Beetle.
The company successes that followed remain simply breathtaking, with the beautiful Porsche 356 being my preferred model by a country mile. It was in 1964 that the successor to the 356 appeared. In fact, the 911 may even have been born as the 901 if it wasn’t for the potential problem of contravening Peugeot’s trademarks in France – at the time, Peugeot had already registered the sole right to name vehicles with three-figure numbers with a zero in the middle.
The 911 was very much a worthy successor to the 356. Staying with the air-cooled, rear-engined style of the 356, this classic car continues, in it’s various guises, to set the standards that all others must aim for.
Porsche 911 (introduced in 1964)
The original 911 made its first public appearance at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1963 as a non-working model under the moniker of the Porsche 901.
Upgrading the 356’s flat-4 engine to a 128hp flat-6, the 911 took a bold step forward that would serve it well right up until the late nineties. The car was classed as a 2+2, meaning that there were effectively (if you were very small or maybe a suit case) 2 rear seats.
The 911 overlapped with the 356 for a year or so until the 356 finally bowed out in 1965. The blurring of the lines continued until 1969 with the 356 engined entry-level 912. But from 1969 onwards, it was all about the 911.
1966 saw the introduction of the 911S with the now famous Fuchs alloy wheels much used on Cal-Look Beetles. The 911S had improved power with a 160 PS engine. The first Targa topped 911 followed in 1967 amid speculation that convertibles might be outlawed in North America.
Never to be accused of sitting on their laurels, the faster accelerating 911T arrived the same year, while a small, but very significant change occurred in the basic design in 1969. This was the year that the somewhat nervous handling was improved with a longer wheelbase enabling more power to be given to subsequent 911 models.
In 1972 the power increased again to 2341cc and a year later the famous 911 Carrera RS appeared. Indeed, in 1974, the Carrera RS 3.0 arrived with a 230 PS fuel-injected power-plant.
There was no stopping Porsche. 1974 saw the introduction of the 2687 cc 911 and 911S 2.7 versions, along with new impact bumpers that conformed to the new US legislation for low-speed impact protection.
Then in 1975 we were invited to enjoy the first turbo-charged Porsche – the 911 Turbo as it was called in Europe, or the Porsche 930 if you were in North America where it was also badged in the early days as ‘Turbo Carrera’ (the Porsche nomenclature can sometimes be a little confusing). 930 is actually the vehicle’s internal type number. This Porsche featured the whale-tail oversized rear spoiler, which can sometimes be a bit much for purist collectors loving the lines of the original 911.
The early 911 Turbo came with a 3.0 litre engine putting out 260 PS. Often noted for a return to the jittery handling of some pre-1969 wheelbase models despite the rear protuberance, the car was equipped with head splitting acceleration for it’s time. As if this wasn’t enough, in 1978 the capacity rose to a 3.3 litre, 300 PS intercooler fitted engine.
With all this power, it was no surprise to see the Porsche 934 racing version appear in 1976 along with the Porsche 935.
Amazingly by today’s standards, the intelligent gear ratios of the 911 Turbo meant the car stuck with a 4-speed gear-box. Only in 1989, in it’s final year of production, did the 911 Turbo receive a 5-speed.
The 911 Carrera 3.2 introduced in 1984, housed a horizontally opposed 3164 cc engine with 210 PS. Improved fuel efficiency and larger brake discs would keep the owner’s heart rate at a reasonable level. The Carrera 3.2 was available in coupe, cabriolet or targa versions.
Type 964 (introduced in 1990)
The Carrera 4 was launched in 1990 and boasted a couple of notable firsts. The Carrera 4 was the first Porsche four-wheel-drive model for a start.
The Carrera 4 also featured an automatic rear spoiler. At higher speeds, the rear spoiler automatically became deployed, avoiding any comparison with earlier whale-tail models with the vehicle at rest and thus maintaining the traditional, uninterrupted rear slope that the 911 was now famous for.
Now with a 3600 cc engine capable of 250 PS, this model also saw the welcome introduction of power steering and ABS. A rear-wheel drive option was added in 1991 named the Carrera 2. This model was the first Porsche to feature Tiptronic automatic transmission.
The Tiptronic option allows the driver to override the automatic gear shifting process enabling manual upshift and downshifting and a more ‘hands on’ approach. The best of both worlds you might say.
A 964 Turbo version was also introduced in 1990, and in 1993 – one year before it’s production end – the Carrera 2 and 4 received a 3.6 litre engine capable of 360 PS.
Type 993 (introduced in 1994)
The 993 is significant as being the last of the air-cooled 911 Porsche models. Multilink rear suspension was introduced to improve handling and comfort and the front and rear exteriors were given a bit of a make-over by Tony Hatter.
Although the engine initially remained a 3.6, the lightweight rear-wheel-drive only RS version boosted power yet again with the 3.8 litre engine putting out 300 PS.
The introduction of the 993 Turbo in 1995 boosted power once more. Twin-turbocharged, the 3.6 litre engine produced 408 PS.
996 Series (introduced in 1998)
Porsche die-hards and traditionalists got a shock in 1998. No more air-cooled classic, the original 911 concept had become water-cooled. Reasons for this were cited as being due to ever more tightening regulations on noise and environmental concerns. Keeping the basic 911 look, the 996 was redesigned by Harm Lagaay. The 3.6 litre 996 came with the option of being either a coupe or cabriolet and either 2-wheel rear-drive or 4-wheel-drive.
In 1999 the 996 series received a GT version addition to it’s stable. The lightweight 3.6 litre GT3 produced 365 PS and had a slightly lowered ride height for improved handling at the sacrifice of some of the comfort that had previously been introduced.
A 450 PS 996 Turbo was introduced in 2001 that could achieve 0-60mph in just 3.8 seconds. This version remained until 2005.
997 Series (introduced in 2005)
The Type 997 design-wise harked back to many of the favourable attributes found on earlier versions of the 911. This was a shrewd move by Porsche, avoiding the lineage becoming too far removed from its much-loved roots, especially after the recent controversy of introducing a water-cooled engine to the lineage.
From the off, there were two versions available in the (rear-wheel drive) Carrera and Carrera S. While a 3.6 litre engine sat in the rear of the Carrera, a more powerful 3.8 litre engine sat in the Carrera S. The Carrera S also had more powerful brakes, the rather ungainly nicknamed “Lobster Fork” wheels and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) giving the driver the luxury of electronic suspension adjustability.
The 997 Turbo, featuring Porsche’s all-wheel-drive, produced 480 PS and was unofficially clocked at 60mph from zero in just 3.2 seconds by Motor Trend magazine.
GT3, GT3 RS and GT2 and GT RS versions followed. The 997 GT3 RS featuring a 4.0 litre engine and 500 bhp. With lightweight components such as bucket seats, a plexiglass rear window, carbon fibre bonnet and front wings plus a lightened flywheel helped fight gravity.
The GT2 RS came with yet more grunt with the engine creating 523 bhp. This was the first street-legal 911 variant officially capable of more than 200mph.
991 Series (2011)
Last year we were treated to the latest incarnation of the iconic Porsche 911. This model is built on a new platform and is only the third version to be able to boast this. The wheelbase has increased once more, possibly – like before – in anticipation of more power. The 991 is predominantly manufactured using aluminium and is the first 911 to feature this.
With a need for more performance and better fuel economy, the 991 comes equipped with a few new features. One of which is electro-mechanical power steering that reduces fuel consumption. Another is Porsche’s version of the much talked about engine stop start system, The idea behind this being that while the vehicle is stationary at traffic lights or stuck in a traffic jam, the engine will turn itself off temporarily, saving on emissions and idle-speed fuel consumption. A few other manufacturers are using their own versions of engine stop start, and time will tell if potential lack of driver confidence at owning a vehicle that shuts it’s engine down on a public highway can be overcome.
While it’s hard to avoid, and easy to get carried away with the numbers related to engine output when talking about the Porsche 911, it’s worth remembering that this car has remained pretty much aesthetically the same since 1964. Not only that, but the legacy of the 911 remains as potent today as it has ever been having survived a brief yuppie fashion scare in the early eighties.
It’s satisfying to know that FA Porsche – sometimes known as ‘Butzi’ – lived long enough to fully appreciate his 911 design becoming such an integral part of automobile culture and history.