A simplified history of why this quirky sports car is one of the most iconic designs ever made.
When the Porsche 911 was introduced in 1963, few would have guessed that it would become the icon it is today. It was designed as a replacement for the outgoing 356, the car that had defined Porsche through its early years. The simple, elegant styling of early 911’s (known internally as 901’s) traces its roots back to sketches done by Ferdinand Porsche, the grandson of the original Ferdinand Porsche who founded the company some 30 years prior. His designs would define its looks through it’s 56 years of production. However it isn’t just styling that makes the 911 an icon. As standard, the 1963 car was fitted with a six cylinder boxer engine, air cooled and rear mounted like its predecessor. The tiny, 2.0 liter engine produced only 130 hp, but that was plenty in a car weighing just 2300 pounds.
The original Type 901 engine
After three years of production, Porsche came out with the 1966 911S, an up-rated model with 160 HP produced from its 901/02 engine. Also introduced in the S model were the iconic 5 spoke Fuchs Alloy wheels, which until recently were a defining styling cue. The next year, along with various small improvements, came the 911 Targa.
1967 911 Targa
1968 marked the first year of standard fuel injection, and 1969 followed it up with the new 2.2 Liter 901/10 engine producing 153-180 hp, depending on the trim. By the early 1970’s, Porsche had upped the displacement to 2.4 liters, and added 57 millimeters to the wheelbase, curing the early car’s nervous handling at high speeds.
The biggest change so far came in 1973, when Porsche unveiled the 2.7 Carrera RS, a homologation special producing 210 hp from its 2.7 liter engine. The whale-tail spoiler that graces later later cars also made it’s first appearance. The 1974 Carrera RS featured a 3 liter engine producing 230 hp, and the RSR Turbo marked the first appearance of a turbo in one of Porsche’s sports cars. Both models placed highly in motor racing events, including a 2nd place for the Turbo in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
1974 911 Carrera RS 2.7
In the next three years, several important changes to the 911 occurred. One, the rest of the 911 range inherited the 2.7 liter engine. And two, the first turbo road Cars were introduced with the 930 chassis and engine, bringing an increase in horsepower up to 260. These early turbos were well known for dangerous turbo lag (and subsequent loss of traction once boost kicked in) despite flared rear fenders to contain the wider tires. For the 1978 model year, Porsche upped the displacement of the turbo engine to 3.3 liters, and added a larger inter cooler, which necessitated the addition the “tea tray” spoiler.
1978 911 Turbo, featuring the new “tea tray” spoiler
1979 almost marked the end of the 911. Plans were made to replace it with a new flagship model, the 928. However sales of the 911 remained strong, and it was decided that production would continue indefinitely, a decision that likely saved the company.
A Porsche 928, the car that failed to replace the 911
In 1984, after five years without a Carrera model (although technically the intervening models were designated SC, or Super-Carrera) the name was revived with the 3.2 Carrera. It also marked the end of the original 911, with all subsequent cars featuring new styling, brakes, and electronics. This last hurrah featured an aluminum engine case like the one fitted to the SC, but moved forward with an additional .2 liters of displacement. In almost all other ways, the SC and Carrera were indistinguishable.
1984 911 Carrera 3.2
1989 marked the beginning of the 964 series of 911’s. The first 964’s were launched as Carrera 4’s, indicating 4 wheel drive. It was an important car for Porsche, as 1989 fell squarely in the middle of a recession. To stay relevant, Porsche threw as much tech into their new 911 as they could while retaining it’s essential driving characteristics. Among the improvements were a deployabe rear spoiler, coil springs, ABS, and hydraulic power steering. However, despite the changing times, Porsche made the decision to keep their old air cooled engine, albeit with 3.6 liters, as a reminder of the car’s roots.
1989 911 Carrera 4
In 1994, the 993 chassis was launched. It featured sleeker bodywork and a heavily revised multi link rear suspension, but retained the 3.6 liter air cooled flat six of its predecessor. A four wheel drive version (Also called the Carrera 4) and an RS version with a 3.8 liter engine were introduced part way through the production run, but the standard RWD Carrera is still the most sought after. A twin-turbocharged variant was introduced from 1995 to 1997, and was the first 911 turbo to be equipped with full-time all wheel drive. The 993 car was the last to use an air cooled engine, and so marks the last of what many consider the “purists” 911.
1994 911 Carrera Turbo S
1999 brought with it the first of the water cooled 911’s, the 996. Although technically a very good car, the 996 caught a lot of flak from enthusiasts for its departure from an air cooled engine. The new engine produced over 300 horsepower in the standard Carrera, and far more in some of the more racing-oriented trims. The styling, completed by Pinky Lai, won design awards internationally and was noticeably sleeker than past models. Although the 996 spawned many variants, the best known and most desirable are the GT3, GT3 RS, GT2, and GT2 RS. These high performance street race-cars produced up to 612 HP in the case of the GT2 RS.
1999 Porsche 911
2005 welcomed in the 997 generation, which subtly updated the styling of the 996. Both 2 and 4 wheel drive versions were offered, with the base car sporting a 3.6 liter flat six, and the Carrera S carrying a more powerful 3.8 liter. Turbo, GT3, and GT2 variants were also offered, carrying forward the principles of their predecessors in their design and function. Two special edition cars were released near the end of the generation’s life, the Sport Classic, and the Speedster. Both paid homage to Porsche’s past models, with the speedster a direct link back to the 356 Speedster.
997 generation 911 Carrera S
In 2012, Porsche welcomed in the 991 chassis, which saved 110 pounds off of the 997 despite being larger in every dimension. This weight saving came largely from it’s all aluminum construction. Another improvement came in the form of an updated 3.4 liter engine producing 350 hp in the Carrera (now the base model.) Along with the new engine came a revised PDK transmission (commonly acknowledged as one of the best automatic transmissions ever made) as well as a 7 speed manual. Handling was also improved, through a combination of a torque vectoring system and Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control, which helps keep the car flat through corners. By 2015, a turbocharged 3.0 liter engine was fitted to all base models, with naturally aspirated 3.8 liter and 4.0 liter engines reserved for the high performance GT3 and GT3 RS respectively. The latest and greatest of the GT cars is the GT2 RS, announced in 2017. It produces almost 700 hp, and is the fastest 911 road car to date.
2012 911 Carrera
As of 2019, Porsche has announced the brand new 992 generation. It features heavily revised bodywork, standard staggered wheels, and a revised twin turbo 3.0 liter powerplant producing 443 hp in the Carrera S.
2019 911 Carrera S
Throughout the 911’s 56 years of continuous production, every component has been revised and rethought, remade and re-imagined. Despite criticisms from some who describe the 911 as a 50 year old car wearing a new skin, it’s one of the most technically advanced sports cars made today. And that’s what makes the 911 so iconic; it takes the traditions its based on and continually updates them, bringing the legacy forward into the future.