Porsche 911: Revving Through Time

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A review of German automotive engineering wouldn’t be complete without the Porsche 911. Why is this sports car so iconic?

The Porsche 911 has a luxurious history dating from ‘64 to now. Produced by Porche AG of Stuttgart, Germany, this iconic sports car has a flat-based six-cylinder engine, sleek body lines, and a rear-wheel drivetrain. The car has continued production, with the one millionth 911 made in 2017.

When the first Porsche 911 debuted at the ‘64 Frankfurt Motor Show, the world could hardly have predicted the impact this little sports car would have over the years. The 911 continues to be one of the most iconic vehicles of all time, having been produced since 1964, which puts it on the rare air of the Mustang or VW Beetle for the longest production run. Though some naysayers might be surprised at its longevity, anyone familiar with German engineering excellence shouldn’t be. The 911 has gone through several enhancements over the years (more like tweaks), but the basic concept of the car has remained constant. So what makes this icon so unique? Well, this article will examine the history of the Porsche 911 to see if we can’t uncover an answer to this beautiful beast’s popularity.

Table of Contents


The 911 Began With A Simple Sketch And A Different Number

The invention of the concept for the 911 is credited to a sketch by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, nicknamed “Butzi” in 1959, years before the initial production of the first production car. The young man had a long lineage of automotive excellence in the family (both father, Ferry, and grandfather, Ferdinand, were engineers). Butzi tended more toward the design elements of the car rather than the mechanical aspects. Although he never considered himself the car's founder, the 911 would never have gained its iconic shape without his expertise.

Initially, Porsche produced the car for the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show as a prototype with a non-operational rear-mounted Type 901 inline-six engine. The first production models of the new sports car were labeled with the 901 monikers. Still, after a short run (82 units have 901 badging), French automaker Peugeot objected, citing a French law claiming that in France, they had the exclusive rights to car names with three numbers and a zero in the middle. Rather than face a host of threatening lawsuits, the company changed the zero for a one, and the car became the 911.

The 911 started production in September 1964, with the first units being shipped to the US a few months later. They were initially equipped with a 130 hp (2.0L) flat inline-six capable of mph top speed of 125 mph. (it could accelerate well on a track - 0-60 mph in 9 seconds). While it was not as fast as American muscle cars, the 911 was fast enough for the typical driver.

Changes Occur, But the Essence Remains the Same

Over the years, there have been numerous tweaks to the features of the Porsche 911, beginning in 1966 with the introduction of the 911S. The new Porsche featured an enhanced engine (Type 901/02) that made 160 horsepower (which pushed top speeds to 140 mph or better). Alloy wheels were offered for the first time, and interior leather seating surfaces, an oversized steering wheel, and the simple instrument panel with easy-to-read round gauges made owners relish the thrill of driving.

On the racing circuit, Porsche was beginning to get noticed as well. The peppy little sportscar was modified for the track (primarily mountain climb races) with lighter components everywhere and an overhauled Type 901/20 engine with 220 horses under the hood. While it would take a couple of years for the Porsche 911 to win the Tour de France, it consistently placed in many races and became known for its agility and grace.

In 1967, Porsche introduced a 911 Targa version with an installed metal rollbar (Targa is Italian for a small plate) because it was concerned about impending rollover regulations being implemented by the US NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). The consensus was that open convertibles would simply not pass the new laws, so Porsche inserted a rollbar to keep American sales as brisk as they had been.

The original 911 continued in production through a series of models (A - F series) until 1973. Each series brought new modifications, from moving the rear wheels farther back to increasing the engine's displacement or adding a minor spoiler under the front end to improve the car’s ability to hold the road when pushed to the limits.

New Laws Force Major Safety Changes

The 1974 model year brought significant developments to the 911 due to an increased awareness of safety and emissions issues in America and abroad. An oil embargo had weakened many industrial nations' economies, and governments swiftly enacted legislation to make vehicles more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly.

The engine was increased for the 1974 G model, and the following H, J, and K model years, the engine was increased, with added fuel injection to improve fuel economy. Low-impact bumpers were added to appease new US safety regulations.

In 1976, Porsche introduced the 911 Carrera with upgraded luxury features, a variation of the 930 Turbo engine, which produced 200 HP and boasted a top speed of 147 mph. About a third of the 3k units produced were Carrera Targa models.

The 964 Gains All-Wheel Drive And Other Things

In 1989, Porsche realized it needed more than just a name to maintain its market share. With the world economy in a recession, the company was forced to branch out. It launched the Carrera 4, the first all-wheel drive Porsche ever made. Porsche called the innovation a “differential-slip controlled” drive that used ABS sensors and hydraulics to prevent and control wheel slippage as it occurred in real time.

The 911 underwent a complete body redesign (although it kept its design influences from previous generations). Power steering and ABS debuted, and a retractable rear spoiler made the car unique in many ways. A couple of years later, Porsche tried to appease American buyers by eliminating the rear spoiler and returning seats (although it was cramped).

In 1990, the company produced a turbocharged version of the 964, with a 3.3L engine, producing a blistering 320 horsepower. Some units were made with the 3.6L engine (‘92 - ‘94), pushing 355 horsepower. The cars were scarce since only 3,660 were made over four years (‘90 - ‘93), of which 1500 were fitted with the larger turbocharged engine.

The 993 Is The Final Air-Cooled Porsche

For the 1994 model year, the Porsche 911 again went under the designer's knife. The car was lowered with a sleeker look and integrated bumpers to smooth out body lines. Along with a new front fascia and rear end, lightweight aluminum chassis, the 993 also had an improved suspension to improve road handling. The result was a sports car that could be driven with a wide open throttle while maintaining strength through curves and tight cornering. This 911 was a sports car purist's dream.

While the 993 was the last air-cooled 911 made, most Porsche lovers feel this model was among the best cars Porsche ever made. The turbocharged engine had excellent emissions ratings (the lowest of any manufacturer in 1995) due to the biturbo engine (twin turbochargers). At the time, the technology was cutting-edge, leaving many automakers scrambling to catch up.

Porsche Has A Water Shed Moment, Literally.

Porsche continued its pattern of innovation as it introduced the 996 for the 1997 model year, with a completely redesigned body fashioned after the base Boxster. While retaining its classic vintage Porsche influences, the redesign was controversial at the time. Any fears were soon relieved as the new 996 took home several international design awards during its production run until 2005.

The most significant change that agitated Porsche lovers was eliminating an air-cooled engine that the automaker had used for over 34 years. The new water-cooled flat-six engine was designed to continue to lower emissions and combat the competition the company was receiving from other European automakers.

The 996 morphed into various iterations, including the Carrera 4, Carrera 4S, GT2, and racing versions GT3 and GT3 RS. Porsche decided that a shotgun approach to multiple markets was the best approach to gaining buyers and eliminating the competition it was receiving from Jaguar. During the production run, the manufacturer continued to push the limits of what it could put on the street. (For example, in 2002, the X50 package was an option that offered a power increase of horsepower to 444 and achieved 0-60 speeds in 3.91 seconds. Eventually, the X50 package became standard equipment for the Turbo S model).

A New Carrera Model Makes Its Debut

In the summer of 2004, Porsche introduced the 997 model, which featured a new generation of 911 with two initial offerings, the 911 Carrera and its cousin, the 911 Carrera S. By the time of the 2000s. Automotive technologies were developing at a rapid pace as cars were becoming more sophisticated in performance and convenience. Porsche sought to capitalize on the growing expectations of consumers demanding more features than ever before.

The 997 models were powered by two primary engine choices, a 3.6L flat-six with 325 HP and a 3.8L version that created 355 HP.

For the 2008 model, this version of the 911 featured electronic fuel injection and even came equipped with Bluetooth connectivity. A couple of years later, the company unveiled a 997.2 model with so much power to the rear wheels that it shaved half a second off its 0-60 times (3.4 seconds).

During the 997s run, Porsche offered many variants to accommodate individual customer preferences. (There were 24 separate models that could be ordered, from Cararra, Turbo, Cabriolet, and GT3, just to name a few).

A New Platform With Technological Advances Galore

For the 2012 model year, Porsche introduced a brand new platform. With a larger body, oversized headlights, and more prominent fenders, the sports car looks ready to take on the world. Yet, the company didn’t stop with just redesigning the exterior. Several technologies like aluminum alloy lightened the weight, improved fuel economy, and reduced emissions.

Hydraulic engine mounts and torque vectoring control improved the road handling capabilities. Added moldings and insulation lessened road noise, and an internal center console gave owners the feeling of driving an entirely new car. One of the most excellent features occurred in 2013 when Porche developed a rear-wheel steering system that moved the back wheels independently depending on the car’s speed in a cornering maneuver.

A Bright Future

There is no question that Porsche continues to deliver what many describe as the perfect high-performance driving experience. New models have numerous features, including a new rear bumper, updated manual gearbox, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and blind spot monitoring.

The 2023 Porsche 911 continues to set the standard for all other sports cars in the automotive industry. It is the fastest 911 in history, with a 3.8 flat-six engine producing 640 HP and 590 lb-ft of torque. This new 911 shreds the track with 2.6 seconds for its 0- 60 time. An 8-speed automated manual transmission is standard, (the seven speed manual transmission is only an option in Europe on the Carrera models). An improved suspension provides high-speed stability, it delivers like the racing car beast it has always been.

Key areas include Interior comforts that are lush and plentiful, including a heated steering wheel, leather seating, 14-way power driver and passenger seats, and a standard satellite entertainment system with 12 surround speakers. (Rear seats are still cramped). The 911 comes with a standard four-year - 50k mile warranty. The starting price is $106,000 and is offered in three body styles, Coupe, Cabriolet convertible, and Targa.

Exciting times are ahead for Porsche as the automaker continues to produce what has to be one of the finest sports cars on the planet. For its 60 years, the 911 has carried the banner faithfully, and here is hoping the next 60 years will be as solid as the first.


Matt Lane

Matt Lane

My name is Matt and I've been around cars all my life! I have owned and worked on many different classic vehicles, so I started this site to share my experiences. If you're new to classic cars, then this website is for you.

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