1989 Porsche 911 Speedster

The late 1980s saw a sharp reversal of Porsche's fortunes caused in no small measure by a sudden drop in U.S. sales. From a 1986 high of over 30,000 cars, Porsche sent over just 9,479 in calendar-year 1989 and 9,139 in 1990. What was happening?

Most everyone agreed the main culprit was a never-ending increase in prices that was making all Porsches too expensive except for the ultra-rich. There was also the waning appeal of the front-engine Porsche 928 and 944, which evidently weren't changing fast enough to suit the market. The advent of a U.S. luxury tax and a sharp recession in late 1989 didn't help, either.

Porsche 911
Only 2,100 Porsche 911 Speedsters were built, of which 800 came to America.

What to do? Well, if a 356 Speedster had helped old Max Hoffman move more Porsches back in the 1950s, perhaps a 911 Speedster would help Porsche U.S. win back customers in the late 1980s.

Actually, Porsche had built such a car back in 1982, a prototype based on the then-new 911 Cabriolet. But "chop shop" converters had quickly stolen the Cabrio's thunder, and Porsche feared the same would happen with a new Speedster, so the company kept mum about the idea until 1987, when Porsche 911 sales began easing.

The reborn Speedster bowed alongside the new Porsche Carrera 4 at the 1988 Frankfurt Show. Predictably, it was an instant hit. Unlike the Spartan prototype, this new-yet-nostalgic Porsche 911 catered to comfort with roll-up windows (instead of side curtains) and a slightly taller, more conventional windshield (for some semblance of top-up head room). Most usual Porsche 911 options were available, but ordering too many would quickly swell the $65,480 base price to nearly $75,000.

Perhaps as a showroom lure, Porsche announced production of only 2,100 units, then delayed building any Speedsters until the summer of 1989. As it turned out, all but 159 wore the Turbo Look package, but every one got the Turbo's beefier chassis and heavy-duty four-piston cross-drilled disc brakes.

Recalling its 356 forebear, the Porsche 911 Speedster used a simpler manual top than the normal Cabriolet, with no thick inner insulation and or interior headliner. The result was a thinner roof that could stow beneath a flip-up fiberglass cover behind a rear package shelf, an arrangement prompted Porsche to forget the normal token back seat of other 911s. The cover's double-hump design didn't please everyone -- least of all Butzi Porsche, still having his say -- and top operation required some fiddling. Otherwise, the Speedster was pure 911.

But because it was designed pre-Carrera 4, it was not a Porsche 911 of the future. In fact, the '89 Speedster would be the last 911 model built at the old Stuttgart factory. Starting with the 964 series, Porsche shifted 911 production to a modern new plant near its Stuttgart headquarters.

Undeniably, the Speedster had "collectible" written all over it, and all 2,100 -- of which just 800 came to-- were quickly snapped up by would-be profiteers. And profit they did, but only for a time. Though asking prices soared above $90,000 within three years, according to Road & Track, Porsche would have another last laugh by offering an improved 911 Speedster five years on. America

Ferry Porsche turned a vigorous 80 on September 19, 1989, and his workers gave him a splendid birthday present in the Panamericana, a Porsche Carrera 4 with chunky, futuristic bodywork rendered in fiberglass and carbon fiber. The name, of course, honored the great Mexican road races of the Fifties, the Carreras Panamericana, where the Type 550 Spyder and 718 RSK had proven themselves so conclusively.

The Panamericana's unique feature was a roofline tapered sharply down from windshield to rear deck as a frame for slim doors and rear-side windows. A canvas cover allowed the entire cockpit to be opened to the sun. It was a striking machine that was destined to remain Dr. Porsche's alone -- a pity, for a production version could have been wondrous -- a "Speedster" that truly would herald the future.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356
Porsche 911
Porsche 914
Porsche 924, 944, 968
Porsche 928 Porsche 959
Porsche Boxster Porsche Cayenne Porsche Cayman

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