Porsche 911 History

For most enthusiasts the 911 remains the one "true" Porsche, the only one with a direct link to the original Porsche 356, yet longer-lived by far. Though Ferry Porsche thought his first six-cylinder production car would have a good long run when he showed it in late 1963, even he couldn't have foreseen that it would endure into a new millennium.

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Porsche 911
The Porsche 911 is both modern and timeless. This is a 1998 Carrera S.
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But this seeming immortality is not without reason. Over the years, the 911 has been put in a coffin more times than Dracula -- mainly by the press, though certain forces in Zuffenhausen also wanted to kill it at various times. Yet, as the Beetle once was for Volkswagen, the 911 became such a strong symbol of everything Porsche that it overshadowed -- and outsold -- its intended successor, the Porsche 928. VW finally made its great model change, but Porsche has not. The Porsche 911 became too profitable, too vital to be cast aside -- one reason you can buy a new one today.

Another reason is over four decades of Porsche-style honing that have kept the 911 fresh, exciting, and quite extraordinary. The result is both a living legend and a perpetual classic -- a car that seems like it's always been around yet in many ways is more relevant now than it was in the beginning.

Of course, the 911 was very good to start with, preserving the essence of earlier Porsches while setting a new and entirely higher standard of engineering and design. Mechanically, it was a sharp break with Porsche practice in several areas.

For example, it was the first production Porsche without front trailing arms or rear swing axles, though it retained 356-style torsion bars. It was the first roadgoing Porsche with more than four cylinders, yet its new six-cylinder engine was also a horizontally opposed air-cooled type placed behind the rear wheels.

Also unlike the Porsche 356, the 911 engine was supported at both ends: by the transaxle in front and by a transverse mount in back. An all-synchromesh gearbox with overdrive top gear was no surprise, but instead of four ratios, buyers could have five, which provided greater low-speed flexibility and higher top-end potential.

The 911 originated with Porsche Project 695, which also produced the 356's disc brakes. Planning began in 1956, a mere six years after Zuffenhausen began anything like series production.

At first, the Porsche 911 was seen not as a 356 replacement but as a larger four-seat car with performance comparable to that of the charismatic Carrera. It was intended that other 356s carry on even after the "big Porsche" was launched, as indeed some did for a time. But Ferry Porsche changed his mind about the size, fearing a full four-seater would put his firm in the unaccustomed and uncomfortable position of competing with much larger outfits, notably Daimler-Benz.

By 1959, work was underway on what emerged as the T-7 prototype (T-6 was the last 356 body, appearing in 1961). Styling was entrusted to one of Ferry's four sons, Ferdinand Porsche III, known as "Butzi." Ferry wasn't a body designer per se, but he knew what he wanted. A family resemblance to the 356 was a must, but so were (as he later described) "more space inside" and a "luggage space that could take an owner's golf clubs."

High performance was naturally a given, too, but Ferry put new emphasis on smooth, quiet running: "We decided on a 2.0-liter six-cylinder engine because sixes are more comfortable and refined," he said in 1984. "We studied the concept of a mid-mounted engine...but we could not give [the car] enough interior room for the outside size we wanted."

What they did want, in short, was a roomier, smoother, quieter, more practical, and somewhat more luxurious Carrera. In that regard, it's interesting to note that the late Dean Batchelor observed "the four-cam Carrera engine was considered briefly as an across-the-board replacement for the pushrod-and-rocker-arm engine, but was too costly and too complicated to be considered seriously for general use."

Without greatly extending the wheelbase, Butzi did a remarkable job of providing near four-seat interior room. Outside, the T-7 showed a low beltline, lots of glass, and a sharply sloped "hood." Front fenders remained high and prominent, something Butzi considered vital to Porsche identity.

With a huge wrapped backlight and stubby semi-notchback tail, the T-7 looked a bit unorthodox, but its styling from the B-pillars forward would survive almost unaltered to the production 911.

When Ferry decided on a more evolutionary look with Porsche's traditional 2+2 seating, Butzi revised the T-7 from the doors back, creating the now-familiar fastback with ovoid rear side windows and back-slanting B-posts. Batchelor recorded that Ferry decreed a wheelbase of no more than 2,200 mm, 100 mm longer than the 356's, and that's about how it worked out: 2,211 mm (87.0 inches) versus 2,100 (82.7) for the 356.

Porsche 911
As time would show, the Porsche 911 was destined for a long and exciting life.

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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  • 2007 Porsche 911
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  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911