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Porsche 911 History

1999 Porsche 911 Carrera Origins

The arrival of the 1999 Porsche Carrera was telegraphed in a late 1993 interview with journalist Georg Kacher in which Dr. Ferry Porsche confirmed what everyone suspected: a brand-new Porsche 911 was on the way. "We once believed that it would be a good idea to replace the 911 with the 928," he recalled. "But to do that would have been a dreadful mistake...It is possible to modify, hone, and improve [the 911], but we must never alter its character and its unmistakable visual appeal."

Though he had long since ceased running Porsche day to day, Ferry was sanguine about the company's future, especially its chances of remaining independent even as other specialist automakers were being gobbled up by giants: "Back in the mid-Eighties, at the height of our success, we let excessive windfall profits obscure the true earnings. Instead of investing in fresh products and more efficient production techniques, we hoped the golden years would continue forever. But they didn't, and we had to learn how to play this game the hard way...Believe me -- this company will prosper again even without outside support, and we will owe the lion's share of that comeback to a car that is as unique today as it was thirty years ago."

Porsche 911
The 996-series Porsche Carreras had a sleek shape that was still clearly 911.

That car would be the 996-series, the first fully redesigned Porsche 911 in 34 years. About all it shared with previous models was the rear-engine format, a general shape, and an ignition switch to the left of the steering wheel.

Introduced to Europe in late 1997 and launched in America for model-year 1999, the 996 was a revolution. Together with the new low-priced Boxster that preceded it to market, the 996 would help secure Porsche's future and take the company to new heights.

Sadly, Dr. Porsche barely lived to see that future unfold. He passed away at age 88 in 1998, ironically the 50th-anniversary year for the modern Porsche company that he more than anyone had built.

The 996 was not the car it might have been, and therein lies a tale. The story begins in the late 1980s, when fast-withering sales and profits prompted a daring idea. This was the Type 989, a sporty four-door sedan with Porsche 911-like styling and a new-design V-8 engine sitting in front.

Porsche's top executives at the time, Chairman Arno Bohn and research-and-development chief Ulrich Bez, thought the roomier, four-seat 989 would generate far more sales than sports cars ever would, enough to make Porsche prosperous for keeps. To maximize investment, the sedan platform would be modified to serve a new Porsche 911, but with the V-8 moved to the rear.

It seemed a good plan, but other executives felt that a sedan, however sporting, would be as controversial as the Porsche 928 had been. Their opinion prevailed, and the program was dropped in 1991, progressing as far as a lone prototype. Bohn was dropped along with it. So was Bez, who went off to Daewoo in South Korea, then to Britain to resuscitate another ailing sports-car maker, Aston Martin.

Though the 989 was left stillborn, the experience prompted a Plan B that everyone could endorse. It called for two new sports cars, each with its own personality and market assignment, but sharing as many components as possible to keep development costs in check. From this emerged the eventual 996-series Porsche 911 and the Boxster (a.k.a. Type 986), a two-seat mid-engine roadster to replace the front four-cylinder 968 as the entry-level Porsche.

Both were designed more or less together. Though Porsche was always coy about costs, the two-for-one approach must have saved loads of money at a time when cash reserves were running low. And to its credit, Porsche never denied pinching pennies in this way.

Nor did it need to, because both new models were splendid. The Boxster, perhaps because it came out first, was widely hailed as the savior of the company, a prophecy fast fulfilled by strong early sales demand. The 996 got a warm welcome, too, yet some felt it was "less 911" than its forebears, irrevocably comprised by the cost-minded crossbreeding with Boxster.

Such carping ceased once the inevitable Turbo version appeared, backed up by a new GT2 and the racing-inspired GT3. Together, this ultra-performance trio erased any remaining doubts about the 996's claim to greatness.

Porsche 911
This C4 was a true rear-engine car, despite its similarities to the Boxster up front.

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

For Porsche prices and reviews from the auto editors of Consumer Guide, see:

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  • 1999-2006 Porsche 911
  • 1995-1998 Porsche 911