1987 Porsche 911 Carrera Speedster Studie

1987 Porsche 911 Carrera Speedster Studie

The 911 Speedster Studie helped give Porsche’s icon a new lease of life – and put fresh air between the plans of an infamous CEO… Written by Richard Aucock. Photography by Ali Cusick.


HOW THE SPEEDSTER CONCEPT SHOWED

The first 911 Speedster

THE 911 WAS A LIVE AND KICKING

Porsche’s open-topped 991 is already a collector’s gem. We drive a modified example from JCR Developments


Porsche spent much of the 1970s trying to kill the 911. Despite – or maybe because of – being a forward-looking and steadfast engineer, Porsche’s firstever CEO in the 1970s, Ernst Fuhrmann, was determined the 911 would die under his watch. His 928, developed to be an ultra-modern GT immune to proposed US crash protection regulations, was the future. It wasn’t until 1981, when Fuhrmann was replaced by an American 911 aficionado, Peter Schutz, that such thoughts were laid to rest. Finally, development of the 911 could begin again.

“Porsche cheerily added that the club sports cover can be swapped for the roadworthy serial windscreen with just a few screws”

1987 Porsche 911 Carrera Speedster Studie

The company had a lot of catching up to do. Evolution of the 911 had effectively been paused for years. The 1984 3.2 Carrera would be a stepping stone to models far in the future, such as the 964 and 993 – but development projects take years, and in the meantime, Porsche had a business to grow.

How can you bolster profitability today even when all your R&D spend is being pumped into the cars of tomorrow? With engineering ingenuity, open-minded management and a good understanding of your history, that’s how. This is the story of the Porsche 911 Speedster Concept.

The name was originally coined in the 1950s. US importer Max Hoffman wanted something cheaper and driver-focused to offer American enthusiasts: cue the cleverly conceived 1954 356 Speedster, a sub-$3,000 car with a steeply raked, cut-down and removable windscreen. Despite offering minimal standard equipment in order to keep the price low, buyers still flocked to the 356 Speedster and it lasted until 1959.

The Porsche Speedster became world-famous. The Porsche name became iconic in America because of it – a West Coast cult that was aided just as much by success on the racetrack as by the car’s boulevard-cruising style. The United States would develop into Porsche’s most important global market, and it’s largely thanks to the success of the Speedster.


1987 Porsche 911 Carrera Speedster Studie

Despite this, the name lay dormant throughout the 1960s and, as we know, Porsche in the 1970s was otherwise caught up in the mythology of complicated, expensive front-engined V8 GT cars. Legend has it that technical director Helmuth Bott, a secret Speedster fan, fashioned a simple open-top 911 concept – to the fury of Fuhrmann, who said Bott would be fired if he continued with the project. The half-finished prototype was rolled out of his Weissach workshop into an unassuming lockup, to be forgotten.

But it wasn’t forgotten forever. As Porsche plunged into the losses that led to Fuhrmann’s departure, Schutz took his place as CEO. The American was dismayed and furious to find an empty book of ideas for developing the 911. In just his third week in the job, the decision to cease production of the 911 was reversed. Soon after, work was underway on something that the US market would adore: a 911 Cabriolet. The SC-derived model arrived within two years… but Schutz, and a now finally on-side Bott, had even more in store.

Bott was first to dust off his ideas. Work began in 1982 on a neat variation of the Cabriolet that ditched the roof, binned the windscreen, and replaced it with a tiny wraparound windshield that continued into the doors. There was talk internally of a very limited series of 200 cars, but other more urgent tasks in the company’s fightback took over.

It wasn’t until a few years later that Schutz visited the styling centre, came across the project and liked what he saw. Similar to Hoffman all those years ago, he had a potentially lucrative vision that was, in the spirit of the 356 Speedster, even simpler than Bott’s earlier idea: basically, a variant of the new Cabriolet with no roof and a tiny removable windshield instead of a proper windscreen. With the design team enthused and the green light given, work recommenced apace. After several false starts, the Speedster name was definitely coming back.

Porsche actually assessed two prototypes in 1986 to hone the simple Speedster Concept. The first was a Cabriolet wearing a Turbo body, with the roof removed and windscreen replaced by a small aero screen. The idea was to include a detachable hard-top that featured a regular windscreen. This was Schutz’s idea for the 911 Speedster.


1987 Porsche 911 Carrera Speedster Studie

The second was based on the regular narrowbody SC. This was closer to Bott’s original concept, with a wraparound screen and distinctive raised hump-back tonneau cover behind the front seats. Both concepts were two-seaters.

And that’s how we got to the radical concept that wowed the 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show. Glinting under the spotlights in extensively colour-coded pearlescent white, complete with white-painted Fuchs wheel centres, it was about as ’80s as can be. And the crowds, with their moustaches, perms and Filofaxes absolutely loved it. The 1987 show car was closest to Bott’s original vision, albeit retaining the simple ethos he envisaged. The core car, as Porsche explained, was intended to ‘represent Porsche’s pure pleasure in driving sporty and “topless”.’ The company admitted it was more adaptable (and less comfortable) than the Convertible. The idea was to easily switch between road use and ‘club sports’ competition, just like the original 356 Speedster did so successfully in the 1950s.

Around 70kg lighter than the Cabriolet – effectively negating the weight gain over the Coupe – the Speedster Concept was a two-seater with a very simple, unlined, lightweight roof. Its purpose was to keep the rain out, no more than that. The intention was that it would rarely be raised, instead kept hidden beneath a fibreglass ‘double hump’ cover.

As for the chopped-down windscreen, this was inclined a further five degrees flatter than the regular Cabriolet, and instead of an extensive window surround, it used a simple and lightweight aluminium frame. For added authenticity, this could be removed – Porsche made sure it used all the items found in the regular vehicle tool kit. The usual quarterlights were also removed, and while it did have side windows, they were wound up and down manually. Again, as this was a car for the sunshine states, the intention was for them always to be down.

When combined with the lean, lithe lines of the Ur-911, it looks beautifully, almost alarmingly clean to modern eyes. You’re drawn to the elegant curving waistline that runs front to rear, rather than the familiar 911 Coupe profile that designers often sketch out with just a few simple lines. That dainty windscreen surround almost disappears, and the rear double-hump tonneau also seemed less ‘weighty’ than a regular convertible, not least because of how motor show spotlights glinted and illuminated its surface. It seems dainty and delicate, with a very authentic ‘skunkworks’ feel. It even had beautiful, bespoke aero-look door mirrors, contrasting starkly with the regular cars’ heavy-duty items.

But it’s not often you see the concept car naked. Only in period 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show images will you be able to enjoy it. That’s because Porsche also designed two more possible iterations of the Speedster. The first was a simple hard top which could be bolted on with the soft-top in place. This even had a heated rear window, which Porsche insisted would make it ideal for use in wintertime. The second was the real attention-grabber: a ‘club sports’ version of the 911 Speedster, which was ‘fully dedicated to motorsports’. It’s this very vehicle you see in our pictures, after Total 911 was given access to the car thanks to kind folks at the Porsche Museum. The double-bubble rear was removed, as was the aluminium-frame windscreen, and in came another Bott brainwave: the small wraparound wind deflector. This sat atop a body-colour cover that enclosed the entire car apart from the driver’s seat. The idea was to replicate the look of the 550 Spyder single-seat racers of the 1950s. It even had a simple but sturdy-looking roll hoop behind the driver.

How did the driver get in? Why, by lifting up the club sport cover via gas struts, a bit like some sort of glorious rear-hinged ‘hatchback’. It truly looked like nothing else, and of course, was unlikely to be practical (two people were required to lift and close the lid of this single-seat car, for starters). But what a dramatic appearance it had, and how the ‘911 Speedster Clubsport’ further built excitement for this thrilling Porsche.

Even Porsche’s admission that it was unlikely to be street-legal didn’t dampen enthusiasm. Indeed, this perhaps even underlined the ‘weekend racer’ vibes. In conceding it could only be used on a closedroad course, Porsche cheerily added that the club sports cover ‘can be swapped for the roadworthy serial windscreen with just a few screws’. Simple. So simple, it often staged demonstrations of the process on motor show stands.

The firm didn’t even have to worry too much about adding performance to build the buzz. Again, in keeping with the 356 Speedster spirit, the 3.2-litre engine had no more power, producing 231hp for 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds. The period press material stated the same 152mph top speed as the regular cars, but this was clearly fanciful as aerodynamics would surely cap things well before then – if the driver’s head or neck didn’t cry wolf first. The idea had been to base the new Speedster on the upcoming 964 911. But, remember how we said there was lots going on at Porsche at the time? The 964 project duly overran and wouldn’t arrive until late in 1989. The Speedster, which would continue to be derived from the 3.2 Carrera platform thus had an extra job to do – maintain interest in the 911 as the high-tech 964 was readied for production. The production 911 Carrera Speedster was shown in autumn 1988 and went on sale in early 1989 – fittingly, to celebrate 25 years of the 911.

It was on the market for around six months, and just over 2,000 were sold, each with a starting price of around £47,500, although many ended up costing even more than that. Serious money, but they were still snapped up (some were itching to hand over deposits as the covers were pulled off the production-spec car). Porsche itself would have a few more stumbles along the way before becoming the powerhouse it is today, but the 911? It didn’t look back. Ironically, it was launched with neither Bott nor Schutz still at the company. Schutz was first to depart, at the end of 1987. Bott departed a few months later, two years ahead of his official retirement date. Change was afoot at Porsche – change which would, in time, see Wendelin Wiedeking take charge and, finally, realise an all-new 911. Ironically, as production manager in the 1980s, Wiedeking was Bott’s nemesis. By bringing the Speedster idea back to life, Porsche in the late 1980s gave us a taste of things to come. Today’s multi-faceted, marvellously profitable range can in part trace its roots back to one man’s fanciful idea and another man’s determination. The Porsche Speedster Concept may have been hidden at first, but its eventual reveal proved to the world the 911 was no longer on life support, but once again open for business.

BELOW While the Studie was based on a narrow body, most 3.2 Speedsters were built using a wide body

BELOW Club sports version replaced the windscreen with a small wind deflector.

BELOW Hinged at the front, removing the club sports cover was a two-person job.

TOP Aero side mirrors never made it to production, though the 964’s later Cup mirrors would bear a resemblance.

LEFT The 1987 Speedster Studie, seen here with club sports cover, made in homage to earlier 550 Spyders.

Article type:
Review
2043
No comments yet. Be the first to add a comment!
Drives TODAY use cookie