Porsche 911 in all its various forms from 1963 to 1989
The history of the 911 is one of almost Alfred Hitchcock-like complexity, leaving many in a welter of names such as S, Targa, E, L and Carrera. Our narrative commences at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show when Porsche displayed its vision of the future, and ends in 1989 when the 964 employed 85% new parts to create the next version of one of the world’s most recognisable sports cars. Report: Andrew Roberts.
The first generation of Porsche 911 in all its various forms from 1963 to 1989
As most readers will be aware, Porsche never intended to use the 911 name. When they displayed their latest model at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show it was as the 901, but this incurred the wrath of Peugeot because the type name with a central zero was in breach of French copyright and trademark protection law – the Sochaux firm possessed the legal rights in their home territory to all such number sequences. However, the firm’s chief designer Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, the son of Ferry, had the idea of simply doubling the 1 in the badge and the 911 was born.
Semantics aside, the 911 was a genuine watershed for its manufacturer. As Motor Sport once noted, its introduction was akin to the launch of the Citroën DS19 in France, saying: ‘Once a manufacturer has a series and basic conception that is respected, it is a big step to make a radical change.’ And Porsche had just that in the 356, introduced in 1948 and now embodying the brand to the point that enthusiasts might not accept a replacement.
However, by the late 1950s many senior executives at Stuttgart believed that the 356 required an heir for Porsche to compete with Jaguar and Ferrari. The result was the 911, a car of radical departures being their first without gear-driven camshafts and rear swing axles.
The transmission was via an all-new five-speed gearbox/final drive unit, and the brakes were Porsche/ATE discs. It all became typical Porsche, but above all the styling truly merits the much-overused term ‘iconic’ and truly embodies the marque.
It is hard to envisage just how exotic a Porsche would have seemed to the average British motorist nearly 60 years ago. In 1966 the price was £3438 1s 3d, or about £1000 more than a Jaguar E type 4.2 Series One.
The Porsche 911 was first shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1963. 82 were badged 901 before the 911 name was adopted.
The first English language test is believed to have been in the March 1965 edition of Small Car, the predecessor to Car magazine. The report concluded: ‘It relates to the current German (and world) economy in both price and refinement at just about the same ratio as the first 1100cc coupé did in 1950. I wouldn’t think a decade and a half would be anywhere near the maximum lifespan of a 911.
...more exhilarating to drive than its Porsche co-flagship, the 928S2, because it’s tougher to handle, but ultimately, we think, faster
More like the minimum!’ Meanwhile, when the great motoring journalist Denis Jenkinson tested a UK specification 911, he regarded it as ‘the nearest to perfection that production cars have yet reached.’ Motor found: ‘Above all, it has that effortless feeling which suggests that hard driving is what it is designed for and will never wear it out prematurely.’
In other words, here was one of the world’s greatest sports cars, with no need for extraneous decorations. The 911’s silhouette was its calling card, and it was almost an honour to have your Vauxhall Victor Super overtaken by one on the M4 to Bristol. So let’s just rewind a little and go back to 1959, when the company embarked on Technical Project 7, aka T7. The new model would retain the 356’s basic formula with a rear air-cooled Boxer engine, but on a larger scale. Ferry Porsche established a shortlist of vital criteria: ‘Two-seater with two comfortable jump seats. Rear view mirror integrated in the wings. Easier entry.’ As for the engine, the 2-litre flat-four unit from the Carrera 2 was too unrefined for everyday use.
Thus, after rejecting the idea of fuel injection, the future 911 was powered by a horizontally opposed 1991cc six-cylinder SOHC air-cooled engine capable of 130bhp at 6200rpm. On the 16th of April 1962, Porsche approved the 901’s design, with a prototype constructed later that year.
911 production commenced in August 1964, although Porsche continued to offer the 356C. The last example of the older model left the factory in 1965, and its successor as an entry-level model was the 912, a budget 911 powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine. Some enthusiasts preferred the cheaper model because it was 220lbs lighter than the 911 and somewhat less tail-happy in the opinion of many drivers.
Furthermore, when US sales began that same year, the 912 cost around $1400 less than its $6500 stablemate, and by 1967 it outsold the 911 by 2-to-1. 1965 also saw Porsche unveil a prototype Targa coupé at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the Targa Florio inspiring the name. Its most notable features were its removable roof pane, detachable plastic rear window and stainless-steel roll hoop.
The last-named was partially because the original 911 body lacked the strength for a cabriolet conversion. In addition, the latest Porsche had to be able to satisfy the impending regulations of the US National Highway Safety Administration.
The open-top 911 became available to the public in the autumn of 1966. On 21st September of that year, the company made its 100,000th car, a 912 Targa destined for the Baden-Württemberg state police.
In fact, the smaller-engined model proved very popular with traffic patrols of Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, the factory devising a Police Specification that included additional wiring, reinforced seats, dual driving mirrors and extra lighting. Japanese authorities even employed a quartet of 912s on four principal highways, which no Toyota Century owned by the Yakuza could hope to outrun.
That same year also saw the introduction of the 911S, or Super, with an increase in horsepower from 148 to 180bhp, vented brake discs and modified suspension. For the first time you could also specify Fuch’s aluminium alloy wheels. Many years later, these would frequently be seen on many a modified VW Type 3. However, the brochure rather sternly warned that the S was ‘no car for a novice,’ an opinion shared by Car and Driver, whose headline read: ‘Oversteer is back – and Porsche’s got it!’
The stripped specification 911T (Touring) augmented the line up in 1967, and Porsche also introduced the Sportomatic option – a four-speed transmission combined with an automatic clutch and torque converter. Some devotees grumbled about how this lacked macho appeal, but Stuttgart thought it essential for many North American motorists. Autocar also praised the refinement of the 911E Sportomatic, although at £3992 11s 8d few would be able to appreciate such qualities. The Targa was now available with a fixed rear glass screen as some owners complained of the impracticality of the early examples. Paradoxically, early ones are now some of the most sought after of the range.
1968 marked the introduction of the B-series versions, with a wheelbase expanded from 87in to just over 89in, plus new rear trailing arms to enhance its road manners. The 911 was also available in short-lived upmarket L guise; emissions regulations meant Porsche could no longer sell the S in the USA, so the Luxus was Porsche’s alternative for well-heeled US motorists.
It was succeeded in the 1969 model year by the 911E, the E standing for Einspritzung, or fuel injection, which also boasted hydro-pneumatic front suspension. From a US sales perspective, this had the advantage of being $700 cheaper than the S.
1969 was indeed a year of changes, with the demise of the 912 and the 911S receiving an enhanced power output when the Weber carburettors were replaced with mechanical fuel injection. A 12-volt electrical system also replaced the six-volt setup, much to the relief of many an owner. By the end of the year, the engine’s capacity was increased from 1991cc to 2195cc. In 1971 the range – T, E, and S – gained a 2341cc engine that Porsche referred to as 2.4-litre. Shortly afterwards, the company made concerted efforts to improve the 911’s weight distribution, as some enthusiasts had found the handling to be moderately alarming at times.
The Paris Motor Show of 1972 saw the launch of one of the world’s legendary vehicles, the Carrera RS. It was the first of Porsche’s products to wear the vaunted Rennsport badge and was based on the 911S. Porsche installed a more powerful 210bhp, 2.7-litre engine, lightened the bodywork and fitted wider tyres plus spoilers fore and aft. The result was Germany’s fastest road car, capable of 0-60mph in 5.6 seconds, 100mph in 12.8 seconds and a top speed of 150mph. For those of a decadent nature, the Touring version came with the radio, carpeting, clock and passenger sun visor that were lacking on the Lightweight model.
The British price of the RS was a formidable £6255, but Autocar described it as sensational, even by Porsche standards. Mr Jenkinson was equally impressed. He wrote in Motor Sport: ‘Without question it is one of the great cars of the nineteen-seventies, not as sophisticated as a Citroën SM, not as smooth and elegant as a V12 Jaguar, not as fascinating as a Dino Ferrari, but the personification of GT motoring and race-breeding.’ A mere 1580 had left the factory by the 9th of April 1973, each an instant legend.
Porsche also produced a tiny number of yet more exclusive 2.8-litre RSRs, which won the Targa Florio, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring in its first season. For those motorists who wanted a more modest but no less desirable machine, the G models for 1974 featured modified bumpers to comply with the latest US safety regulations. Porsche adopted 2.7-litre power throughout the range, the standard and S versions boasting Bosch fuel injection.
As for the rather splendid Carrera 2.7, it featured the RS engine in Europe and the K-Jetronic unit for the USA. However, the undoubted star of the 1973 Frankfurt Show was the Turbo. Although some observers regarded the display of such a concept car at the time of the OPEC fuel crisis as utter madness, when the production model made its bow at the 1974 Paris Motor Show, drivers around the globe craved the combination of a 3.0-litre flat-six engine, distinctive rear spoiler and top speed of over 160mph. One intriguing detail was the lack of a boost gauge; Porsche believed the typical customer would have little interest in the powerplant’s workings.
Motor referred to the latest 911 as the finest driving machine money could buy. Motor Sport similarly raved that Porsche offered ‘£20,000-worth of performance, engineering, quality and, above all else, integrity in all things, which was most heart-warming in these days of the spurious, the artificial, the shoddy and the plain nasty.’
Meanwhile, the January 1976 edition of Car evaluated the Turbo opposite the Lamborghini Countach and the Ferrari 512 BB. They concluded that the 911 ‘invokes the image of an overly brawny youth taking on the men.’ Porsche also made the Carrera 3.0 for those enthusiasts who craved extra performance without a turbocharger, and for US motorists on a more limited budget there was the 912E. This was an artful blend of the familiar bodyshell and the VW 2.0 engine from the 914. It served as a comparatively affordable stopgap until the debut of the 924.
June 3rd 1977 saw the 250,000th Porsche built, and the 1978 model year occasioned a significant overhaul of the Turbo with an intercooler for the charger, wider tyres, new brakes derived from the 917 racing car and a 3.3-litre engine.
The new SC (Super Carerra) was somewhat less expensive and combined a 3.0-litre aluminium fuel-injected engine with a five-speed gearbox, but Stuttgart was planning to phase out the 911. Development of the venerable model had now largely ceased, with Porsche believing the new generation of 928s would appeal to their vital US market. Furthermore, exports of the Turbo to America ended in 1980, primarily due to emissions regulations In fact, the company had no plans to continue with the 911 after 1981, and in many respects the SC represented a make or break for the future of the model. A 1980 test in Car encapsulated Porsche’s dilemma: ‘It’s far too civilised to be just a ‘Sunday before breakfast’ car, yet too anachronistic to make you feel that you’re driving towards the last fifth of the 20th century.’ Yet it was this seemingly contradictory nature that was the 911’s essence for so many owners. Autocar thought that the SC was a car of many virtues and that the ultimate handling was an added attraction to the skilled driver. Fortunately, there remained motorists who appreciated the Porsche’s blend of ancient and modern. As Road & Track put it: ‘You’ll find as cars become increasingly anaemic, the 911 shines brighter.’
The SC proved instrumental in preventing the 911’s demise, and the 1982 Cabriolet appeared to be further confirmation of its future. Over the past decade, it had escaped the attention of neither dealers nor customers that Porsche lacked a true convertible. Furthermore, this had been the case ever since the demise of the 356C. Stuttgart extensively reinforced the 911’s bodyshell, and the open-air version with the hood raised and windows closed possessed a superior drag coefficient to the Targa. Moreover, the writers at Motor Sport found it retained the coupé’s good points in addition to being rattle-free. The Cabriolet’s latter aspect would have been a revelation to anyone raised on traditional British sports cars, providing they could have afforded the £21,549.18 price tag.
For 1984 Porsche replaced the 911SC with the Carrera 3.2, its 3164cc engine adopting the Turbo’s bore and stroke. The specification included Bosch’s Digital Engine Management, and there was a choice of coupé, Targa and Cabriolet bodies.
The company hoped the new variant would satisfy American customers, who were still denied the Turbo. Any New York lawyer with an airmail subscription to Car was more than aware of what they were missing, though; a car that was ‘several times more exhilarating to drive than its Porsche co-flagship, the 928S2, because it’s tougher to handle, but ultimately, we think, faster,’ they wrote.
Consequently, by the mid- 1980s, a grey market existed for those Californian yuppies and preppies who were prepared to pay over the odds for an unofficial import. Porsche’s response was the M491 option, aka the Sport Equipment in the UK, and the Turbo-Look in the USA. The buyer gained the Turbo’s spoiler, arches, wheels, suspension and brakes, making it a highly appealing 911 in its own right. However, when Motor tested the SE in 1986, they argued that its gains did not outweigh its losses, not least the price. It may have been over £5000 cheaper than the Turbo, but at £34,044 it was a staggering £8742 more expensive than the Carrera.
That year marked the return of the Turbo to the USA, while the 1987 Carrera Club Sports lacked front fog lamps, a rear wiper and even a passenger visor. Porsche sacrificed such luxuries in the name of saving weight and made just 340 examples.
The late 1980s saw a spate of Limited Edition models, signalling to the enthusiast that the end of the 911 seemed imminent. The 1988 CE (Commemorative Edition) Carrera denoted the 250,000th 911, and even had Dr Ferdinand Porsche’s signature embroidered on the headrests. The 25th Anniversary Special Edition featured a special plaque and grey leather upholstery, while the exceptionally handsome 911 Speedster was, quite simply, one of the most desirable open two-seaters on the market. Car may have grumbled that it was not even particularly exciting for the poseur, but few prospective buyers cared.
In 1989, the debut of the 964 series 911 represented not only the end of the first generation of 911, but also the brand’s future. It continued the long-established formula, but re-engineered and re-imagined as the 21st century approached. As the sales copy boasted, it was ‘the 911 for the next 25 years.’
To a great extent, we have only touched on the surface of the 911’s story in this feature, for it could occupy several volumes of print. However, the abiding memory is of a car of the utmost integrity, whether the customer favoured an S, a Targa, a Sportomatic, a Carrera RS or a Turbo. To quote the famous April 1965 Car and Driver test: ‘Porsche’s new 911 model is unquestionably the finest Porsche ever built. More than that, it’s one of the best Gran Turismo cars in the world, certainly among the top three or four.’ That is high praise indeed, but in the case of the Porsche 911 it is not hyperbole, but richly deserved.
The 911 was developed to be larger and more comfortable than the earlier 356, seen here in both convertible and coupé versions.
Ferdinand ‘Butzi’ Porsche, designer of the 911, pictured in front of the car that evolved from the four-seater T7 prototype of 1961.
This 1964 photograph shows the same car as pictured top right – the prototype car, 901-1, before the name was changed to 911.
Porsche celebrated the 911’s 50th birthday with Project 50 – a classic 1965 Porsche 911 that was turned into a competition car.
The 1967 model 911 Targa had a removable roof pane, detachable plastic rear window and stainless-steel roll hoop.
The RS Carrera Coupé introduced in 1972 featured a 2.7-litre engine, lightened bodywork, wider tyres and spoilers fore and aft.
The first turbocharged Porsche was the 911 Turbo 3-litre coupé of 1973.
The 911S for 1974 featured a 2.7-litre engine and Bosch fuel injection. Top speed was 142mph and 0-60mph took 6.1 seconds.
A Porsche 911 SC on the Rallye San Remo in 1981 with Walter Röhrl and Christian Geistdörfer on board and ready for lift off.
The 964 Series carried the Porsche 911 story forwards from 1989, but is outside the scope of this feature.