6 Times Porsche Nailed it Without Using the Number 911
Porsche has rarely put a foot wrong, and sometimes they just absolutely nailed it.
At this point, whether you like it or not, I think we can assume Porsche has nailed it with the 911. In fact, they've nailed it to the wall, remade it, then nailed it to the wall 7 more times before you even consider those decorated with letters and numbers such as RS, GT2, and GT3. And Porsche is currently preparing to do it again for the 8th time.
We can also tackle Porsche race cars in their own piece because, seriously, they've painted some true masterpieces. Instead, we'll take a look at 6 times Porsche did it right on the road and in no particular order:
It's the car that started Porsche off as sports car company. Ferdinand Porsche had already come up with the Volkswagen Beetle, and his son, Ferdinand "Ferry" Porsche, took the philosophy behind the design and made a sports car to set the tone for Porsche's continuing success as a company.
The chassis was designed in-house, and Ferry later explained that the concept came from driving other quick cars, but he particularly loved his Volkswagen Cabriolet with a supercharged engine. That VW brought him to the realization, "that if you had enough power in a small car it is nicer to drive than if you have a big car which is also overpowered."
The first road-going 356 was certified in 1948 and then promptly won its class in its first race. Porsche refined the car from there before production started properly in 1950. The 365 A models and onwards then gave birth to the Carrera designation for particularly sporty versions.
Porsche Carrera GT
The V10 mid-engined rear-wheel-drive direct competitor to the Ferrari Enzo was almost not that and nearly wasn't at all. The Carrera GT was originally planned as a Le Mans prototype built with a turbocharged flat-6. Then it was delayed due to a V10 being developed by a Formula 1 team for Porsche, and Porsche thinking it might be good fun in the new chassis. However, the whole project was canceled due to the company not being in a great financial position and needing to use the engineers to develop their SUV.
Porsche kept the dream alive using the prototype V10 from the concept car and, when the SUV money started rolling in, Porsche decided to go ahead and produce the Carrera GT. The first one went on sale at the beginning of 2004 for $448,000.
It took a bit of convincing to get people to part with that kind of money for something without a prancing horse on the badge, but once people that knew cars and engineering got hold of it they realized why the price was so high. The V10 churned 603 horsepower and 435 lb-ft of torque through one of the most technologically advanced chassis the world had seen. Its roots as a planned Le Mans prototype were clear to see.
Unlike the Enzo, the Carerra GT came with a manual gearbox. Unlike the Ford GT, it had a V10 and was naturally aspirated. Unlike the SLR McLaren, the engine is in the middle. To buy one now is an even more expensive affair and, given its status the last truly analog supercar, it's only going to get even more expensive.
There are basically two types of Porsche fanboys. There's those that appreciate the Cayenne for being the powerful SUV that handles very well and saved Porsche, and idiots. The fact is, like it or not, if you drive a Porsche sports car from around 2003 onwards then every time you see a Porsche Cayenne on the road you should follow it to its destination and shake that person by the hand for being part of the reason Porsche still exists.
Porsche was hurting in the early 1990s and sports car sales were in the toilet. The 718 helped, but Porsche's new CEO Wendelin Wiedekin understood that if Porsche was to remain independent and not just become the marketing department of one of the giant automakers, the company needed to build something with a broad sales appeal and use its profits keep funding their own development programs.
Going for an SUV wasn't as big of a gamble as it may seem for a company that solely had made sports cars until then. Porsche knew that around two-thirds of its customers also owned at least two other vehicles, and one was usually an SUV. With the kind of brand loyalty Porsche enjoys, making that SUV was an astute move. Within the first year of sales, Porsche knew they had a success on their hands. Porsche had shrunk its debt dramatically and amassed over $2 billion in cash.
In so many ways though, it was a balancing act to get it made. Not only did the Cayenne have to have Porsche DNA in its road manners, but due to VW being heavily involved, Porsche had to make sure the world understood it was a real Porsche, and not just an expensive Volkswagen. In both cases, Porsche nailed it and the proof is in the amazing cars they've been able to make since.
A cynical person could point out that rather than waiting until Porsche were truly in the weeds financially, they could have saved spending decades of trying to fix the problem of the engine being in the rear of the 911 by just built a mid-engined car instead. That's not the Porsche way though, and the Boxter came into being as both an entry model into Porsche's lineup and the reason Porsche survived long enough to get the Cayenne into production.
The 911 is Porsche's backbone, but what Porsche needed to be able to support it was the muscle tissue of a profitable and higher volume model. Wiedekin was a CEO who knew factories and balance sheets and, when he came in as CEO of Porsche, he knew the company wasn't good at running either efficiently. He tapped the shoulders of some retired Toyota executives to teach Porsche how to go about "lean" manufacturing and incorporated other strategies that Toyota had used to become an automotive world leader.
The result was not just an efficiently engineered two-seater roadster with great looks and exquisite road manners, but also an efficiently built evocation of the iconic 550 Spyder of the 1950s that went for sale at a base price of around $40,000.
The only criticism that can be leveled at the Boxter is Porsche's unwillingness to give it more power, and given the mid-engined design allows for some extra engine, it's a genuine criticism. From a purist perspective though, it's a true sports car that relies on its finesse, handling, and grip to get the job done.
The 914 easily ranks as the most underrated of Porsche models. It first rolled off the production line in 1969 as a collaboration with Volkswagen and featuring an oddball wedge-shaped body with the Targa top. It was the entry-level Porsche of the time, and the snobs hated it. In fact, many still do. There will be comments for its inclusion here.
Admittedly, on paper the 914 doesn't sound great. On the road though, it's all Porsche in its handling and, for those in the know, it's a cheap, light, and nimble track day car.
While Porsche did, in fact, nail an inexpensive sports car in their lineup, the 914 the snobs cried foul at its low power engine, despite being similar to the 356 and 912 engines output. The snobs also ignore the fact it only weighed 2,000 lbs and got people into a Porsche for $3,500 - around $24,000 in today's buying power. Nowadays, that would be Porsche handling at Toyota prices.
There's no way the 959 couldn't be brought up here. When it made it into production in 1987, it was just about the most technologically advanced car in the world. The 959 made a massive 450 horsepower from a tiny 2.85-liter engine using two turbochargers, computer-controlled variable all-wheel drive, driver-adjustable ride height and suspension settings, and all kinds of systems we take for granted today.
But this was in 1987. According to Car and Driver tests, the 2nd quickest car of the 1980s was the 1989 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 with a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds. They clocked the Porsche 959 at 3.6 seconds, and the Porsche could go round corners. In spectacular style. It was originally intended for Group B of the World Rally Championship to go up against the other lunatic cars of the time, but the class was out of control and people died. As a result, Group B as a class followed.
Where other Group B cars were crude monsters, despite their years of development, Porsche wasn't going to simply slap an output shaft on a 911 with a couple of extra differentials. The Porsche way was to make sure the steering, balance, and overall performance was in no way compromised whether at low speed on tarmac, thrashing around on looses gravel, or tapping politely on the door of 200 mph.
Porsche effectively used rallying's Group B class to both develop the ultimate version of the 911 and inspire the next generations of 911. What they made was a window into the future. The problem was that it was first shown as a concept in 1983 and scheduled for 1985. Group B ended in 1986 and the 959 was ready in 1987. They nailed it, but they missed the party. Which was just as well really.