Widebody Porsches: A Memoir
How and why the widebody 911 is now standard.
Porsche's flagship sports coupe, the 911 has famously been setting the bar for decades now in terms of performance, looks, technology, and automotive excellence in general. Many would say that the 911 is famous for never straying from its heritage, it has never sold out. It has never been a four-door, or an SUV, or tried to be something it is not. It has been, and always will be, a rear-engined, flat-six, fastback icon. Others might argue the opposite, that it has a history of selling out. They might refer to the switch to water-cooled engines from air-cooled, or maybe the introduction of AWD. Perhaps the most overlooked change of the 911 is the size. The new 911 is comparably massive to its ancestor. The wheelbase, the width, the height, nearly in every dimension it has increased in size.
To put it in numbers, the original 911 had a wheelbase of 87" whereas the new 911 (992) has a wheelbase of 96.5". More relevant, the width changed from 66" to 73-75", respectively. The tire width has nearly doubled, going from just 6.5" to 12". So how have engineers at Porsche managed to keep the lively and distinct driving experience the same over 60 years of the 911? Dynamically, we can observe the wide hips of the 911 as a crucial strategy yet often overlooked as a dramatic adaptation taken by the Germans of Stuttgart. Rather than viewing the evolution of the 911 as a consumer-driven sell out story, we can start to see how the cleverness that makes the brand so famous was instrumental to solve problems introduced by the progression of standard performance technology, an area in which Porsche holds a lot of innovation responsibility.
The History of Porsche and "Widebody"
For you Porsche nerds, the 930 generation 2.7 RS is largely seen as the original widebody 911. In the early 70s Porsche wanted to increase the space of the 911 in the cabin, and tweak the 911 to be slightly more of a GT or touring car. When it came time to design the high performance variant that was in demand, they found a challenge. When cornering, the disrupted "balance" of the rear engined sports car made for an unpleasant and unruly handling experience. Drivers found the center of gravity to be too high and had difficulty throwing th erear end around the way they were used to. The solution Porsche came up with was to widen the rear track of the car, distributing weight more evenly and allowing for larger tires to fit within the flared fenders, increasing the potential to put down power.
Although the 2.7 RS was the first step Porsche took to experiment with the wide body, its popularity was responsible for the real wide body that was made even more extreme by the 930 turbo 3.0 which debuted in 1975.
People who did not want to shell out the extra cash for the turbo but wanted the wide rear end look began looking to aftermarket modifications to achieve the look they wanted. Porsche saw this and decided to make it an optional equipment package on the Carrera 911 known as Super Sport Equipment package. This often came with the popular massive spoiler, and wider rear tires. In the eighties, the wide body standard 911 was born. The demand for a turbo-esque look on a standard 911 proved to be so high the next few generations, Porsche has come to almost making it standard. in 2016, they estimated only 18% of new 911s sold come without the standard fenders (Porsche AG, 2016).
In the 1990s, the 993 911 really started to see a lot of performance changes in terms of standard equipment. The 911 began to take itself more seriously, and moved upmarket. The 4s variant even received some suspension upgrades akin to the turbo model. After the 996 generation followed, the wide body 911 became standard on the AWD Carrera model, the Carrera 4 and 4s, leaving the base 911, 911 S, Carrera and the Carrera S as the only models not equipped with wider rear wheels, a spoiler and of course a wider base.
Widebody was now a part of the Porsche 911 identity. The 911 become larger was normalized, even celebrated. The standard 911 became the "narrow 911". All or at least most 911s began to assimilate in their styling, creating a lame baseline that was once the upgrade. The problem arose thereafter: the turbo styling became became devalued, and sales began to drop. No one wanted to buy the turbo if it didn't look the part. The solution? Porsche answered; MORE WIDEBODY. To differentiate the turbo even further than just vents and different bumpers, Porsche widened the 991 generation 911 turbo once more.
The original icon: the 930 turbo wide body
So next time you see an older 911 and think, wow that looks incredibly small, and compare it to a Miata, maybe you will see the modern 911 is not ruined by its identity shift, but rather clever in its adaptation. After all, a flagship model typically must be greater in size than the entry models.
What do you think Porsche should do? Continue to widen their 911, or return to the original dimensions for the sake of purity? Let me know in the comments below.