“In the beginning, I looked around and, not finding the automobile of my dreams, decided to build it myself.” Ferdinand Porsche
Born in the early 60’s, the 911 has become one of the world’s most famous sports cars. For more than 50 years the 911 has been the heart of the Porsche brand. The Porsche brand was founded by automotive engineer and racing driver Ferdinand Porsche who has done work for some major brands and has worked on major projects such as designing the Mercedes-Benz SS/SSK, Tiger I, Tiger II (battle tanks), the Elefant (heavy tank destroyer) and the world famous Volkswagen Beetle.
The original 911 was based on the first production Porsche and Volkswagen-derived 356, which is a lightweight, and nimble-handling, rear engine, rear-wheel drive, two-door, sports car that was available in hardtop coupé and open configurations. The first 911 is essentially a two-door, 2+2 high-performance sports car which was built from 1963 till today and what sets it apart from any other sports car manufacturer is Ferdinand Porsche’s unorthodox design approach. A short nose, buggy eyes, wide hips and rear engine the 911 certainly was certainly not one of the most beautiful sports cars in the world but its design and iconic silhouette make it one of the greatest and unforgettable sports cars in the history of the automobile. Porsche has essentially found the best design and kept improving it as the years went by. You mention the word sports car and the name Porsche comes to mind, you mention the name Porsche and 911 is the first thing that’s springs to mind. “Change is easy. Improvement is far more difficult.” Ferdinand Porsche
The Porsche 911 has been around for more than 50 years. Let us start from the beginning of the birth of an icon to the present and see some key design and mechanical breakthroughs the car has gone over these past 5 decades.
1963 – 1973
The 901 concept of 1963 heralded the start of a production run even Porsche probably did not expect to reach – and no doubt surpass – six decades. Trivia fans can rejoice at the fact the name changed from 901 to 911 to avoid potential fisticuffs with Peugeot.
It was designed as a larger, more practical version of the 356 with an extra pair of seats. As such, critics were quick to pounce on its lack of focus. Early 911s used two-litre engines with as little as 130bhp, though they also weighed bang on a tonne. Both engine sizes and power outputs swelled over the next decade, culminating in perhaps the most coveted of all early 911s, the 210bhp 2.7 Carrera RS.
The G-series (1973-1989)
Each new iteration of 911 was internally code named with a letter of the alphabet, but it was not until reaching G that there was a discernible difference in styling and tech, and the dawn of a new generation.
The G-Series ran for a long time, too, debuting in 1973 and only being replaced in 1989. The most significant move made in this time was the introduction of turbocharging to the 911, the Turbo you see above arriving in 1975 with a mighty 260bhp powering the rear wheels. Back then, though, turbochargers were saved for only the fastest 911s…
The 964 (1989-1994)
The 964, to give it its internal codename, arrived at the very end of the 1980s, bringing with it some mildly updated styling but a whole heap of new tech.
In fact, it was 85 per cent new. Four-wheel drive arrived for the first time, as did other tech goodies like power steering, ABS brakes and airbags.
Until recently, second-hand examples of these could be picked up exceedingly cheap, its design viewed retrospectively as the least attractive in 911 history. Many are now becoming donor cars for Singer products, though, while the stripped-out 964 RS is spiralling in value in recognition of it being one of the focused 911 products ever.
The 993 (1994-1998)
We’re going to stick with Porsche’s internal model codes, both to avoid confusion and because they’re reasonably well known among car nerds. The 993 arrived just five years after the 964, and is still regarded by many Porsche die-hards as the prettiest and best judged of the lot. It was the last 911 with an air-cooled engine, while it also introduced perhaps the lairiest car in 911 history to drive, the GT2. It’s a badge that’s continued service since, of course, but the original perhaps best displayed those tail-happy tendencies brought about by the 911’s infamously unconventional rear-engine layout. Small wonder it earned itself the nickname ‘Widow Maker’.
The 996 (1998-2001)
Following such a loved generation of car, the 1998 arrival of the water-cooled 996 was met with grumbles and cries of ‘it’s lost its character’, something of a running theme for new-generation 911s and the implacable Porsche aficionados they’ve tried to please.
Those nonplussed by the change in hardware were probably upset by the looks, the 911 gaining its first major styling change, not dissimilar to the cheaper Boxster and notable for its – shock horror! – non-elliptical headlights.
The 996 also marked the exponential growth in 911 variants, but when that also goes hand-in-hand with the first ever GT3 being launched, that’s far from bad news.
The 996.2 (2001-2004)
Water-cooled 911s also kicked off the habit of major mid-life updates. The 996 received its big facelift in 2001, with attempts to appease critics of its styling, an updated interior and a new glass-roofed Targa variant, though it was nothing like as stylish as its ancestors.
The mk2 996 also marked the arrival of another 911 GT2, and while it was a bit less hairy than its Nineties namesake, it was still a 196mph, turbocharged 911 without the safety of a four-wheel-drive system. Senior.
The 997 (2004-2008)
Round headlights made a swift return in 2004, with the arrival of an all-new 911 generation. Its shape was broadly the same as the 996, but its detailing more delicate. All had more than 300bhp, while a new GT2 entered unchartered territory with 530bhp.
Once again, though, claims of diminishing of character greeted the 997’s arrival, with purists grumbling about less feelsome steering and the softening of the 911’s, um, exciting edges thanks to stronger grip.
The 997.2 (2008-2011)
The looks barely changed, but there were bigger changes afoot underneath them for the updated 997. More efficient direct injection engines marked the first nod to more environmentally caring 911s, while the PDK twin-clutch gearbox arrived. Immediate response wasn’t rapturous, but after Porsche fitted the double-clutcher with proper paddles, its appeal over the clunky old Tiptronic automatic was clear.
The 911 reached its still-unsurpassed power peak thanks to the utterly ludicrous 611bhp GT2 RS, while arguably the best ever 911 – the GT3 RS 4.0 – also landed in this generation, too. No wonder its successor faced such a tough time…
The 991 (2011-2015)
The 991 arrived in 2011, and while it may have been coined the prettiest 911 in decades, nothing could save it from a wrath of criticism for its new electric steering.
Still, there’s been plenty to distract from that, with an amazingly new round-edged GT car character in the regular Carrera models, and a new level of savagery with the bonkers GT3 RS. The Targa is also cool again.
Will go down in history as the last of the 911s to have naturally aspirated Carreras that rev to the heavens…
The 991.2 (2015 onwards)
…and that’s because of the 991’s big update, appearing at Frankfurt next week, which sees 3-litre flat-six turbo engines in the Carrera models, ensuring all but the GT3 911s will soon create their power with the help of forced induction.
It’s a move to upset the purists, but then so was electric steering, PDK, water-cooling, and so much more. The 911 has battled critics its whole life, but how many other cars live in to their sixth decade, stronger and more relevant than ever?