CELEBRATION OF THE 911
THE MILLIONTH ROLLS OFF THE LINE
For many production cars, one million units is not such a milestone. Heck, VW churns out that many Golfs in a year. Yet for the Porsche 911 — the storied arse-engined slot car that’s been steadily trickling out of Zuffenhausen since 1964 — the one million mark is a huge deal, especially since it has taken 54 years to reach this point.
But to really get an appreciation for the effort — and before we even start talking about the green Carrera S that rolled off the factory floor for the magic number — we need to look back to get some perspective on what could be the world’s favourite sports car. And the Porsche Museum has obliged us, in spades.
Oh sure, we could have wished for a first-generation car (’64-’69), a Carrera 2.7 RS (’73-’74) or a 959 (as if ). But hey, the sun is shining, the smooth, sinuous Swabian blacktop beckons, and who can complain about the 1981 911 SC Targa, a 1990 964-series convertible and a 1998 996-series convertible, the first of the watercooled 911s, all sitting before us?
Let’s go chronologically, for perspective on progression. I press the SC Targa’s stiff floor-hinged clutch to the mat, twist the key and slot the long, spindly shifter into first. The 3.0-L 204-horsepower flatsix bursts to life and settles into a silky idle. The unassisted steering requires some serious heft when first moving off. It’s an uncanny feeling, sitting in this time capsule that appears to have dropped in from a 1981 Porsche showroom.
Once the roads open up, this 36-year old 911 comes alive. The steering gets light and communicative, the engine sings above 4,000 rpm and, despite its modest-by-today’s-standard power output, moves the 1,160-kilogram sports car along with alacrity.
Next up is the 1990 964-series 911 Cabriolet in dark purple, both inside and out. Prince and Jimi Hendrix would approve. This third-gen 911 got a 250-hp 3.6-L boxer six, power steering, coil springs all around (versus torsion bars) and was offered with all-wheel drive and, for the first time, a four-speed Tiptronic auto box, the latter of which this car has.
Instantly, the 964 feels faster, more modern and more composed, yet a tad less intimate and urgent, much of that from an extra 220 kg and the Tiptronic that dulls the experience, yet admittedly responds to manual shifter inputs faster than I expected. Ah, but that 3.6-L engine hauls with a thrilling, deep-chested authority.
And on to the 1998 996-series 911 Carrera 4 Cabriolet. The first watercooled 911 remains somewhat unloved among Porschephiles, and I think that sentiment is unfair. Sure, it’s not the prettiest, and the cabin suffers from too much cheap plastic, but once behind the wheel, this 996 Cab feels 100 per cent authentic 911. Its rev-hungry 300-hp 3.4-L howls and metes out power in precise increments, and it digs into the corners and powers out as only a 911 can. The 996 is the final frontier of semi-affordable used 911s, but I wouldn’t count on that lasting.
The next day I’m crowded into a hot, stuffy corner of Porsche’s Zuffenhausen factory that produces the 911, Cayman and Boxster. They’ve cordoned off a small makeshift area for the one-millionth 911 reveal.
Factory workers go about their business close by, tweaking cars coming off the line while glancing curiously at the suited throng.
We hear from the top brass, and Ferry Porsche’s youngest son, Wolfgang, who is a shareholder and chairman of Porsche AG. He recalls tales of dinner conversation concerning the gamble his father’s company took by introducing this rather plain coupe with a rear-mounted flat-six engine back in 1963.
Then the curtain parts and out rolls a 2017 911 Carrera S in Irish Green. Wolfgang Porsche jumps in and the media descend like buzzards on a carcass. This one-millionth 911 pays homage to Ferry Porsche’s personal 911, the third one produced and painted in his favourite colour of green.
It is rear drive, has a manual transmission, special houndstooth-pattern seats, gold badging and boasts a performance upgrade that boosts the 3.0-L twin-turbo flat-six to 450 hp. (Ferry’s 2.0-L made 128 hp.) It will tour the world this year before finding a home in the Porsche Museum.
So, there’ll be no test drive of this Porsche. But no matter; soon I’m busting out of Stuttgart in a searing orange 2017 911 Targa 4 GTS. The GTS is the latest iteration of the new-generation turbocharged 911s to hit the street, and this package bestows 450 hp, lowered ride height, wider track, sport exhaust, and on it goes.
Thirty-six years and almost 250 horsepower separate this Targa from the Targa SC I drove the day before, yet the essence of the experience is remarkably similar in the engine’s timbre, the driving position, the way it corners, the delicate steering and its silhouette.
This ballistic wedge grips like a pit bull on a postie, bangs off shifts faster than you can blink, and generally makes a mockery of its predecessor’s modest limits while placing its own limits far beyond the reach of most mortals. It’s a thoroughly engrossing, thrilling drive.
One thing is for sure, over 54 years of incremental improvement, the word’s most famous, unique and resilient sports car has taken Darwin’s evolutionary credo to heart: Survival of the fittest, indeed.
Left to right, Porsche 911s from 1998, 1981 and 1990. After 54 years, the 911 remains one of the world’s favourite sports cars.