Retro Porsche 911

An iconic de­sign that has en­dured more than half a cen­tury

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

AT THE end of World War II, Fer­di­nand Porsche, whose fa­ther had de­signed the Volk­swa­gen, was a 36-year-old en­gi­neer who drove a VW cabri­o­let with a su­per­charged en­gine. From that in­spi­ra­tion, he built a stripped-down road­ster, which be­gat the pro­duc­tion Type 356. And from that, he built a global car com­pany.

The 356 en­joyed sales and motorsport suc­cess in equal mea­sure, but by the late-1950s cus­tomers were wish­ing for more in­te­rior and lug­gage room and a qui­eter, more pow­er­ful en­gine. In 1959 Porsche ini­ti­ated project T7, fol­lowed in 1961 by T8.

The de­sign con­stantly evolved ev­ery­where be­tween two-seater and full four-seater. The boss’s son Fer­di­nand ‘Butzi’ Porsche, by then in his mid-20s, was of­fi­cially cred­ited with the even­tual 2+2 de­sign, al­though vet­eran Porsche body en­gi­neer (and 356 de­signer) Erwin Komenda de­serves at least joint credit.

The Porsche 901, car­ry­ing the name of its new 2.0-litre flat-six en­gine – air-cooled and rear-mounted, like its pre­de­ces­sors – was shown at Frank­furt on Septem­ber 12, 1963. Pro­duc­tion, how­ever, did not be­gin un­til Septem­ber 14 the fol­low­ing year.

At the Paris show in Oc­to­ber 1964, Peu­geot fa­mously ob­jected to the car’s ‘-0-’ des­ig­na­tion. A few weeks later Porsche changed it to 911, but not be­fore 82 cars left the fac­tory as 901s (the chas­sis num­bers, con­fus­ingly, not in se­quence). In all, 232 cars were built in the 1964 cal­en­dar year.

The 911 wasn’t just a gen­er­a­tion ahead of the 356, it was ahead of its time, pe­riod.

With the 356 re­main­ing in pro­duc­tion un­til mid-1965, Porsche pitched the 911 as a grand tour­ing re­place­ment for the flag­ship 356 Car­rera 2, whose highly-strung 97kw four-cylin­der en­gine met its match in the 911’s smooth, sim­ple six-cylin­der. This en­gine was praised for its strong torque, smooth­ness and race-ready revabil­ity.

The 911’s light-footed han­dling – the car weighed just 1040kg – was widely wel­comed, with its sharp and sen­si­tive steer­ing. The rear end, de­spite a heav­ier en­gine and skinny 165 x 15 tyres, seemed to draw lit­tle crit­i­cism in ini­tial magazine tests, be­ing in­evitably com­pared with the more way­ward 356.

In 1964 the new 911 was listed in Aus­tralia at $7370, ver­sus $5590 for the stan­dard 356C. Cur­rently, 45 of the 232 first-year 911s are known to still ex­ist.

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