The first 911

The roots of Porsche’s most iconic sports car go back over three decades prior to that Frank­furt Show of 1963, as To­tal 911 ex­plores…

Total 911 - - Contents -

In light of the 992’s re­veal in Los An­ge­les, we take you back to the ori­gins of Zuf­fen­hausen’s beloved sports car

The spe­cific ar­chi­tec­ture of the 911 – an en­gine with op­posed cylin­ders mounted not sim­ply be­hind the driver, but be­hind the trans­mis­sion – is now unique in au­to­mo­tive man­u­fac­ture. In­deed, when the 911 was first pre­sented in 1963 this de­sign was al­ready seen as old fash­ioned, and over the next few years those man­u­fac­tur­ers still plac­ing engines in the rear would move them to the front. But there was a solid logic be­hind both the hor­i­zon­tally op­posed and rear mount­ing of the air-cooled en­gine and the eco­nomic, rounded shape of the body, all of which orig­i­nated with Fer­di­nand Porsche’s Volk­swa­gen.

Porsche’s ideas for his small car were suc­cinct: it had to be de­signed from the ground up, not an ex­ist­ing de­sign re­duced, yet although small it had to of­fer nor­mal per­for­mance. A tar­geted 100kph cruis­ing speed meant the car had to be aero­dy­nam­i­cally ef­fi­cient and make use of new, lighter ma­te­ri­als, and pro­vide room for four – yet be en­gi­neered ro­bustly and sim­ple to main­tain. Al­ready ap­par­ent is the phi­los­o­phy of light­ness and ef­fi­ciency which would un­der­pin the 911 ten years af­ter Porsche’s death. An­other in­di­vid­ual who fa­mously es­poused the im­por­tance of a ‘peo­ple’s car’ was Adolf Hitler. When Porsche first met him at Soli­tude in 1932, Hitler was a mere rab­ble-rous­ing pop­ulist politi­cian, but Porsche was amazed how close Hitler’s car ideas were to his own. When Hitler came to power a year later, it seemed al­most a mat­ter of des­tiny that Porsche should be called upon to build the ‘Volk­swa­gen.’

Of course, the war changed ev­ery­thing. Porsche had hoped to re­turn to Volk­swa­gen, but this proved im­pos­si­ble, and then he was ab­ducted by the French and off the scene al­to­gether un­til 1947. It was dur­ing this time that his Kon­struk­tions­büro, now ex­iled to Gmünd in Aus­tria, was ef­fec­tively taken over by his son, Ferry Porsche. The op­er­a­tion had kept go­ing by of­fer­ing gen­eral en­gi­neer­ing and re­pair; its im­me­di­ate plan was trac­tor man­u­fac­ture.

An early con­sul­tancy con­tract meant that Ferry was soon in­volved with the Ital­ian in­dus­tri­al­ist Piero Du­sio to build the Cisi­talia rac­ing car. On his vis­its to Cisi­talia Ferry was very taken by its suc­cess­ful small sports car, built around a tubu­lar frame and us­ing a Fiat en­gine and gear­box. He could see the pos­si­b­li­ties for Porsche, but in­stead us­ing VW parts. Po­ten­tially more prof­itable than trac­tors, this course also looked more ex­cit­ing. It was the be­gin­ning of the Porsche sports car.

The ini­tial Gmünd-built cars were open twoseat barchet­tas with the VW en­gine and gear­box re­versed, but Ferry soon re­alised that a sports car with a roof would have wider ap­peal, as would space for rear seats. So was born the Porsche 356, later dif­fer­en­ti­ated as the ‘Pre A’, a two-door, four-seat coupe with a transaxle and the en­gine vir­tu­ally out­side the wheel­base. It would be the tem­plate for the 911.

By 1960 sus­tained de­vel­op­ment meant the

356 B bore lit­tle re­la­tion to the Pre A of a decade pre­vi­ously, but Ferry Porsche was keenly aware of the need to pro­duce a suc­ces­sor. The 356 was no longer fast enough, the boot was too small for a golf bag – a se­ri­ous fail­ing in the US – and the flat four lacked re­fine­ment. On the other hand, the virtues of the hor­i­zon­tally op­posed en­gine com­bined with the space-ef­fi­cient rear en­gine ar­chi­tec­ture were never in ques­tion. So when the new Porsche was fi­nally re­vealed at Frank­furt, Porsche watch­ers were im­pressed with the lines of the 901 – and Porsche had em­pha­sised its looks by launch­ing the 356 C along­side it – but not en­tirely sur­prised. In 1963 the Ger­man eco­nomic mir­a­cle was at its height, its mo­tor in­dus­try had pro­duced a record num­ber of cars and the new Porsche, to­gether with the in­no­va­tive NSU Ro 80 and the mag­nif­i­cent Mercedes 600 which were also re­vealed, ap­peared to typ­ify this con­fi­dence.

If peo­ple be­lieved the new Porsche rep­re­sented the smooth evo­lu­tion of the 356 at the hands of Porsche’s renowned en­gi­neers, a PR im­age which suited Porsche, the truth was quite the op­po­site. The 901 had a long and at times dif­fi­cult ges­ta­tion: no ma­jor com­po­nent of the en­gine or chas­sis would be the same as the first pro­duc­tion 901.

First, there was the de­sign. Ini­tially Ferry thought the new car could break away from the Vw-es­que ron­deurs of the 356. He was an ad­mirer of the BMW 507, but its de­signer Al­brecht von Go­ertz, a suc­cess­ful in­dus­tri­al­ist who ran his own de­sign stu­dio, failed to pro­duce a new shape which bore any re­la­tion to the con­cise pro­por­tions that Ferry asked for. The lat­ter felt he had not been taken se­ri­ously and con­cluded that the new Porsche would have to be de­signed in-house, but even this process would not be with­out haz­ards. Er­win Komenda, who had shaped the Bee­tle and the 356, favoured a four door, rep­re­sent­ing a very dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion, while Butzi wanted a two-door coupe. While Ferry could see Komenda’s four­door with full rear seats was too far from Porsche’s sport­ing tra­di­tion, he favoured a 2+2 fast­back with a wheel­base sig­nif­i­cantly longer than the 356’s 2.08 me­tres, for rea­sons of space and han­dling. Fa­ther and son were even­tu­ally able to dis­miss Komenda’s ar­gu­ments, though it would take longer to re­solve their own dif­fer­ences, and time was press­ing.

In early 1959 Ferry fi­nally ap­proved the Typ

695 project. It was a com­pro­mise: the de­sign was recog­nis­ably the fu­ture 911 from the front, but its high glasshouse fell away steeply at the rear and its large rear win­dow made this al­most a three-box shape.

Its 2.4-me­tre wheel­base al­lowed Ferry’s 2+2 space cri­te­ria to be met, but the car was con­tro­ver­sial – Hans Her­rmann was later quoted as say­ing he was hor­ri­fied at this po­ten­tial 356 re­place­ment. Even hav­ing got what he thought he wanted, Ferry was far from happy, and driv­ing the 695 for a few months did not change his opin­ion. At this point he con­ceded to Butzi, who favoured the shorter 2.21-me­tre wheel­base. The new Porsche would be built in the im­age of its 356 pre­de­ces­sor.

Years later, Butzi was asked whether Ferry had taken pa­ter­nal ad­van­tage press­ing his views, to which ‘FA’ replied: “Fa­ther had taste, but he was no stylist.” The ball was now firmly in Butzi’s court. Late in 1959 the de­sign stu­dio ran up a se­ries of sketches of a four-seater coupe. Mod­els fol­lowed and a pro­to­type was ready for driv­ing by De­cem­ber 1961. With 2.21 me­tres be­tween front and rear wheels, Butzi’s de­sign group man­aged to cre­ate the pas­sen­ger and lug­gage space Ferry re­quired in his new 2+2.

How­ever, there was still the en­gine to con­sider. The en­gine had to be more pow­er­ful and re­fined, and four years since Ferry had ap­proached

Go­ertz, noth­ing had been done. The 356’s flat four equipped with fuel in­jec­tion failed to pro­duce any im­prove­ment, and the race-bred ‘Fuhrmann’ four-cam en­gine was too highly tuned and main­te­nance in­ten­sive. Thoughts turned to a flat six, a log­i­cal path as Porsche was al­ready work­ing on a rac­ing flat eight, and so a six-cylin­der unit was de­signed. Progress was slow and it was not bench tested un­til Jan­uary 1963. The re­sult was a dis­may­ing 110 to 112 bhp when the tar­get was 130. Fer­di­nand Piëch, who had just joined the fam­ily firm, took charge of a to­tal re­de­vel­op­ment.

With over­sight from Hans Megzer, whose main re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were the com­pe­ti­tion engines, the flat six was com­pletely re­designed with twin over­head chain-driven camshafts rather than the com­plex­ity and bulk of over­head valves. The crank­shaft was now seven bear­ings in­stead of four and had lu­bri­ca­tion by dry sump­ing, which would elim­i­nate the oil surge prob­lem of the 356. Mezger im­proved the com­bus­tion cham­bers on the model of his rac­ing flat eight and in­cor­po­rated space for dual ig­ni­tion so the en­gine could read­ily be adapted for com­pe­ti­tion; he also left mar­gin for fu­ture de­vel­op­ments to ex­tend both bore and stroke. Car­bu­ra­tion was in the hands of two banks of Solexes. A sin­gle-ax­ial 11-bladed fan was cho­sen for its ef­fi­ciency and low noise.

The 901’s chas­sis also showed a rad­i­cal de­par­ture: if the 356’s tor­sion bars re­mained, at the front the en­gi­neers de­signed an in­no­va­tive damper-strut which dis­pensed with the trans­verse tor­sion bar, en­abling

a far larger lug­gage space. Re­moval of the tor­sion bar also gave the de­sign­ers space to in­cor­po­rate the trans­verse wish­bone ar­range­ment that had been de­vel­oped on the Typ 804 F1 car. Com­bined with rack-and-pin­ion steer­ing it meant sus­pen­sion and steer­ing op­er­a­tions were sep­a­rated – un­like the 356’s – which en­hanced han­dling and par­tic­u­larly turn-in.

At the time of its launch the 901 was far from show­room ready. If the chas­sis and in­te­rior equip­ment had largely been fi­nalised, proof­ing was con­tin­u­ing with the en­gine. The very first 901 com­pleted in March 1962 used the Su­per 90’s flat four; sim­i­larly fit­ted pro­to­types 02, 03 and 04 built in the spring of 1963 were used for sus­pen­sion, gear­box and brake test­ing. De­spite a fran­tic spring and sum­mer’s de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme dur­ing which Bott, Falk and oth­ers drove thou­sands of test miles, the fifth pro­to­type car, made in Au­gust 1963 and ex­hib­ited at Frank­furt, still had a makeshift en­gine: this was flat six, but the dis­carded OHV en­gine, se­lected be­cause it would not have read­ily given the game away had a cu­ri­ous ex­hi­bi­tion visi­tor (or spy from a com­peti­tor) man­aged to open the cover.

Porsche stand per­son­nel were re­port­edly very care­ful to en­sure this did not hap­pen. This car was not fit­ted with the proper ‘Mezger’ dry sump OHC flat six un­til Jan­uary 1964. The sixth pro­to­type, also dat­ing from Jan­uary, was the first to have the OHC flat six from the out­set: it served both as Piëch’s com­pany car and as a de­vel­op­ment ve­hi­cle. Eight fur­ther 901 pro­to­types, all with the OHC en­gine, were built be­tween March and Oc­to­ber 1964 for per­for­mance com­par­isons be­tween We­ber and Solex car­bu­ret­tors and brake val­i­da­tions, although the all­round ATE disc set-up was the same as the 356 C.

A pro­to­type, sup­pos­edly the fi­nal en­gine de­vel­op­ment car, was sent to the US and re­port­edly went through two engines in 60,000km. None of the pro­to­types were kept; in those days no one had the idea of keep­ing the first car off the pro­duc­tion line. Con­se­quently the ‘first’ or old­est 901 known to ex­ist is chas­sis 300.057 from the third week of pro­duc­tion, which the Porsche Mu­seum re­cently re­stored.

If press ad­mi­ra­tion for the 901 at Frank­furt had been tem­pered by a streak of scep­ti­cism, Porsche clients who had to wait a tan­ta­lis­ing 13 months for the first pro­duc­tion cars voted with their feet; from the out­set Porsche was able to sell ev­ery­thing it could make. It is now well known that car­bu­ra­tion and han­dling prob­lems af­fected many early cars, but al­most with­out ex­cep­tion the 901, soon to be re­bap­tised 911, achieved ev­ery­thing Ferry had planned. The new Porsche ac­cel­er­ated to 60mph in 8.5 sec­onds and reached 130mph, and un­like its OHV pre­de­ces­sor it would cruise very near this all day; the flat six revved to an un­prece­dented 6,500rpm and al­most alone among pro­duc­tion sports cars the 911 had a five-speed gear­box. Even as Porsche was en­ter­ing an al­most-stan­dard 911 in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally, pri­vate clients were al­ready press­ing them into ser­vice in mo­tor­sport events – from hill­climbs to ral­ly­cross.

The mod­ern 911 shares its ar­chi­tec­tural prin­ci­ples with that 901: a 2+2 coupe with a hor­i­zon­tally op­posed ‘six’ be­hind a transaxle. In steadily up­dat­ing this de­sign Porsche has been ex­traor­di­nar­ily clever. It man­aged to keep the 911 vir­tu­ally in­tact un­til the end of the 20th cen­tury when a press­ing com­bi­na­tion of econ­omy and safety reg­u­la­tions, not to men­tion chang­ing con­sumer ex­pec­ta­tions, forced change. Yet even with the ad­di­tion of water-cool­ing, and since 2011 tur­bocharg­ing, the still in­stantly recog­nis­able 911 has a stronger claim to its ances­try than al­most any other ve­hi­cle in his­tory. Sus­pen­sion de­sign, build method and qual­ity, and equip­ment lev­els have evolved hugely over 50 years, but even if the lat­est 911 is now made mostly with al­loy rather than the steel of its pre­de­ces­sors, it is still the unique sports car first seen in 1963: a car de­vel­oped from a com­bi­na­tion of the race track and driv­ing for its own sake. No com­peti­tor, how­ever bril­liant, can or is ever likely to come close to that.

Thanks The 1965 911 in our pic­tures is for sale at Porsche Cen­tre Gelder­land. For more in­for­ma­tion visit porscheclas­s­ic­cen­tergelder­ or call +31 (0) 26 356 0 901.

pro­to­type ABOVE A dis­guised 901 roads in roams the coun­try­sideGer­many in early 1963

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.