Porsche 993 CARRERA 4S
In its first 50 years, Porsche AG was simply a sports car company, augmenting its income with engineering consultancy, patent royalties, and the occasional design of entire vehicles for other manufacturers. Today Porsche earns its revenue by making crossovers, luxurious four-door GTs, and a relatively small number of true sports cars—the mid-engine 718 lineup’s descendants of the original 356/1. The reputation upon which this range of disparate vehicles was built is due to Porsche’s motorsports activities (which were surely never a profit center) and above all the evergreen 911.
There are literally dozens of 911 variants available right now, and there have been hundreds of models among the more than one million 911s made since 1964. For most people, the 911 is Porsche. From its very first race, at the Targa Florio, driven by Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy and journalist/photographer Bernard Cahier, to the “pink pig” GT class winner at Le Mans last June, the 911 has burnished the aura that makes a suburbanite driving a Macan feel like a star.
Some enthusiasts consider the last air-cooled Porsche—the 993, sold in the U.S. from 1995 to 1998— to be the ultimate and best 911 sports car, as opposed to later, more luxurious (and heavier) grand touring Carreras. Indeed, my favorite 911 design is the 993 Carrera 4S, essentially a 993 Turbo without its whale tail and turbocharged engine. The car is of course bigger and
enormously more powerful than the 2.0-liter original with its mere 130 horsepower and skinny little tires, but there is a consistency of form and easily apprehended aerodynamic quality that goes back to Erwin Komenda’s VW 60K10 race cars and continued through all 356s and 911s up until today. It’s hard for us to believe now, but the 911 was intended to disappear like the 356, to be replaced by the 928—a car many Porsche lovers refuse to acknowledge as legitimate.
The 928, though, is my choice for Porsche’s best frontengine car design. Some called it Porsche’s Corvette, and in fact that’s not so far from reality. In 1956, two young men worked together in a temporary space at the General Motors Tech Center, charged with devising the next Corvette, the C2. I was one, as stylist for the form, and Anatole Lapine was the other, responsible for its architecture. Consulting with Zora Arkus-Duntov and Ed Cole, we came up with a shorter wheelbase than the C1, with the V-8 moved rearward and the gearbox out back. Chevrolet would not use that layout for several more decades, on the C5, but Porsche introduced the conceptually identical 928 at the 1977 Geneva Motor Show and produced it until 1995. Lapine took a lot of ribbing (not least from me) for getting Porsche to make “his” Corvette, but Porsche really did it because it feared the U.S. would ban rear-engine cars like the 911. The 928 is much better looking than any ’50s GM design in the Harley Earl era could have been, and of course Porsche’s engineering then was far more refined than Chevrolet’s. To me, the 928 S4 model remains the best high-performance daily driver GT of all time, easy to enter, easy to drive, comfortable, and dead dependable. Notably, if the 928 was influenced heavily by American ideas, it was also an American, Peter Schutz—Berlin-born but Chicagoraised—who reversed the decision to cancel the 911 just three weeks after taking over as Porsche CEO, something for which all Porsche people should be eternally grateful.
In the racing realm, aside from 911-based machines, Porsche has been faithful to the mid-engine layout of the very first 356/1 for many of its competition cars, starting with the 550 Spyder first seen at the 1953 Paris auto show. It made Porsche’s giant-killer reputation in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana, when Hans Herrmann finished third overall behind two 4.5-liter Ferraris. (Another 550 was fourth.) That was reinforced by an overall win at the 1956 Targa Florio, the toughest event on the international calendar.
Some 550s were used as fast road transport, notably by conductor Herbert van Karajan, who went from concert to concert very quickly back when there were no European open-road speed limits. But of all the specialseries racing sports cars, the most interesting to me is the 904, a coupe that really was designed by the thirdgeneration Ferdinand Porsche, known to the family as “Butzi.” Porsche AG would like you to think that he also did the 911 all by himself, even going so far as to cut Erwin Komenda out of period photos, rather as the Politburo did with out-of-favor politicians in the Soviet era.
The 904 got to keep its type designation because Peugeot hadn’t yet exercised its naming rights, which previously turned Porsche’s then-new project 901 into the beloved 911. The 904 was the first Porsche racer to eschew the suspension layout of the Auto Union grand prix cars created by Professor Porsche in the mid-’30s (and used, of course, for the VW, and thus all 356 Porsches). Its body was fiberglass, a first for the company, rather heavy, and highly unsuitable because it used crack-prone sprayed chopped-fiber technology— reasonable for small pleasure boats where weight doesn’t much matter but not good for a race car. But it is a handsome beast, quite clearly a Porsche from the front, and it was a very good design for its intended purpose. The fact one took first overall at the Targa Florio in 1964 is ample proof that it was well conceived.
Designer Jerry Cumbus was at GM Styling at the same time as Lapine and I. Creator of the knee-saving curved A-pillar on 1961-62 full-size cars, he has owned six Porsches, including a 904 bought used in 1962 not for racing but as a road car. He was then living in San Francisco, not the most hospitable city for exotic cars; he reports that a coupe only 38 inches high was “simply not a practical car to drive in traffic,” and “with no bumpers the car was a risk in any parking situation.” His car was initially part of a Dutch race team, driven by Ben Pons, and “had the most international race victories of any 904.” He sold it because of logistical problems but said, “If I had it to do over again, I would still buy the 904.” Who wouldn’t? AM
MARVELOUS SCULPTING gives a neat surface flow from the headlamp to the front wheel opening, then an indent to the nominal fender and door surfaces. THESE AIR INLET details are interesting but barely noticeable for a person standing near the car. THIS COWL INLET is a nice punctuation mark on a bland, flowing surface. A strong visual reference, it doesn’t detract from the car’s profile. THE NECESSARY FRONT-CORNERlamp cluster is again unobtrusive, elegantly shaped, and set off by theblack rubber bumper buttresses.SORRY, BUT WITHOUT round, inclined headlamp shapes, 911variants are not perfectly Porsche. These are classic, with minimal framingand maximum transparent area.THIS SWIRLING GESTURAL line separating hood, fenders, and bumper is elegant and unobtrusive. You don’t really notice it in the overall scheme at first glance, but when you do, it’s a powerfulgraphical statement.THE THREE MODEST inlets below the bumper strike face are well sculpted and do not particularlycall attention to themselves.