Porsche 993 CAR­RERA 4S

Automobile - - Design - pho­tog­ra­phy by JADE NEL­SON

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.

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