The Porsche 911 is a two-door grand-tourer, 2+2 coupe that was introduced in 1963 as a successor to the Porsche 356, and it was initially known as the 901. The 911 continues to be produced to this day, renamed as such in 1964 on the grounds that Peugeot owned the rights to cars given a 3-number name with a zero in the middle (x0x).
The 911 has been the subject of numerous changes throughout its history, but all models maintain a clear lineage stemming right back to the design of the original 1963 model and to its 356 predecessor.
The classic model was made up until 1989 and was subject to a number of updates during its initial 26-year lifecycle in terms of engine size, speed, power, and placement, and in terms of its gearboxes and rear-suspension. Yet while the body itself was also subject to facelifts, which made it look increasingly robust and muscular, the 911 classic maintained an appearance that was essentially the same but for a few minor details.
In 1989, the 911 underwent a major overhaul with new models that were given the internal name ‘964’ to differentiate them from the classic line. While the body styling remained relatively untouched, the 911 was given a completely redesigned chassis, coil springs, ABS, and power steering.
In a move that surprised many at the time, the introductory 964 model was the Carrera 4, a four-wheel drive model that nonetheless reminded buyers and critics of its commitment to engineering, in the sense that the precision-engineered 959 rally model had provided much of the basis for the new 911.The 964 range included the option of an automatic gearbox for the first time in the 911’s history in 1993.
These major changes continued with the introduction of the 993 – which had a much sleeker body style and a new multi-link suspension system – in 1994. This was followed by the 996 in 1998, which introduced a water-cooled engine and further refinements to the body; it also corrected much of the 911’s notorious propensity for over-steer. This was followed by the 997 in 2005 and the 991 in 2012, both of which introduced many further changes.
While the 911 has undergone many refinements over its 50-year history, it has maintained a distinct lineage, typified by its steeply raked – and instantly recognisable – windscreen, aerodynamic profile, eye-like front headlamps, rear-mounted V6 engine, and perhaps its most distinctive feature: the continuous downward curve of its roof from the top of the car’s windscreen to its rear bumper.
When first introduced, the 911 had a 2.0L 6-cylinder engine with a power output of 96kW, a torque of 162Nm at 4600 rpm, and a top speed of just over 210 km/h. The 2.2L, 2.4L, and 2.7L engines followed until the arrival of the 3.0L engine in 1978, powering the 911 SC model. The 911 SC had a power output of 130kW, a torque of 265Nm at 4200rpm, and a top speed of 227 km/h. A 3.2L engine was introduced in 1984 with the release of the new Carrera model, which had an increased power output of 172kW, a torque of 284Nm at 6500rpm, and a faster top speed of 245km/h.
By 1992, during the era of the second-generation ‘964’ 911 models, the Turbo 3.6 911 was introduced. In addition to the larger engine, this twin turbo 911 had a power output of 268kW, a torque of 520Nm at 4200rpm, and a top speed of 282km/h, with the ability to reach 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds.
Of the 997 models produced between 2005 and 2011, the 2006 911 Carrera S equipped with 3.8L engine and a sports automatic gearbox, had a power output of 261kW at 6600rpm, a torque of 400Nm at 4600rpm, and can also reach 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds.
In terms of the ride, early models are notorious for their tendency for heavy oversteer because of their rear-mounted engines. Although 1960s models were extremely fast for their day, they could not safely reach their top speed due to this tendency to spin.
As time progressed, the 911 was adapted to improve on the characteristics that were the source of such criticism. Increased aerodynamics came from the addition of a rear spoiler, together with the way in which the rear-mounted engine was pushed further towards the middle of the car for better balance. Increasingly wider wheel rims, extended wheelbases, and tightened suspension also improved the car’s driveability.
Despite these improvements, all the classic 911 models are characterised by their propensity for oversteer, but many argue that having to fight to keep control of the car is part of the fun of driving the 911 – and they are certainly fun. While later models have maintained much of the feel of the old cars, with modern refinements such as ABS, power steering, and multilink suspension, the newer 911 models are different beasts in many ways.
Indeed, despite an obvious lineage and pedigree, models produced from the mid-1990s until the present day are characterised by their easy ride, precise handling, and incredible grip with only minimal oversteer in evidence. Many reviewers have noted that the very latest models (997) have practically no oversteer, and this is very much testament to the awesome engineering skills available to Porsche.
Kit on the early 1960s models was minimal, but by the mid-1970s, safety had been improved to include 3-point seatbelts and integrated headrests. By 1989, standard kit included 15-inch alloy wheels, power steering, air-conditioning, front and rear spoilers, and cruise control.
The 964 models – released in late 1989 – added ABS, power steering, power windows, and a sunroof as standard. The 997 models – released in 2006 – added 18-inch alloy wheels, engine immobiliser, ABS, GPS, climate control, pollen filter dual airbags in the front and back, an alarm, and a host of other features.
In the 1960s, competition came from cars like the Jaguar E-Type and Aston Martin DB5, which did actually handle better to due their front-mount engines. The Lotus Elan in the 1970s was a smaller and lighter car, and it was therefore faster than some Porsche 911 models.
Lately, competition comes from the likes of Jaguar in the form of the F-Type, which beats the non-Turbo 911 models in terms of top speed and acceleration, although not the 911 Turbo models, which in fairness cost nearly twice as much as the F-Type.
The Porsche 911, however, has a pedigree that no one can feasibly argue with, coupled with a prestige that is untouchable by any other brand within its price range. With its rich history, continuing legacy, and classic design – all of which lay testament to astounding engineering prowess – the Porsche 911 is arguably the greatest sports car ever.