Porsche 911, begining to end, 356, 930, 964, 993,

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Porsche 911, begining to end, 356, 930, 964, 993,

GT PURELY PORSCHE, MARCH 2002

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In this time-travelling feature, GT Purely Porsche brings an example from each of the six readily defined styling generations together and charts the unique history of the greatest

The 911's progress through motoring history has not always been the smoothest, but its development has led to a spectacularly polished product. GT Purely Porsche traces the rise, fall and rise of the greatest sports car ever.

Here's a challenge for you. Other than Mohammed Ali, the Coca-Cola bottle and a Manchester United strip, think of something more instantly recognisable worldwide than the Porsche 911's profile. It's practically impossible, a fact that has led the Porsche 911 to be one of the top five products ever. What makes it such an achievement is the staying power of those sleek lines. First penned in 1959 by Butzi, the direct visual link between the earliest and latest incarnations is still obvious to even the untrained eye. Simple, clean and aerodynamic, anybody with even the most basic artistic skills can draw an identifiable representation of the icon with just one stroke.

In this time-travelling feature, GT Purely Porsche brings an example from each of the six readily defined styling generations together and charts the unique history of the greatest tarmac-bound transport of them all .

First Encounters – Porsche 911, 1963 to 1973

Appearing for the first time at the Frankfurt International Auto Show in September 1963 bearing a Porsche 901 badge, the Porsche 356 replacement didn't go into full production until the following year. Available until 1967 solely as a 130bhp two-litre coupé, innumerable changes were implemented over successive years as Porsche developed the Porsche 911 in the marketplace. Fundamentally a well groomed product, the continuous development was required as its disproportionate weight distribution at the rear meant only the best drivers could hope to keep it on the tarmac when driving in anger. Attempts to rectify this were initially crude, weights and two batteries in the front boot being two examples of embarrassingly low-tech attempts to solve the problem. For the 1969 model year, a 57mm increase in wheelbase offered a more satisfactory solution. In the meantime, two significant derivatives had appeared, the first being the ‘poor man's Porsche 911', the Porsche 912, in 1966. Launched to replace the last surviving Porsche 356 (the SC), it housed the outgoing model's 90bhp 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine in the Porsche 911's body. Despite its inferior image, the Porsche 912 out-sold the Porsche 911 globally at a ratio of nearly 3:1.

However, the Porsche 911 range continued to expand. In 1967, deliveries of Butzi's compromised cabriolet, the Targa (Italian for shield) started to arrive with its brushed stainless steel rollover bar and zippered rear screen. In the same year, a taster for the ultimate Porsche also rolled into the showrooms in the form of the Porsche 911 S. Higher revving than the rest of the range with triplechoke Weber carbs, a longer wheelbase, Koni shocks, ventilated front discs and Fuchs alloys, it was a fantastic enthusiasts car. Five years later, the Porsche 911 line-up boasted 2.4-litre engines and Porsche decided it was time to fully realise the niche market for an even more focussed product than the S. The result was the Porsche Carrera 2.7 RS, arguably the greatest Porsche 911 ever.

The Second Coming – Porsche 911, 1974 to 1983

The ‘70s were a crucial time for Porsche as it now had to deal more seriously than ever with the real-world problems of selling the Porsche 911 globally. To fully exploit the financial rewards of producing its most famous sports car meant Porsche had to be able to sell the same Porsche 911 around the globe without any special concessions being made for any one country.

It was a dream that wasn't realised until much later but moves towards this goal started to be made. The compromises this forced proved why Porsche couldn't continue as it had been. These were most graphically illustrated by the efforts Porsche went to in order to be allowed into its largest market, the US. As a result of ever more stringent safety legislation, shock-absorbing bumpers were forced upon the Porsche 911's front and rump in 1974, a revision that affected all Porsche's worldwide markets. Ride height, too, needed to be raised on some Stateside models. But even worse, as a result of tighter emissions controls, lower powered engines were fitted.

The latter meant that after just three years of availability, the ground-breaking Turbo, first seen in the US in 1976, was discontinued and didn't return for six years. Thankfully for Porsche, the rest of world was eager to lay its driving gloves on the steering wheel of 1975's most brutal road-rocket, and early success prompted a second generation, the 930, packing a 300bhp 3.3-litre powerplant (1978). Despite having a four-speed ‘box, Porsche considered it good enough to continue largely unchanged until 1989.

For the rest of the range, though, change was a constant. Despite the nomenclature of Porsche Super Carrera (SC) the three-litre 1978 model year 911 actually represented a combination of the old Porsche 2.7-litre 911's parts with the engine of the ‘Carrera'. It also gave rise to the first 911 cabrio in 1983. Despite not being one of the greats, it helped Porsche on its quest for a unified ‘world car'.

The Third Degree – Porsche 911, 1984 to 1989

As anybody who has just binned one will tell you, it's all too easy to get carried away with the Porsche 911. And that's not a fault that lies with just its owners and drivers either. During the ‘80s, the record sales figures that came in conjunction with the new Porsche 3.2-litre Carrera were fuelled more by economic forces than any other factor, and Porsche took its eye off the ball.

It's a well-documented fact that Porsche now moved into a period of scant product development and, towards the decade's end, die-hard followers began to loose faith. That was all very well when queues of people more concerned with having the ‘right' badge on their cars were lining up at the dealerships, but when they dried up, it left a precariously weak model range for the real fans.

That's not to say the Porsche 911 hadn't moved on. The Porsche 3.2-litre engine now teased its owners with a 231bhp output, thanks not only to its larger bore but also the introduction of the now obligatory Motronic engine management system. Bigger brakes, anti-roll bars and torsion bars made the Porsche SC body handle the bends a little better.

For the Porsche 911, these were hardly massive strides forward, and Porsche was intent on releasing gimmicky models rather than substantially better ones. Speedster, Turbolook and flat-nose Porsche 911s deflected attention from where it was really needed and it was not until late in the Carrera's production life that a significant development occurred. The replacement of the long-serving 915 transmission was replaced with the Getrag G50 in 1987, accompanied by a 240mm clutch, the same as the Porsche Turbo.

It was a deeply frustrating time for Porsche fans, as the 1986 959 proved that the Stuttgart factory was still more than capable of taking the 911 and, using technology, making it an ever-more impressive performer.

The Fourth Dimension – Porsche 911, 1989 to 1993

When it was launched, press releases told us that the Porsche 964 (or Porsche Carrera 2 or Porsche Carrera 4, if you'd rather) was 87 per cent new: enough for some to mark the 964 down as the beginning of a second generation of the Porsche 911. It proved, if little else, that Porsche was taking the Porsche 911 seriously again, and was looking to produce it for sometime into the future.

Despite this, the Porsche 964 was by no means a sales success. The recession that the world was plunging into restricted the potential market. On top of that Porsche had to convince its old followers that this was a Porsche 911 they could put their trust in. Although the Porsche 964 was far better than its predecessor and excellent in its own right, reversing Porsche's fortunes was simply too big a task for any one model to overcome. It did, however, start the resurgence and exemplified the combination of old and new that a Porsche 911 of the future would have to embody.

Keeping much of the Porsche Carrera 3.2's body panels, visually it was clear this was a Porsche 911 whose shape still harked back to Butzi's original design. The fact that these were bolted onto an all-new structure beneath made it clear serious thought had gone into the car's on-road talents. The arrival of an automatically activated rear wing that raised itself at 50mph was an innovative solution to improving high speed stability.

The newly bored and stroked engine now displaced 3.6 litres, a necessary increase if the new four-wheel drive Porsche Carrera 4 was to be faster than the old Porsche 3.2 Carrera. Now pushing out 250bhp and 228lb/ft torque, it just as importantly allowed Porsche to realise its dream of supplying cars around the world using one, unadulterated engine.

The 964 also spawned another great, the Porsche Carrera RS. Backed by some to be the next best collectable to the Porsche 2.7 RS of the early ‘70s, the stripped-out street racer had a 260bhp engine to add to its excellent lightweight package. Equipped here with an extensive roll-cage, they're a fantastic tool on track or road.

The Fifth Generation – Porsche 911, 1994 to 1998

Where the Porsche 964 had technologically been a quantum leap forward for the Porsche 911, the Porsche 993 represented the first real change to the model's profile since its launch 30 years before. It was sleek, modern looking, and took the seemingly ages-old design to places it had never been before. Love it or hate it, the Porsche 911 needed this stylistic breath of fresh air if it was to achieve Stuttgart's objective. Charged with attracting customers away from their Mercedes Benzes and BMWs, the Porsche 993 did so by the stretch limousine-load.

Changes in detail rather than an all-new exterior characterised its styling. The Porsche 964's flared rear arches' lines were softened to make them more of an integral part of the Porsche 993's flowing design, while at the front, combined with more sharply-raked headlights, the revised nose gave it an aggressive edge.

Under the skin there were changes, too. Not least was the replacement of the semi-rear trailing arm suspension with a multi-link arrangement and a brand new six-speed gearbox in 1995. Stuck at 3.6 litres, the engine was, however, more powerful at 272bhp, rising to 285bhp with the introduction of VarioCam in 1996 across the entire model range.

The system was pioneered on what is arguably one of the best of the modern 911s, the Porsche 3.8 Carrera RS. Its bored-out engine delivered 300bhp and enabled a 0-60mph time of five seconds; but it was more concerned with the twists than the straights. To such ends, the car was significantly stiffer than the rest of the model range due to extras like front strut braces. Created with the track equally in mind, the turbo charged, rear-wheel drive Porsche GT2 was another notable addition to the Porsche 993 range, as was the introduction of the first four-wheel drive Porsche 911 Turbo.

Just as exceptional in its own way was the reintroduction of the Targa. Now fitted with an all-glass roof, it promised the ideal balance between open-and tin-top motoring (an ideal solution for UK sun worshippers). Successful in its ambition or not, it convinced enough buyers for Porsche to repeat the exercise with today's Porsche 996 model.

Sixth of the Best – Porsche 911, 1997 to date

Water-cooling was the heavy artillery purists traditionally used as ammunition against all Stuttgart's attempts to build anything other than the Porsche 911. Regardless of the fact that one of the main reasons Butzi didn't use this method to cool the original Porsche 911s was purely down to space in the engine bay and contemporary technology, was irrelevant. It simply wasn't Porsche, old boy.

So it could hardly have come as a surprise to the Stuttgart factory that the announcement of the 996's powerplant was drowned out by the sound of toys being tossed from prams.

The last bastion of true Porscheness (is that a word? I'll check my Porschist's dictionary) had been tainted by the dreaded H2O. Would it ever be worth buying a Porsche 911 again? Of course it would, and despite an unnoticeable blip in sales figures while the overly concerned got their head around the change, many have now been converted.

There was plenty to attract them back, though. Technology really marched on and the Porsche 3.4-litre engine's 296bhp (and now the 2002 3.6-litre's 320bhp) is testament to only a small fraction of it. VarioCam Plus now ensures great dollops of power and torque are available across the range while the optional Porsche Stability Management makes sure you keep on the straight, twisty and narrow. Porsche Tiptronic S is possibly the best automatic-derived transmission available for road cars.

If more excitement is needed, the Porsche 996 range offers two of the fastest road cars in the world in the Porsche Turbo and Porsche GT2, the latter being the most powerful and fastest Porsche to date.

Perhaps the only thing the range does lack is a stripped-out-normally-aspirated Porsche RS model, but with sales figures as strong as ever, who can argue that Porsche hasn't got it right?



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