Happy Birthday Porsche 911!

Twenty years ago, at the Frankfurt Auto Salon in 1963, Dr Ferry Porsche unveiled the Porsche 901 which, through an accident of fate, was renamed the 911 by the time it went into production 12 months later. The British public had its first sighting of the sports car destined for an illustrious career at Earls Court in October, and this month the most powerful normally aspirated version of the 911 yet produced will be at Motorfair — the 231 bhp Carrera.

Although the Porsche company has existed since 1930 as an automotive consultancy, it was not until 1948 that the first car to bear the family name was produced. The 356 model, originally powered by a Volkswagen engine, was rapidly developed with an ever-increasing number of Porsche parts, to that by the time the last 356C was produced in 1965 there were practically no VW parts included in the specification. A total of 76,305 units were made, and won for Porsche an intensely loyal following throughout the world.

It was, as they say, a hard act to follow. Dr Porsche's eldest son, Ferdinand "Butzi" Porsche (who now runs the Porsche Design company in Austria) undertook the styling, with a brief to produce a recognisable successor to the 356. It should, his father insisted, be no more than a two-plus-two with a wheelbase of 2.20 metres (86.6 inches), and work began as far back as 1956. At one stage Erwin Kommenda, the company's respected body engineer, proposed a design with full seating for four people but Dr Porsche firmly quashed the idea, inviting the Reutter coachbuilding company next door to develop a chassis and body to Butzi's design.

Hans Tomala meanwhile was busy designing an alloy six-cylinder engine for the 901. To keep faith it had to be air cooled, and it had to be mounted at the rear; it had, moreover, to develop at least as much power as the complex Carrera 2 2-litre flat-four (130 bhp) which powered the fastest version of the 356. Dr Porsche's nephew, Ferdinand Piech, was on the design team and became head of engine development in 1964, shortly before the new unit went into production. He and Tomala looked at double overhead camshafts (too complex and over-expensive), toothed belt drive for the single overhead camshafts (too new, as yet), oil cooling for the cylinders (unsatisfactory) and various-forms of lubrication. In the end, they arrived at a dry sumped flat six, Reynolds chains with hydraulic tensioners driving the camshafts, and two triplechoke Soles carburetters.

With a bore and stroke of 80 x 66 mm the six-cylinder engine had a capacity of 1,991 cc and produced 130 bhp at 6,100 rpm. Drive went through a 215 mm Fichtel & Sachs clutch to a brand-new 5-speed gearbox, including Porsche patent synchromesh of course.

The body was narrower than that of the 356, less bulbous though wider inside, and had 50% more glass area. Torsion bar suspension was used all round, with longitudinal bars at the front (thus making space for a 62-litre fuel tank at the front, and some baggage) and transverse bars at the rear, allied with a semi-trailing arm suspension system which, at last, replaced swing axles! ATE disc brakes were fitted all round, those at the rear having Porsche's patented parking drum within the disc, and rack-and-pinion steering was fitted. steel wheels were used originally, the unusually narrow 41/2 in rim width specified because Porsche, traditionally, believed that the suspension should accommodate some camber change, and this throw-back persisted even to the 917 development period. The Porsche 901 was well received at the autumn motor shows, though Peugeot immediately objected to the "0" figure in the nomination, and caused Porsche to change the type number to 911. The zero digit still appears in the parts lists, and is cast on the vertical cooling fan housing to this day. With a top speed of 131 mph, and standstill to 60 mph acceleration in 8.5 seconds, the Porsche 911 was no mean machine for its day, although it had to compete with the 3.8-litre Jaguar E-type in the market place, the Jaguar being faster and less expensive, too.

Production of the 911 commenced at Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen in August 1964, Porsche now having taken over the next door neighbours, Reutter, in order to expand their production facilities, and by January 1st had produced enough examples to homologate the car into the Grand Touring category. The 911's competitions debut was on the Monte Carlo Rally in January 1965 when Herbert Linge and Peter Falk drove a 160 bhp version (in fact virtually, a prototype of the 911S) to fifth place overall, and GT victory, in an event that was almost bogged down by heavy snowfalls. Today, Linge holds a senior position in the test department and liaises with FISA on safety subjects, and Falk is the company's competitions manager.

With the 4-cylinder 912 version coming out in April 1965 Porsche threaded another string to their bow, and production soared to a record 13,100 units; Porsche had succeeded in replacing an old favourite with a new one, a topic that had caused many sleepless nights at the transition stage. The early 911s were highly acclaimed, though they were prone to understeer, and the Solex carburation had a very nasty flat-spot. In 1966 Webers replaced the Solex equipment, and Ferdinand Piech had already embarked on a chassis development programrne that would make the 911 very respectable indeed in the handling department, a case of development triumphing over the original design.

Piech, who became head of development an 1966, progressively introduced wider rims, different suspension geometries, a longer wheelbase from August 1968 accompanied by magnesium crankcases for most versions, and then initiated a series of improvements in the area of aerodynamics which became apparent in the 1969-1973 era. So, bit by bit, the 911 was transformed into a more powerful, better handling machine that deserved all the praise that came its way.

The 160 bhp 911S introduced early in 1966 became a sought-after model immediately. Distinguished by the polished Spoke effect Fuchs forged alloy wheels, the S was the first to have Weber carburettors, forged pistons (and a 9.8:1 compression ratio), larger valves and revised camshafts, while ventilated disc brakes looked after the retardation.

It looked good, it sounded wonderful, and it now had a very high level of performance, accelerating to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds and on to a maximum of 140 mph. At the same time the Targa versions went into production, though right-hand drive models were not in production until as late as 1973. With this model Gunther Klass became the European GT Rally Champion in 1966, and Eberhard Mahle won the European GT hillclimb tide.

The following year Vic Elford and David Stone were the first members of a factory rally team, taking the European GT Rally title, while in a 911T Sobieslav Zasada took the European Saloon Rally Championship, as some astute homologation had the two versions running as GT and Saloon contenders at the same time. Elford's haul included the Lyon-Charbonnieres Rally, the Tulip Rally and the Geneva Rally, all with outright success, while Zasada won the Austrian Alpine Rally and the Argentinian Grand Prix, the latter a 2,000 mile rally rather than a circuit event. Elford also campaigned a 911T in the British Saloon Car Championship, remembered for some memorable duels with Jim Clark's Lotus-Cortina.

Greater success was still to come, as Elford and Stone won the 1968 Monte Carlo Rally outright in a 911T, a feat repeated by Bjorn Waldegard in 1969 and again in 1970 for a fine Porsche hat-trick. Porsche also made a super-lightweight version of the 911, the 911R, turning the scales at a mere 800 kilogrammes, for special events although it was never homologated, just 22 examples being produced. With one, Elford, Hans Herrmann and Jochen Neerpasch won the 84-hour Marathon de la Route around the Nurburgring, and Rico Steinemann went record breaking at Monza helped by Jo Siffert, Dieter Spoerry and Charles Vogae. They took records at 15,000 km, 10,000 miles, 20,000 km, 72 hours and 96 hours, all at an average of 130.01 to 130.50 mph.

By now the 911 model was virtually standard equipment, in one form or another, for rallying, GT or saloon racing, and hillclimbing, and many a World Sportscar Championship race would have had an exceedingly poor entry but for the 911 owners. The popularity of the model increased steadily as the 2.2-litre version was announced in 1969, followed by the 2.4-litre in 1971, but the 2.7-litre, 210 bhp Careers RS really took the world by storm when it appeared late in 1972.

A total of 1,036 Carreras were built in the initial run, the 1973 model year, distinguished by the horn grilles on each side of the front lid (later models, in the 1974 and 1975 model years, had the so-called "banjo" bumpers of the improved G-series cars). Weighing 1,075 kg the Carrera RS was intended primarily for homologation, stripped of undersealing and all but the most essential furnishings—even the windscreen was made of thinner, Glaverbel glass. Spartan it may have been, but it was the first production Porsche to reach 60 mph in under six seconds, 5.7 sec being par for the course, and today this is regarded as the finest model to collect. The value of a pristine 911 RS will be in excess of £15,000. 

From the RS, Porsche made a further 49 RSR models with 2.8-litre, mechanically fuel injected versions of the same engine producing 300 bhp, and it was this model which performed so well on the tracks in 1973. Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood won the Daytona 24 Hours race outright even before the RSR was homologated, then Herbert Mueller and Gijs van Lcnnep won the last Targa Florio in a be-winged, prototype version of the RSR four months later.

The following year the RSR 3.0 was built by Porsche in small numbers as an evolution to keep the company's customers right at the forefront in competitions around the world, this typically producing 330 bhp, and again any of the 59 road cars or 50 racers would be worth a small fortune today. It was, perhaps, a bit naughty of Porsche to homologate this as an evolution since it had a new crankcase in stronger aluminium, with the bore taken out to 95 mm.

The engine, and many other parts, formed the basis of the 911 Turbo model which was raced by Porsche as a prototype in 1974, and which was announced as a luxury sports car that autumn. In roadgoing form the Turbo produced 260 bhp and had a top speed of 156 mph, easily the quickest customer car yet to emanate from the factory. This, in turn, was the homologation basis for the 934 and 935 Groups 4 and 5 competitions models which swept all before them on the race tracks in 1976.

Carrera, as we remarked last month, is the name given by Porsche to models intended for homologation; the Carrera 2.7 RS/RSR did all that was planned, and more, in the 1974/75 seasons, and the name was continued until 1977 on a 3-litre, 200 bhp road-going 911 which featured the now normal Bosch K-Jetronic injection system, rather than mechanical.

This article can only be a bare résumé of the Porsche 911's production and competitions career. Over 200,000 911s have been made at Zuffenhausen in 19 years, making the model the most successful sports car ever designed by any yardstick. Today, Dr Ferry Porsche is chairman of the Porsche supervisory board. Professor Dr Ernst Fuhrmann, the company's chief executive from 1972 to 1980, had planned to run the 911 down in the mid-1980s — about now, in fact — to be replaced by the 928S and the 944, but he clashed with Dr Porsche on this and is now lecturing at the University of Vienna. His successor, German-born American Peter W. Schutz, has announced that "it is all right to love the 911 again" and set in motion a big development programme which included the 911 Cabriolet, the latest Carrera, four-wheel drive, and still more powerful versions of the Turbo, so we can confidently expect the model to be with us still at the end of the decade. Butzi Porsche has his own company in Austria, and Ferdinand Piech is now the director of research and development for Audi.

In two decades demand for the 911 has rarely slackened, and the rate of production is still slightly more than 10,000 examples per year.

We drive the Carrera

The sixth major production engine revision gives us the latest 911 Carrera, with a bore and stroke of 95 x 74.4 mm and a capacity of 3,164 cc. The bore is unchanged. in fact, the stroke being that of the Turbo 3.3 which has a bore of 97 mm. Power is increased to 231 bhp, partly by further optimisation of the settings but mainly through the adoption of a fully electronic Bosch engine management system of the Motronic type, which differs from previous examples by directly measuring the operating temperature through a ceramic sensor mounted in the cylinder head. The Motronic system has a fuel shut-off on overrun and is inherently more economical, and although the Carrera uses a little more fuel in the Urban Cycle (20.8 mpg instead of 21.2 mpg) it is markedly more economical at 56 and 75 mph. Overall the fuel consumption is in the 20-25 mpg range. It is interesting to realise that the 911 Carrera now has the same power-to-weight ratio as the original 3-litre Turbo model, at 204 bhp per ton, though the comparative lack of torque holds it back in acceleration; the Turbo 3.0 developed 254 lb ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, while the Carrera develops 209 lb ft at 4,800 rpm. Figures on a damp track bear out this theory, because with a lot of initial wheelspin the Carrera rushes to 60 mph in an average of 5.7 seconds, and to 100 mph in an average of 15.4 seconds. In the dry, and with more practice, we would expect to lower these to 5.5 seconds and around 15 seconds for the "ton" —a good deal quicker than Porsche's normally pessimistic DIN figure claims. For comparison, the Turbo 3.0 reached 60 mph in 5.7 seconds also (held back by turbo lag initially, and having a four-speed gearbox of course) while the Turbo 3.3 reaches 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. The 100 mph mark was reached by the Turbo in some 13 seconds, while the 3.3 will get there in around 12 seconds.

No doubt at all, the 911 Carrera is an electrifying performer which now challenges the Turbo, and could keep up with it on a cross-country course. It has a considerable amount of power from 3,000 rpm up to the 6,300 rpm red band to keep the driver busy, and had the rev-limiter been set fractionally higher we could have reached 60 mph in second gear, and 100 mph in third, to improve the times still further! The original 911 Carrera had a marked bite to its acceleration curve at 4,000 rpm, which owners enjoyed very much, and we found this absent in the new version which just keeps pouring on the power throughout the range.

At first acquaintance the 911 feels old-fashioned, which is hardly surprising . . . it's narrow inside, unfashionably tall, has a heavy clutch, and the thrashing whine of the cooling fan makes it sound fussy at low speeds. The Sport equipment on the Type Approval prototype made the steering feel heavy, too, the Goodyear NCT tyres on forged alloy rims putting a lot of rubber in contact with the road. With 1,500 miles on the odometer the car we were allowed to drive for four days felt rather stiff, 911s not being really run-in and free until they've done 5,000 miles, so it was all the more surprising to achieve the excellent acceleration figures. We could not check the maximum speed, claimed at 152 mph, but have not the slightest doubt that it is accurate.

The 911 is, essentially, a sports car for the open road. In the higher speed realms the fussiness is replaced by a sense of urgency. The engine note hardens, and the car feels more like the thoroughbred that it is. The extra perfrorrnance is particularly evident in fourth and fifth gears, even though they have been raised, each ratio feeling like one gear lower in the 204 bhp predecessor, the occupants having the feeling of being catapulted up the road. It does make one wonder whether it's worth spending another £10,000 on the Turbo 3.3, comparing the Sport model with the 3.3 litre flagship of the six-cylinder range.

Porsche say that 80% of the engine is new. The design of the pistons has been altered, and the compression ratio is raised from 9.8 to 10.3:1 by lowering the roof of the combustion chamber, while on the manifolding there is a new intake manifold allied with improved heat exchangers, and a new exhaust system which vents gases to the air through an orifice which has the diameter of a small drainpipe! In common with the Turbo, the heads now fit the alloy crankcase metal-to-mgal, dispensing with the head gaskets. Yet another design of timing chain tensioners (also fitted now to the Turbo) relies on forced feed lubrication and, being self-bleeding, is maintenance-free.

An external gearbox oil cooler is now fitted as standard, the gearbox itself having higher fourth and fifth ratios as mentioned. The alternator has higher capacity and is better cooled.

Braking performance has been improved to keep pace with the added performance, by fitting thicker discs and bigger pads. The discs are 3.5 mm thicker than the previous equipment and have better internal venting, and a larger, eight-inch brake booster from the Turbo is also fitted. The 911's tendency to go straight on with wheels locked on wet roads has been virtually cured by fitting larger pistons to the rear calipers, and by the installation of a pressure-limiting brake regulator in the dual hydraulic system. One evening, on a clear road, we ran into rain whilst braking for a downhill corner, an suddenly and unexpectedly that we felt sure the fronts would lock up. Amazingly they did not. . . the car continued to lose speed with the wheels still turning, and a potentially nasty moment was avoided. We could not find a better testimony to the improvements to the braking system.

The 911 Carrera's interior is familiar, though the Turbo's fully automatic heating system is now installed (sans air conditioner), extra ventilation being easy to arrange via the standard equipment electric sunroof. One novelty is the standard (UK specification) Panasonic CQ873 stereo radio/cassette system, best operated after careful study of its complex handbook.

As standard the Carrera now has 928-style cast alloy wheels, the Sport version having yet another version of the big "tea-tray" rear spoiler reminiscent of that on the Turbo 3.0, the front air dam now having the foglights built in rather than being hung on below the bumpers.

The price of the 911 has inevitably risen, by nearly £1,700 to a total of £21,464, while the Sport version is up to £23,360— but if you are into that class of car, the Ferrari 308GTB and GTS models cost £25,000 and £26,000 respectively, so it is perhaps the Jaguar XJ-S HE which would form a better comparison at £20,700 though utterly different in character.

But what price a supercar? The very phrase is much hackneyed, but it certainly applies to the Porsche Turbo and should, therefore, apply to the 911 Carrera aswell. It is going to be interesting to see if Porsche keeps up its tradition of competing with the Carrera model, or bringing out an evolutionary race or rally version. The Group B class is waiting for such a car. — MLC.