Zuffenhausen, Germany – It’s one of the most enduring shapes in motoring, its architecture and profile largely unchanged in the 54 years since it was first revealed at the 1963 Frankfurt motor show.
And this week the one millionth Porsche 911, an Irish Green Carrera S incorporating a number of special features echoing the original 911, rolled off the production line at Zuffenhausen. What’s even more amazing is that in 54 years there have only been two platform changes – the 964 series in 1989, with coil springs, ABS and power steering, and the 996 series in 1998, in which liquid-cooled engines finally replaced the venerable air-cooled powerplants.
Porsche estimates that about 70 percent of all the 911s ever made are still running, which is as much a tribute to the loyalty of their owners as to the build quality of the cars.
The 911 traces its ancestry back to 1959, when Ferry Porsche, son of the company founder, laid out the wheelbase, powertrain and suspension parameters for a larger, more comfortable replacement for the 356.
His son, Ferdinand ‘Butzi’ Porsche, sketched out a sleek, knife-edged body shape for the new car, but when bodyshop boss Erwin Komenda not only objected to, but also made unauthorised changes to the design, he took the drawings across the street to bespoke coachbuilder Reutter, which translated his concept into something that could actually be built – the Porsche Type 901.
However, when the prototype was shown in public for the first time in Frankfurt, Peugeot pointed out that it had already copyrighted all car names comprising three digits with a zero in the middle, so the model name was hurriedly changed to 911 - although the first 82 production cars were still badged as 901s and all the part numbers carried the prefix 901 for years afterwards.
The first-generation 911 had a 1991cc fan-cooled flat-six ‘boxer’ engine rated at 96kW hanging off the rear transaxle, driving through either a four or five-speed manual gearbox. Production began in September 1964, and the 911 was followed in 1966 by the 118kW 911 S, and in August 1967 by the Targa version, developed in response to widespread concerns that the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration intended to ban conventional roadsters.
In 1969 the bore and stroke were increased to 84 x 66mm, for a capacity of 2.2 litres; power was up to 114kW in the base version and 132kW in 911 S trim. More importantly, the wheelbase was stretched from from 2211mm to 2268mm in response to customer complaints of twitchy handling at the limit – not by making the car bigger, but by simply moving the rear wheels back! The C Series was also the first to offer an automatic transmission option.
1972 saw displacement increase to 2341cc (the 2.4L engine) with Bosch Kugelfischer mechanical fuel-injection for the first time, and power went up to 123kW in 911 and 142kW in 911 S trim. And then, a year later, came the iconic Carrera 2.7 RS, weighing just 1075kg, with 2687cc, 150kW, uprated suspension, wider rear wheels and ‘ducktail’ rear spoiler.
The 2.7-litre engine became standard across the range for 1974, rated at 110kW in the base 911 and 129kW in the 911 S, but with a lot more torque than the 2.4L.
The 930 T ‘Whaletail’ of 1975 was the first turbocharged 911, with 190kW from its 2994cc boxer six and a four-speed manual gearbox – because the Type 915 five-speeder simply couldn’t take the punch! The same engine, minus the hairdryer, also went into the 1976 Carrera 3.0, where it delivered the same 150kW as the 2.7 RS, but with slightly more torque. The Turbo engine was punched out to 3.3 litres and a hair-raising 220kW in 1978, making it a handful to drive at the limit.
That was meant to be the last hurrah for the 911; the decision was taken in 1979 that production would cease at the end of 1981 in favour of the front-engined 928.
But sales of the old model continued so strongly that the decision was reversed; instead Porsche combined the 95mm bore of the previous SC race-spec engine with the 74.4mm stroke crankshaft from the 3.3 turbo engine, 10.3:1 high-compression pistons and new inlet and exhaust plumbing to produce the 172kW, 3.2-litre 1984 Carrera. And finally, in 1987, the Type 915 gearbox was dumped in favour of a five-speed ‘box sourced from Getrag, together with the 911’s first hydraulic clutch.
In late 1989 the 911 underwent its first major chassis redesign; the Type 964 was launched as the Carrera 4, with all-wheel drive, coil springs, ABS, power steering and a new version of the flat-six boxer, punched out 3.6 litres and 184kW. A rear-wheel drive version arrived a year later, as did a new-look 911 Turbo, using the proven 3.3-litre engine of the second-series 930T,which was replaced after two years by a new turbocharged engine based on the 3.6-litre, rated for an intimidating 265kW.
The final air-cooled 911 was the 993, introduced in 1994, with new front and rear styling, all-new multilink rear suspension, and improved engine management boosting power to 200kW. The 1995 993 Turbo was the first production Porsche with dual turbos; standard power was 300kW, although there was a special batch of 183 Turbo S version in 1997 boasting an extra 17.7kW, distinguished by extra side scoops behind the doors and vents on the whale-tail spoiler.
In 1998 the 911 made the major move to liquid cooling, along with a major redesign of the body-shell, which shared its styling with the mid-engined Boxster. It’s all-new 3.4-litre engine had an integrated dry sump and variable valve timing, and was good for 221kW, increased in 2002 to 3.6 litres and 235kW. The Turbo and lightweight GT3 versions, meanwhile, had uprated versions of the 3.6-litre 911 GT1 engine, rated for 309kW in the Turbo, and 268kW (later 284kW) in the GT3.
The 2005 997 featured revised styling and revised engines, up to 3.6 litres and 239kw for for the Carrera and 3.8 litres and 261kW for the Carrera S, and in 2009 came the first dual-clutch PDK gearbox.
The 991, introduced in 2012, featured an entirely new platform (only the third since 1963) with a longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs; the rear axle was moved 75mm closer to the engine, thanks to new three-shaft transmissions. Even though it was bigger than the previous model, the 991 was the first 911 body-shell to made predominantly of aluminium, so it was up to 50kg lighter than its predecessor.
The power of the 3.4-litre Carrera was up to 257kW and the 3.8-litre to 294kW; alongside the PDK transmission, it introduced a seven-speed manual gearbox with rev-matching. The 2014 Turbo and Turbo S incorporated rear-wheel steering, with power ratings of 382kW and 411kW respectively.
The current, second-generation 991 models feature all-new three-litre flat six turbo boxers, the first that base model 911s have come with hairdryers.
And finally, there’s the limited-edition 911R, of which only 991 will be made, with a four-litre, naturally aspirated engine – that’s exactly twice the capacity of the 1991cc air-cooled boxer in the original 1963 version – producing 368kW at a screaming 8250rpm – almost four times the power. As the Virginia Slims lady said: You’ve come a long way, baby.