Stuttgart, Germany - Ferdinand “Butzi” Porsche began sketching a larger, more powerful successor for the iconic Type 356 as far back as 1959, under the internal factory project code Type 901.
It retained the rear-engined architecture of its predecessor, but with a two-litre air cooled flat six in place of the previous boxer fours, and a padded parcel shelf behind the front seats just big enough for the car to be labelled a ‘2+2’.
By the time it made its public debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show - to a very positive reception - in September 1963, the new model was already in production, so it came as a nasty surprise when Porsche management received a “friendly but distinct” letter from Peugeot informing it that the French carmaker held the international rights to three-digit car model designations with a zero in the middle, quoting the current 203 and 403 as examples, and that, in France anyway and possibly worldwide, the new Porsche flagship could not be sold as the 901.
This was before the days of mass recalls, so nothing could be done about the 82 cars that had already been delivered to owners in Germany, but as a ‘quick fix’ staff on the production line were instructed to stop using zeros when applying the badging to the new cars and use two ones instead.
And so the 901 became the 911, and a legend was born; and hidden somewhere in a store-room at Stuttgart, there’s a box containing hundreds, if not thousands, of gold-plated ‘0’ badges…
There’s a further twist to the tale: In all the kerfuffel, nobody thought to retain one of the 901s so, until recently, the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart didn’t have an example of this short-lived variant.
In 2014, however, a television crew stumbled across chassis number 300.057, the 57th 901, in an abandoned barn - literally! Despite its being in very poor condition, the Porsche classic division bought it and spent the next three years restoring it to as-new condition, refurbishing and re-using as many of the original components as possible, and it’s now on display in the museum.