The cars we loved.
Just about anybody who loves cars likes the Porsche 911. There are also those who hate it too, but they can’t deny that it’s a moving target among sports car builders. Like the 3 Series, the 911 is a benchmark to be achieved (ask the Corvette). It wasn’t always like that. What started as a rather homely looking 901 prototype eventually landed in showrooms in late 1963 as the 911 thanks to a name change squabble with Peugeot. The 911 was not much more than an attractive grand tourer.
Growing up I had always seen big spoilered turbo models on TV. Often celebrities had them making them part of the Southern California scene, like the Mercedes 280 SL. The first time I actually saw or paid attention to the 911S was in the 1971 film Le Mans. In it most of the car action was fast and furious, but one particular scene with McQueen’s character driving a 911S, there was a quiet calm with the purr of the flat six suggesting luxury and refinement. That’s how I thought of the 911 up to the mid ’70s. That image of a luxury grand tourer was (and is) my favorite one of the 911, even though today we think of the code named 991 as an exotic supercar. The beautiful shape was best left free from scopes, spoilers and all the trick aero elements of today’s 911.
The 911 was always something special. Any car with a flat six in back cooled by air, was by no means your typical touring car. First it’s shape, not too evolved from the VW Beetle has become iconic. In fact it was so brilliant that decades of subtle refinements clearly link today’s fancy 911 to the cars of the ’60s.
The performance icon that we associate with the 911 really got its start in 1963 with S model. Before that the 911 with it’s 130 hp was a pleasant and sporty handling car in the German tradition. Straightforward ergonomics and efficient mechanical packaging was partly the result of a rear engine, rear wheel drive configuration.
That same configuration was responsible for some of the 911’s odd handling characteristics, but what enthusiasts really wanted was more power. The 911S provided that thanks to new Webber carburetors , larger valves and higher compression. The flat six in the S or “Sport” model made 30 hp more than the standard 911. The S also had larger tires and was available with a 5 speed manual transmission.
To handle the power the suspension was also revised with a taunter and more controlled ride. Still, with all these changes (including a slightly stretch wheelbase from the previous year), the 911S looked the same. The only real way to distinguish the S model from any other was the new 5 spoke Fuchs wheels, but these wheels would end up on other models and the 912.
Those wheels made it well into the ’80s in some form or another as did the iconic shape (with wail tail spoilers and wider fenders as time went on).
As the 911 was shooting for the stars, it had already began to morph to meet both ends of the sales spectrum. The 912, a four cylinder version of the 911 became Porsche’s entry level car, that was until the 914 replaced it in the early ’70s.
The 1970 car featured in film Le Mans represented the next generation of 911, although it looked nearly identical to the 1969. The 911 would never stray too far from that classic Ferdinand A. Porsche penned shape. The early cars are still my favorite, although I know that I could never afford to keep one even if I could find one I could buy. Memories however are free and I choose to think of the 911 in its pre-turbo guise as an elegant grand tourer with timeless style.