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The Porsche 911: Yesterday and Today

Few sports cars can be called as legendary as the storied Porsche 911. Starting its life in 1963, the German-made, two-door, rear-engine sports coupe has become one of the most enduring high-performance nameplates that continue to be produced to this day. The car rolled out its one-millionth unit from the production line back in 2017, but that’s far from the most important highlight of this beloved racer.

1963—the beginning

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The Porsche 911, which was meant as the replacement to the Porsche 356, actually started life as the Type 901. However, French rival Peugeot already secured the rights to naming cars with three-digits and a zero in the middle, so Porsche had to rename theirs as the 911 instead. The model was launched at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show, and came with a 2.0-liter, six-cylinder, air-cooled flat engine that delivered 130 hp along with a top speed of 210 kph. Considered too fast for most drivers that time, Porsche released the slower four-cylinder Porsche 912 in 1965. In 1966, Porsche released the 911S, which featured the more powerful Type 901/02 engine that produced 160 hp. It was also the first car in history to sport forged aluminum alloy wheels. The original 911 Targa, debuting in late 1966, boasted a unique stainless steel rollover bar and effectively became the world’s first safety cabriolet. The 1969 911S replaced carburetors with mechanical fuel injection, adding 10 hp to the car’s power. The car endured a major overhaul in 1970 and 1971, when the engine increased in displacement to 2.2-liter and subsequently improving to 180 hp in the process. The wheelbase was lengthened by 2.3 inches to provide the more powerful engine with better stability. With each successive year, the 911S grew in power, starting with the engine growing again from 2.2 to 2.4-liter and power successfully improving from 180 to 190 hp. A series overhaul saw the 911S replaced as the range topper in 1972 by the Carrera RS. Weighing less than 1000 kg and carrying a 2.7-liter engine with 210 hp, the Carrera RS became the embodiment of a dream sports car.

1973— rise of the G-Series

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With the introduction of the G series in 1973, the 911 saw many significant improvements, especially in the safety department. Among the most notable safety adjustments were the addition of bellows bumpers, integrated headrests, and three-point seatbelts. The base 911 had a 2.7-liter flat-six engine and 150 hp, which rose to 165 hp in 1976. An important milestone came for the 911 marque with the release of the Turbo version in 1974. The Turbo model, which was defined by its 3.0-liter 260 hp engine and gigantic rear spoiler, offered a unique combination of performance and luxury, and since then, has become the ultimate symbol of the Porsche name. The next leap ahead came in 1977 with the release of the best-in-class 911 Turbo equipped with 300-hp 3.3-liter charge-air cooled engine. The year 1983 saw the arrival of the collector-favorite 911 Carrera that came with a naturally-aspirated 3.2-liter 231-hp engine. This paved the way for the 911 Carrera Speedster in 1989, which was largely inspired by Porsche’s then-already legendary 356 models.

1988—the all-wheel drive generation

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In 1988, Porsche launched the next generation of the 911 via the rear-wheel drive Carrera 2 and revolutionary all-wheel drive 911 Carrera 4, both of which were pretty advanced cars back in the day. The Carrera 4 in particular, had an air-cooled 250-hp 3.6-liter boxer engine as its power source. Externally, it donned a polyurethane bumper and automatically-extending rear spoiler. Despite the badging, the cars bore little resemblance to the generation that came before, sharing a mere 15-percent of its predecessor’s parts. Sure, the cars looked pretty much the same externally, but inside was another story. New features included tiptronic transmission, airbags, anti-lock braking system, and power steering, along with a rebuilt chassis that made use of light alloy control arms and coil springs instead a torsion-bar suspension. Aside from the Carrera, the 1990 911 was available in Cabriolet, Targa and Turbo versions. The latter initially featured a turbocharged 3.3-liter boxer engine, which was upgraded in 1992 to a more powerful 3.6-liter boxer that produced 320 hp, a top speed of 272 kph, and a 0-100 kph acceleration of just under 5 seconds. This engine went on to become a 911 staple for a good number of years that followed.

1993—the introduction of the bi-turbo engine

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The 911 with the 993 internal design number is the most popular 911 model yet, mainly because of the sweet-looking aesthetics it brought to the table. These included the integrated bumpers that perfectly complemented the hanging front section that looked much lower than previous models. The round headlights were replaced by a more elliptical shape. Aside from improvements in the looks department, the 993 was also imbued with more agility and reliability. The 1995 version showcased a redesigned aluminum chassis that reduced its weight considerably, as well as a reconfigured all-wheel drive system and new bi-turbo engine. It was also the first car in history to use hollow-spoke aluminum wheels. The bi-turbo engine was of the air-cooled variety and mated to a six-speed transmission—a first, for the 911, since predecessors came with either four-speed or five-speed gearboxes. The discontinuation of the 993 in 1998 marked the last time a Porsche engine was air-cooled.

1997—Porsche begins water-cooling its engines

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The 996 replaced the 993 in 1997, and with the new internal number designation came a new water-cooled flat engine that gave 300 hp as well as an overall reduction in noise, emissions and fuel consumption. Although all signature design cues remained intact, the 996 was an entirely new car–a fact ushered in by the new engine cooling system. Some components were shared between the 996 and Porsche’s new Boxster model launched that same year. The headlight assembly had integrated direction indicators–something that many other car manufacturers soon copied. Inside the cabin, a renewed focus on combining driving comfort with sportiness was easily apparent. Design and materials were completely retooled, and although suspension and transmission systems remained the same, both received a few updates here and there to help them stay current. The 996 became a springboard for new variations to the 911 theme. Among the most notable offerings released were the track-ready GT3 and GT2, which were released in 1999 and 2000, respectively. The GT3–basically a stripped-down low-weight 996–was highly celebrated by Porsche fans for keeping the ‘Carrera RS tradition’ alive. The GT2, meanwhile, was marketed as an extreme sports car, with the distinction of being the first to use ceramic brakes as a standard feature.

2004—the 911 goes bespoke

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In 2004, Porsche launched the 997, known as the next generation of the 911 Carrera and 911 Carrera S. After suffering backlash against the integrated headlights, Porsche went back to the look of the older 911 models façade-wise. But aside from this bit of throwback, the 997 was every bit as advanced as was demanded of it during that time. The base Carrera carried a 3.6-liter flat engine that churned out 325 hp, while the Carrera S had a 3.8-liter powerhouse and standard Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system that pushed the car to a whopping 355 hp and 292 kph top speed. Porsche released the 997’s turbo variant in 2006, the first gas-fueled car to have a turbocharger with variable turbine geometry. Performance-enhancing tweaks–such as the introduction of direct fuel injection and dual clutch transmission–were given to the 2008 version. Perhaps most noteworthy of all, Porsche offered the 911 in so many variations to suit a buyer’s specific preferences. As a result, this version of the car was available in 24 different variants, ranging from the Carrera, Targa, Cabriolet, Turbo, GTS, track-ready versions, road-worthy GT versions, rear- and all-wheel drives, and limited editions, to name but a few.

2011—getting more innovative than ever

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Number 991 showcased the greatest leap forward for the 911. From the ground up, it seems that every aspect has been improved, starting with a completely new hybrid steel/aluminum chassis, a more streamlined interior, sharper exterior details and higher plushness all throughout. With the Porsche Intelligent Performance design language, the 991 managed to squeeze more power out of its 3.4-liter engine without sacrificing fuel consumption. As you may have noticed, the engine was reduced in size–from a displacement of 3.8-liter to 3.4-liter. The new Targa cabriolet was added to the lineup in 2013. Echoing the original Targa, this new addition offered the characteristic removable roof section, with the added ability to open and close at the push of a button. The 2015 Porsche 911 established itself as the best-in-class in terms of performance and efficiency. It featured a new 3.0-liter bi-turbocharged six-cylinder flat engine that generated 370 hp for the base 911 Carrera and 420 hp for the 911 Carrera S. These numbers represent a 20-hp boost in the power department, as well as a 12-percent reduction in fuel consumption. The car also boasted the most advanced features ever seen in the 911, led by the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system controlled by a multi-touch screen. Other technological leaps include the upgraded PASM system and optional rear-axle steering that improved the 911’s best time on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife by ten seconds. As for the number of variants, all 24 models were retained, with the addition of the Carrera T, a bare-bones road warrior designed to satiate a driver’s need for speed and nothing more.

2019—the 992 takes the Porsche 911 to the digital age

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The latest 911 was officially introduced on November 2018 and launched in European market early this year. The first models to debut were the Carrera S and Carrera 4S, both powered by a 3-liter bi-turbo flat-six engine. The Cabriolet versions of the both cars soon followed. Mimicking early 911s, the body panels are completely made of aluminum. Standard equipment includes the PCM-powered 10.9-inch touchscreen with navigation, a Wet Mode that detects wet pavement and adjusts stability accordingly, and a state-of-the-art driver assistance package that includes collision detection with braking intervention. A hybrid version is expected to arrive in 2020.

Spanning eight generations of the 911, Porsche’s flagship car continues to set the bar for other sports coupes to follow. With each new version more stunning and elegant than the one that came before, the 911 is easily Porsche’s crowning jewel that only gets better and better.

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