Porsche History

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Porsche History


 1930 - Present

Ferdinand Develops The Mercedes-Benz K Model

Arguably the most sought after marque for the classic car enthusiast, we should be grateful for what Ferdinand and Ferry were able to develop. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche rose to prominence in the early 1920's as the then Mercedes Technical Director after designing the first true Mercedes-Benz sports car, the 33/180 or "K" model.

This awesome car featured a 6.2-litre six-cylinder engine with a single overhead cam valve gear layout, and was of course equipped with a supercharger. After Daimler merged with Benz in 1926, Porsche could not cope with the new company culture. Disappointed at the conservative nature of his employer, Porsche quit, and in 1930 he decided to go independent.

In 1931, Ferdinand Porsche launched his consulting office in Stuttgart, with his talented and hardworking son Ferry among the employees. Shortly before the war came perhaps his greatest achievement, the German "people's car", the Volkswagen "Beetle". Ferdinand Porsche spent the years of World War II working on military machinery, and was subsequently imprisoned in France immediately after the war.

Ferry Develops The 356

It was during that period, however, that his son Ferry set about producing a new sports car, initially in Austria, which would carry his name. Not surprisingly, it utilized many VW components. (For more detailed information on Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, please see the article located in the History section of this web site, and footnote below).

Ferry's new car was given the type number "356", and had a sheet metal chassis platform, with a fabricated section at the rear to carry the engine and transmission and the rear suspension. Initially the engine was a 1086cc version of the flat-four, air-cooled, VW unit, and it was mounted behind the line of the rear wheels. With special cylinder heads, it developed 40hp and gave the car a top speed was 80mph.

The first coupe was completed in August 1948, and rather spasmodic production began at Gmund, in Austria (Porsche himself was Austrian by birth). However, from 1950 the business was moved to Stuttgart, West Germany, where his father had spent so many years of his life. The first change he made was to construct the bodies from steel rather than the aluminium as was used in the first batch.

In April 1951 a 1.3-liter engine, producing 44hp at 4200rpm was fitted to the cars, and only six months later a 1.5-litre version was also offered - and the 356 was offered in a choice of cabriolet or closed coupe body styles. In the next few years this model evolved gradually, with detailed but significant changes, rather than by radical redesign. In mid 1952 the bumpers were separated from the body, and a one piece windscreen replaced the original 2-piece unit. Then a new transaxle with synchromesh and a higher torque capability was fitted, primarily to help the 356 cope with the 1500's 70bhp.

Development Of The Speedster

While this new unit was designed by Porsche, it would be manufactured by Getrag. But it was when Porsche's East Coast US distributor indicated that it could sell a cheap Porsche sports car that production became a serious concern, and a new "Speedster" design was created. The Speedster had a very shallow windscreen and an almost claustrophobic hood with small side screens - but on the up side the car was extremely light and would prove to make a very successful competition car - at a time when on track success translated to showroom sales. In 1955 the car became the Type 351 and boasted an optional 1.6-litre engine, and then at the following Frankfurt car show Porsche introduced their new "Carrera" model.

Porsche 356 Speedster
The Porsche 356 "Speedster" would quickly become one of America's - and the worlds - favourite sports cars...

Porsche 356
Ferry Porsche's new car, designated the 356, would become an instant classic...

Porsche 356 Speedster Naturally the 356 was perfect for racing, pictured here in the 1964 Monte Carlo rally...

Porsche 911
For most, the only three number designation a Porsche should have includes the number 9 and 1. It would have included 0 (zero) had it not been for Peugeot...

Porsche 912
The cheaper Porsche 912, a 911 body fitted with a 356 engine...(this image available in 1024x768 in our wallpaper section)

Porsche 914
The mid-engined 914 was born from a joint venture between Porsche and VW...

Porsche 914/6
There would be 3,360 "Porsche Only" 914/6's, many finding their way onto the race track, as seen here in the 1971 Le Mans...

Porsche 911 Carrera RS
In 1972 the "Carrera" name would be used again with the new 911 "F" series, complete with "duck-tail" spoiler and good for 0-100 in less than 6 seconds...

Porsche 924
Supposedly more safer, certainly more traditional and borrowing from the Audi parts bin, the 924 offered only "moderate" performance...

Porsche 928
The 928 may have been a Porsche only affair, but both the manual and auto transmissions came courtesy of Mercedes-Benz...

Porsche 944
The 944 was what many thought the 924 should have been in the first place...

Porsche 911 Cabriolet
After 50 years the 911 retains much of the look of Ferry's original 356...

The Famous Carrera Model

The Carrera was basically a standard 356 fitted with a new four-overhead-cam engine, with cam drive by shafts and bevel gears, twin sparking plugs and a roller bearing crankshaft. Initially, in 1.5 litre form, it produced 110bhp at 7000rpm. Soon a 1.6 litre unit was available, and then a 2.0 litre version, suitably dubbed the "Carrera 2" - a car good for an impressive 130mph.

But the ultimate Carrera came in the form of the GTL, or Abarth-Carrera, that featured a beautiful all-alloy body styled by Zagato. There were some 10,000 Porsches built in 1956, and a year later the 1300cc engine was droped, while new diaphragm clutches were adopted for the first time. In 1957 the Speedster would be replaced by the Speedster D, and would soon be renamed the "Convertible D".

The 356B derivative had a slightly changed body style, with a flatter nose but more pronounced headlamps, giving a hint of the 911 model to come. In 1960 the "Super 90" version of this car went on sale, having a 90bhp engine and a top speed well over 100mph. Features of the Super 90 included revised rear suspension, radial ply tyres and fabulous "Koni" dampers which greatly improved the Porsches roadholding.

The final manifestation of the type was the 356C, available for 1963, in which disk brakes were added, and where derivatives were known as 1600C and 1600SC. Production of all 356s ceased in 1965, after a grand total of 76,303 of all types had been made.

The Legend Of The Porsche 911

The legend that would create the three most famous numbers, when put in sequence, began in 1964 with the release of the Porsche 911. But did you know that Porsche originally wanted to call their new sports car the 901? We can thank Peugeot, who patented all three digit number configurations containing a middle "0" (zero) for forcing Porsche to change its name to 911.

Regardless of its model designation, the 911 remains a triumph of development over design - and is still as popular today as when it was originally released. Despite many variations, pre-1974 vehicles are perceived by many as the best classics of the marque to own. Like the 356, the 911 had a pressed steel monocoque body/chassis design, and a rear-mounted air-cooled engine, but the wheelbase was four inches longer than before, there was genuine 2 + 2 seating, and the engine was a 1991cc flat-six design producing 130bhp.

Styled By Butzi Porsche

Styling was by Butzi Porsche, the third generation of this remarkable family, while engine development had been led by Ferdinand Piech, another grandson of the founder. Compared with the old car, there were many chassis changes, for the front suspension was now an intriguing mix of MacPherson strut linkage, but longitudinal torsion bars as the springs, while rear suspension was by semi-trailing arms, and transverse torsion bars.

There was rack and pinion steering, disk brakes all round, and a five-speed, all-synchromesh gearbox, mounted ahead of the engine, and the line of the rear wheels. Although early versions suffered from inadequate roadholding, partly due to the fitment of narrow wheels and tires, the type was gradually but successfully improved.

Indeed, the whole, long-running, story of the 911 family is one of the diligent development of a basic theme. The first major up-grading came in the summer of 1966, when the 160bhp 911S was launched, now fitted with ventilated disk brakes, five-spoke alloy road wheels, and giving a top speed of at least 140mph. At the same time, the first derivative from the original fastback coupe body style was announced, this being the "Targa" open-top car.

Unlike traditional convertibles, it had a permanent roll-protection bar fixed in a loop, above and behind the front seats. The term 'Targa' has now been adopted all over the motoring world, to describe this sort of configuration. While all eyes were naturally on the 911, Porsche realised it needed to create an entry level sports car after production of the 356 ended.

The 912 would be less sophisticated (and thus cheaper to manufacture) and provide Porsche with the perfect replacement. The 912 was effectively a 911 body/chassis and suspension set up, but fitted with the 1582cc four from the obsolete 356. By 911 standards the performance of the 912 could be best described as "modest", however a total of 30,300 were sold until the car was superseded in part by the 911T and the Type 914.

The Sportmatic Semi Automatic

In 1967, Porsche astonished the world by offering a semi-auto "Sportmatic" transmission, in which there was a torque converter and a clutch, but clutch control was by a micro-switch in the gear lever, which still had to be used to change ratios.

In 1968 the new "B" series cars had their wheelbase extended by two inches by moving the rear wheels backward relative to the floor-pan and engine/transmission position. The engine's crankcase was to be made from magnesium, rather than aluminium, and the 911S was given six inch wide wheel rims.

A year later the S and 911E engine had their multiple carburettor setup replaced by Bosch fuel injection, while to fill the gap at the lower price range left by the demise of the four cylinder 912, the 110bhp 911T with a normal carburettor setup joined the range.

The C-Series cars, announced in summer 1969, had their engine capacity enlarged to 2195cc, and two years later the E-Series cars appeared, fitted with an even larger 2341cc engine. In each case, this was done to increase low speed torque, thus ensuring the cars "driveability" around town. - and of course to help offset the power decrease inflicted by the fitting of anti-pollution equipment required to meet tough new US exhaust emission legislation.

The Controversial Porsche 914

1969 also saw the release of the somewhat controversial 914; yet another mould-breaking design, intended to be a lower cost range that the 911, using many mass-production parts.

Because the mid-engine layout had been so successful in motor sports, it was natural that a similar design be used for the 914. In this case, the engine was located ahead of the rear wheels, with the transmission behind it. Porsche were well aware that the folk at Volkswagen were keen to boost their image, and so it was decided to make the 914 a joint venture.

The new "VW-Porsche" would use a VW engine and transmission. The structure was a conventional steel monocoque, with distinctive (some thought strange) styling. Front suspension was from the 911, but the semi-trailing rear suspension was linked to coil springs.

At first, the car had a 1679cc air-cooled flat four (from the VW411), but from 1972 this was enlarged to the full 1971cc size, with fuel injection. A total of 115, 646 were made up to 1975, when it gave way to the 924. It is interesting to note that there was a "Porsche Only" version of the 914 (naturally VW having no part in its title).

This car used the 911Ts 1991cc engine and was dubbed the "914/6", but unfortunately it was not a success. Only 3,360 were built, before being dropped from the model line-up altogether in 1972.

The Revival Of The Carrera

In 1972 the F-Series heralded the revival of the "Carrera" name, the new model fitted with a 2687cc engine good for 210bhp at 6300rpm and a top speed of 150mph, even wider (seven inch) rear wheel rims, flared wheel arches, a duck-tail spoiler, and a great competition potential.

The 0 to 60 mph dash could be completed in an amazing 5.5 seconds (yes, you read right, 5.5 seconds in 1972!). The new 2687cc engine was so well sorted that Porsche decided that in 1973 they decided to fit it to all models - but to differentiate the upmarket "Carrera" Porsche fitted an even larger 2993cc engine good for 230bhp.

All cars now used Bosch fuel injection, and there were important detail style changes involving much larger front and rear bumpers. 1974 would see the release of the mighty "911 Turbo", featuring a body style similar to the race modified Carrera RSR, with even more outrageous wheel-arch flares and rear spoiler.

The 2993cc engine was mated to a KKK turbocharger, in turn linked to a Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system, and providing the car with 260bhp delivered to the road courtesy of 215-section Pirelli P7 tyres.

Quite simply, the Turbo set new super-car standards, and from August 1977 it was made even more outstanding by the fitment of an even larger 3299cc engine, good for 300bhp at 5500rpm. The Pirelli tyres were yet larger 225 section type, and gave the car a top speed over 160mph. In 1975 the 911S and 911SC 2.3 litre models made way to the re-developed cars 3 litre powered cars, good for 200bhp and dubbed the "Carrera 3".

Two years later there would be a further name change, with the Carrera name being dropped, and the 911SC title being revived. But it would take until 1982 for Porsche to manufacture a full convertible model - aptly called the "Cabriolet". As another stop-gap, Porsche re-released the 912 model in 1976 for sale in the US only. Powered by the 2 litre flat-four, it was to be a short-lived marketing effort.

A Break With Design, The Porsche 924

But the really important car of 1975 was not the re-introduced 912, but the 924, which was a complete design break for the marque. Undeniably designed to be a "cheaper" Porsche, like its predecessor the 912 it used many VW Group (or, to be more precise, Audi) parts. But the biggest news came in the cars layout, for the first time a Porsche designed along traditional lines with a water-cooled engine fitted at the front of the car.

The new layout was much more logical for the safety conscious mid-1970s, providing more predictable roadholding, and better occupant protection in crashes. The engine was linked to the transmission by a large diameter alloy torque tube. The engine itself was a 2-litre, single overhead camshaft conversion, of the previous 1.9 litre Audi 100 four-cylinder unit, and would later be used in the VW LT van, and in the American AMC Gremlin. Fitted with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, the engine was good for 125bhp in Europe and Australia, but in the emission controlled US it developed a mere 95bhp.

Though early models were criticized for being too noisy, and too basic, the styling was always considered pleasant, if conservative. Porsche struck a production deal with VW/Audi, whereby assembly would take place at the ex-NSU factory some little distance from Stuttgart. The 924 Turbo was offered in 1979, and was a considerable improvement over the basic model, now fitted with a 177bhp engine. Externally, it was distinguishable by the extra cooling vents in the nose, and the wrap-around spoiler on the tail. A limited-production model of the same period was the 924 Carrera GT, which was a modified Turbo, with flared wheel arches, more power (210bhp) and aimed at the racing circuit.

Porsches Latest Interpretation Of The Modern Super Car

In 1981 Porsche released the new 944 model, which was basically a further developed 924, fitted with a new Porsche designed slant-four engine with a single overhead camshaft and good for 163bhp from its 2479cc engine. This, the enthusiasts said, was what the real 924 should always have been, and with its enhanced performance and smoothly shaped wider wheel arches it soon became a sales success. In the meantime, the 928 had arrived in 1977, as Porsches latest idea of the modern super-car.

Like the 924, it had a front-mounted, water-cooled, engine, and rear gearbox, and broadly similar styling outlines, but it was all-new, and totally Porsche. Designed to attack the lucrative expensive coupe market sector, it was smooth, silent, extremely efficient, but somehow without much character as first revealed.

The rounded styling, with its large expanse of glass and wide hips was perhaps neither pretty nor aggressive, something many believed a sports car should be. Its engine was a new light-alloy V8 unit of 4474cc, with single overhead camshafts per bank, and the inevitable Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, good for 240bhp at 5250rpm. There was a choice of either five-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmissions, both courtesy of the good folk at Mercedes-Benz.

The original 928 was actually slower than the 911, and because it was heavier it also suffered the inevitable fuel consumption woes. Sales were slow at first, and so from 1979 it was joined by the 928S, where the engine size was enlarged to 4664cc and resulting power increased to 300bhp. New aerodynamic aids were added, most notably a wrap-around rear spoiler under the tailgate glass.

Importantly for the time, the revisions to the car meant it could join the "Over 150mph" class, and was capable of 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds. The 928S2 which followed had 310bhp on tap, and naturally even greater performance. The latest development, for the start of the 1984 model year was the enlargement of the 'base' engine size, once again enlarged, this time to 3164cc and good for 231bhp at 5900rpm - and just to confuse everybody the "Carrera" name was resurrected for a third time.

Footnote: Although Ferdinand Porsche is believed to have been politically naïve, consumed with engineering, he was arrested after the war and charged with collaboration. He was freed in 1947 after almost twenty months in prison. His health was poor. In the meantime, the Porsche firm did whatever it could to stay in business. It designed its own sports car, the first car to carry the name Porsche.

Type 356 was the project number. One year after Ferdinand Porsche was released from prison, he witnessed the birth of the Porsche sports car. The very first Porsche, a hand-built aluminium prototype, was completed on June 8, 1948. Ferdinand Porsche died on January 30, 1952, from the effects of a stroke he had suffered earlier. He died after seeing his dream of a Porsche sports car become a reality.

Recommended Reading: The House Of Porsche | The House of Porsche - A Pictorial History | Ferdinand Porsche | Porsche Car Reviews
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