When you think of sports cars, one legendary design that is usually at the top of the list is the Porsche 911. Designed by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche,the automobile is a classic.
Ferdinand Alexander Porsche died Thursday in Salzburg, Austria at the age of 76. He is the topic of Design Friday, because of the legacy that he created, and the impact his company has had on the design world over the last 50 plus years.
I want to focus specifically on the design of the Porsche 911, rather than branch into all the other design artifacts that Porsche touched in the last 5 decades. The 911 is his masterpiece. It is a design classic that stands the test of time. It is a design masterpiece that is instantly recognizable, has been mimicked by other automotive designs, and can never be copied. Once the original design was finished. The 911 is Sport Incarnated. It is different, unique and immortal.
Since its inception in 1963, the 911 has been in a permanent state of evolution, with a diverse array of models spanning the decades, yet it has always remained true to its roots, and has become a true living legend.
On the 12th of September in 1963 at the Frankfurt Auto Show, Porsche debuted an entirely new car for the first time since 1948. The new car carried the same Porsche design styling as previous models, and at the same time broke from the 356, which was the only model Porsche had been producing.
Launched in 1959, under the direction of Ferry Porsche, with engineering assigned to Erwin Komenda, and engine designer Hans Tomala the Porsche 911 began. The initial result was the Porsche 695 t& prototype, a four seat coupe with a longer wheel base than the current 356. While longer and more accommodating than the 356, design styling still echoed the 356 T6 body. It’s lines remained true to the Porsche tradition, with Ferdinand Porsche deciding that the final layout should be a 2 +2 body for the prototype. Working with his son Butzi, the prototype was redesigned with a new rear featuring a more curved fastback style which improved aerodynamics. In addition the wheelbase was changed to 87 inches to improve handling. With this, the Porsche 901 was born.
The 901 was built with a monocoque frame, fitted with independent suspension for all four wheels, and featured hydraulic disc brakes. The engine was a rear mounted air-cooled flat six Boxster 901 with super square architecture. The 1991 cc engine was capable of producing 130bhp at 6100 rpm. Not bad for 1959. The engine was fitted to a new front-mounted 901 five speed gearbox for testing. Over the next two years, Porsche would refine the engineering and body styling before unveiling the new car at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1963.
Production of the 911 began slowly in August of 1964 under the series number “0”. The car would not be officially named 911 until October of that year when Peugeot won a legal dispute with Porsche winning the right to name all cars with a “0” in the middle of the model designation. The dispute really only effected the French markets, but Porsche and Peugeot settled the dispute amicably. Production of the iconic 911 was now under way, with a name that would make automotive design history for years to come.
Over the course of the next decade Porsche would refine, change and expand the 911 line. By July of 1966, they had introduced a 160bhp S version of the 911. Later that year they introduced the Targa, with an automatic roof that revealed a brushed stainless steel roll bar when the top was down. The design styling of the 911 had established itself by 1966, with the 911 becoming an instantly recognizable, and formidable sports car. By 1968, the design team had begun to address the marked oversteer issues that were inherent to the 911’s rear engine design. That year Porsche introduced the B series which lengthened the wheel base by two inches, and added a Bosche fuel injection system on the S model. Lengthening the wheel base helped but didn’t eliminate the problem. This is why to this day, people learn to drive a 911. It simply handles differently than other automobiles.
By 1973 the legendary 911 2.4 S had arrived with a 2.4 liter engine, lightened body work, stiffer more responsive handling, and some improvement on the oversteer issues. This model is considered by many to be the finest specimen of the original 911 styling. The lines of the car are what remain true to this day, even in the current 2013 model line. Long sweeping lines, unbroken from front to back. The large upright bug-eye headlights. Thin bumpers that transition into the body work. The distinct sweeping line of the fast-back as it descends across the vent lines for the Boxster engine. Compact, elegant design, combined with powerful engineering are what attribute to the 911’s staying power. Keeping true to their design tradition, the 911 lines are visible across the entire model range from the original prototype to the current model year. It is a true modern classic, thanks to the brilliance of the original design engineering team headed by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche.
The 911 is has remained true to its original spirit with style, performance, and heritage.