Sport car

Design Friday. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche’s 911.

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.

Porsche 901

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.

1963 Porsche 911

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.

1968 Porsche 911S

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.

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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.

My 09 MINI Convertible. First Impressions.



The New Convertible



In 2001, BMW revived the MINI brand by unveiling a new MINI Cooper model that updated the classic design and styling of the original while growing the car’s trademark size enough to fit the updated engineering, safety equipment and conveniences that modern drivers demand. It was a perfect play by BMW, and while MINI sales haven’t exactly set the world on fire here in the U.S. (although they are reported to be up 9.7% in 2009), that’s probably because the MINI brand has stood alone in trying to teach American car buyers what the Europeans already know: Premium small cars are worth every penny you spend on them. In other words, Americans typically associate the value of a car with its size – the more you spend, the larger a car you should be. MINI Cooper stands in stark contrast to this idea.

In 2004 I bought a British racing green Cooper S and after 6 years, and 30,000 miles I traded it in for a 2009 Mini Cooper S Convertible in interchange yellow, with the JCW aero kit.  Like I mentioned above Americans have a hard time grasping the notion that a premium level car can be small, and this car will definitely challenge the notion that value equals size. Why? Aside from opting for the high-performance John Cooper Works package, the convertible is the most expensive model in the MINI lineup, and the S model makes it even more so. With that said, the price of the car is worth every penny spent.

The convertible is now based on the second-generation R56 platform, the S Convertible is 2.3 inches longer than the model it replaces, though and at 146.2 inches long it’s still the second smallest car sold in the U.S behind the annoyingly cute Smart cars. The freshened front end is both taller and more rounded, these concessions were made to comply with new crash and pedestrian safety standards around the world, but the new MINI is still an unmistakable descendant of Sir Alec Issigonis’ original brilliant design.

Having owned my new MINI for just over 1 week this is really a review of first impressions and observations about how the car has changed in the last 6 years, and the differences between the hard top and the convertible model

The exterior of the car is distinguished with a set of matte black rally stripes that run from the air dam in the front all the way to the splitter on the bumper in the back. The front and back bumpers and grills have a more aggressive lower stance than the standard bumper assembly. In addition the JCW kit adds a side skirts to complete the ground effects for the car. The color while listed as yellow tends to shift in varying light and tends to lean to almost a Chartreuse at times. 17 inch black fan wheels, with a machined lip complete the exterior look. wheelsNow I am going to say something that many people might not agree with. The MINI, like any other convertible, looks great top down. With the top up not so much. I’m not saying it’s ugly, I’m simply saying that 99 percent of all convertibles just don’t look good top up. The lines are wrong, and the canvas top breaks the flow of color across the car. It is a minor issue, since the point of having a soft top is to drive top down as much as you can.

The interior of the car is similar to the older model MINI that I owned, the center of the dash is dominated by a larger than life speedometer. In fact in the 09 the speedometer is even larger than in my 04 which is really a great visual touch. Once again the large tachometer sits above the steering column and for the convertible, the Openometer sits directly to its left. Yes the Openometer, a gauge that monitors the total number of hours and minutes your car has been driving top down. open oTotally fun, completely useless, I wouldn’t get rid of it for anything.  What I don’t get about the MINI is the redesign of the center stack where the remaining controls sit. I love the toggle switches which are the main control buttons on the car, they feel expensive, look great, and are easy to use. They are however the only part of the controls that marry design aesthetics with ergonomics.

The problem is there are buttons everywhere, most of which seem arbitrarily placed and adapted in shape to fit their location. The controls for fan speed and temperature, look like rollers but are really just buttons that toggle on a horizontal axis, and then there is the poor volume knob, left all by its lonesome below the slot loading CD player. It sits quietly in an expanse of dash isolated and orphaned, creating visual confusion. I guess it just couldn’t be squeezed into the bottom half of the giant speedometer where the rest of the audio controls huddle together. Aside from this though, the overall look is quite pleasing. center stack

Since I paid the premium for my open air experience, the only button I really care about is the one that lets the sun in. The toggle switch sits above the rear-view mirror, and lowering and raising the roof takes just 15 seconds. In addition, there’s a sunroof mode that slides the cloth roof back just over the front seats. The result is an extra-large sunroof. A way larger than a my old sunroof, sunroof that stretches in between the beefy-looking roof rails that attach to the windshield.

controls sun roof

When the roof is retracted, it folds itself neatly into a stack that sits on top of the rear deck. The stacked roof does compromise rear visibility, but the tiny back seat which sits all the way back at the trunk line means there’s no where else for the top to go. One good thing MINI has done is a new active roll bar system that sits flush with the rear headrests. Unlike the last convertible’s fixed double hoops that occupied the full view of the rear view mirror. This new system stays tucked away until an impending flip triggers a charge that extends the bars to save you. The new system is more discreet and offers equal protection.

roll bars roll 2

The drive train is a Turbo Charged 1.6 liter 4 cylinder direct inject engine, that is paired to a 6 speed manual transmission. The engine produces 172 Horsepower at 5500 RPM and generates 177 lb-ft torque at just 1600 rpm. This is the reason that you pay a bit more for the MINI. Why because this means get up and go, the kind you don’t get in many small cars. The clutch is perfectly weighted and its take up point is defined. While the six-speed’s shift throws are a little long, each flick of the wrist is rewarded with a smooth, straight path into the next gear. I can’t name another small car sold in the U.S. that can match the Mini’s mechanicals, and you can tell the influence of parent company BMW and how it has impacted the performance of this car.

engine shift

The MINI convertible is listed with a 0-60 time of seven seconds flat. This might not sound quick, but the impression of speed, especially with the top down makes up for it.  Based on the handling experience of my former MINI I was nervous about torque steer and turbo lag, but equal length half shafts keep the wheels spinning in the same direction and the low-end torque helps mask the turbo spooling up in all but first gear where there has been some slight hesitation off the line.

Now for a note about Baron MINI where I got the car. This is the 5th automobile that I have purchased from Baron. It is my second MINI and the third one overall. As you can tell I love the folks at Baron. I have never really had a bad experience with them, and they have always gone above and beyond when working with me. My sales associate, MaryAnn Calhoun was absolutely phenomenal. She did such a great job and really sealed the deal on the purchase of this car. I mean that. I had no intention of buying a car when I walked into Baron two Saturday’s ago. Based on my experience with MaryAnn I’ll be returning to Baron for any future purchases.

This weekend I intend to post a photo essay of both the new convertible and the 50th anniversary Mayfair edition. It’s going to 70 on Saturday, perfect weather for top down driving and photos.