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Porsche history 1963 - 1980

Broadcast date : 23rd May 2004


Launched in prototype form as the Porsche 901 at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1963, the new car had obvious roots in the Porsche 356. But it was a step ahead of the game, featuring a horizontally-opposed or "flat" six-cylinder design, air-cooled of course, and a five-speed gearbox.

It was six centimetres narrower than the bath tub-shaped 356 and had sharper lines.

It also had disc brakes on all four wheels and the first two-litre version produced one hundred and thirty horsepower, or ninety-seven kilowatts.

The name of the Type 901 became the subject of a lawsuit from Peugeot the French automaker, which had registered patents on any model name with the middle numeral zero, but pronounced as an "oh". So the name of the new Porsche was changed to Nine eleven.

The styling was the handiwork of Ferry Porsche's son, christened as Ferdinand, but known as Butzi Porsche. And the engine was the handiwork of Porsche's nephew, Ferdinand Pieche who would go on to revitalise the Volkswagen-Audi group in the nineteen nineties.

The engine was good. The car could reach one hundred kilometres an hour in second gear, one fifty five in third, one ninety in fourth and two hundred and five in fifth gear, or just over one hundred and twenty five miles per hour.

Early Porsche engineers at the company’s Zuffenhausen headquarters in Stuttgart said the handling was excellent, but there would be those who begged to differ.

The tail end, with all that engine weight hung out the rear was fine if you knew what you were doing. But lift off the throttle in mid-corner and you normally exited the road in the direction of backwards.

If Germany had been saddled with its own Ralph Nader at that stage, the American lawyer who killed the rear-engined Chevrolet Corvair with his book Unsafe at Any Speed, the 911 could well have disappeared into motoring myth and legends.

The Germans being Germans, however, the Porsche 911 was refined over the next four decades to produce a car that is in fact safe at any speed, and that includes the current Turbo model's top speed in excess of three hundred kilometres per hour.

A big part of this engineering know-how was gained through motorsport competition.

Indeed, the Porsche 911 is probably the most successful competition car ever and many of those successes have come at the hands of private Porsche customers.

In 1968 the Porsche 911 scored the first of three historic victories in the Monte Carlo rally, in the hands of legends like the British driver Vic Elford . Bjorn Waldegaard won the next two events

Meanwhile Porsche 911s would achieve enormous success on the racetracks too. Derivatives went on to win the Le Mans 24 Hour and the Daytona 24 Hour outright, and also the World Sports Car Constructors championships in the nineteen seventies and the nineteen eighties.

The beauty of all this was that the flat-six engine remained essentially the same from the day it was shown to the world in 1963 right up to today.

In fact the original design left so much room for development that Dr Ferry Porsche was quoted in later years as saying that if he had known to what lengths the engine would be developed. he would probably have specified a less-sturdy construction.

There are many famous versions of the 911 and amongst these is the original club-racing version, the two point seven RS Carrera introduced in 1972.

The RSR followed with more power and even bigger wheel-arch flares and spoilers, before the first 911 Turbo was introduced in 1974.

The Porsche 911 Turbo, or 930 Turbo as it was known to Porsche insiders, was the first production turbocharged vehicle to make an impact on the motoring world.

Ironically launched at the time of the oil crises which killed off many high performance models, the 911 Turbo has simply gone from strength to strength and has been in continuous production for thirty years.

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