Today it’s impossible to think of Porsche without thinking about the 911. Its easy to forget that there even was a Porsche before the 911, but there was. The 356 model had gone though many iterations from its 1948 debut and by 1956 Porsche was actively designing its replacement. The beautiful shape that replaced the 356 was launched as the 901 in 1963 (after some legal wrangling with Peugeot the number changed to 911).
With the 911, Porsche created the sports car that all sports cars would be judged against and a benchmark that all of Porsches subsequent models would be measured against. Over the years that followed the 911 grew in stature to the point where Porsche and the 911 are today synonymous – and in my opinion that is a very great shame.
A shame, because the 911 casts a huge shadow, and that shadow obscures all of the other great models Porsche has ever made and likely will ever make. For as long as the 911 evolves and develops its stature will continue to cast its siblings into the darkness. Porsches other vehicle designs are cars that any manufacturer would be proud to have made. Badged with anything else other than that signature red and black crest they would be held up as an example of a truly great sports car, hunted down, and avidly collected and very valuable.
Here are two cars that are finally emerging from the shadows.
Shortly after the first 911 was launched, with its 130 SAE HP rating, it was joined by a closely related lower powered model designated the 912. The 912 used the same body, suspension, brakes and gearbox but was powered by the 4-cylinder push-rod engine that had been in the last 356 model made, the 356SC. The 912, made 102 SAE HP and was an instant hit, few remember today that the 911 with its triple Solex Carbs had teething problems with overheating and tuning problems being common in the first cars released. The 912 had the best of both worlds, a sleek new body with fantastic running gear mated to the tried and tested 356 engine platform. It was lighter, the engine was much further forward in the car and so the 912 lacked the tail happy oversteering tendencies of its big brother. For the first three years it outsold the 911 by 2 to 1, finally racking up over 30,000 sales.
By 1969, Porsche had tamed the 911s handling by lengthening the wheelbase and putting lead weights in the front bumper. Wary of the cost in having to make both the 911 and 912 engine platforms meet ever stringent USA emissions standards, Porsche dropped the 912 from the 1970 line up as Porsche prepared for its replacement the 914. A sad end, as just two years before a Porsche 912 driven by the Polish rally legend Sobiesław Zasada had won the European Rally Championship.
For many years the 912 was lost in the stygian darkness of the 911s shadow and it is only in the last few years ago that opinion has finally shifted, and it has found its rightful place as unique and wonderful handling Porsche, a brilliant model in its own right. Today, there are seasoned Porsche 911 collectors who actively hunting down the best examples to add to their collections, the very best 912s can now cost up to £100,000 which puts them equal with many early 911s – something I would passionately argue they are.
I was 7 years old when the 924 was launched in 1976 and even as small boy I could see that this was a very cool looking car. I clearly remember the rumpus and the negative reporting by the press who happily repeated 911 owners views: ‘It’s not a REAL Porsche’, ‘Its got a VW Van engine in it’, and ‘It’s made of bits found in the parts bins at Audi’. But its real shock value was that it was the first front engine and water-cooled Porsche.
True, the car did start out life as a design for VW/Audi group and the basic engine was later used in a VW Van. True again that many parts were sourced from the Audi group but the 924 is much more than the sum of its parts. It’s not what it’s made of but how it is made. Take a good look at a 1980s Porsche 911 and you’ll see plenty of VW/Audi parts used there too.
Its stunning wedge shape epitomised the daring 1970s and became the design language that shaped so many 1980s cars. It had everything going for it: pop-up headlights and an interior that was sleek and miles aged of the competition, it handled beautifully and gripped the road tenaciously. In 1977 Porsche specialist magazine “Excellence’ summed it up by saying it was the best handling Porsche in stock form ever made – quite a compliment.
The original 924 engine was a little underpowered at 125 SAE HP and the choice of drum brakes at the rear was a backward step (both the 912 and 914 had rear discs). But Porsche had conjured a brilliantly handling sports car, a car with a roomy and practical boot space and a vehicle that delivered far more smiles per gallon than many of its competition. The 924 Turbo followed in 1979 with power increased to 170 SAE HP, the final iteration of the 924, the 924S was launched in 1985 with same Porsche engineered power unit from the 944 and shared the 944s suspension and brakes. It was first available with 150 SAE HP and for the final year 10 HP more.
Today, you can pick up a fully restored 924S for about £10,000 it’s still a criminally small amount of money for a great sports car but be quick – prices are finally rising fast.
I could happily have written about many more Porsche models that still lurk in the shadows, you’ll no doubt have your favourites. The 914, the Boxter and more recently the Cayman have all been harshly criticised when compared with the contemporary 911. These cars all kept Porsche in business in troubled times, and the truth is that without the 912 and the 924 its likely Porsche would simply not still be around. I must be clear in saying that I am a huge 911 fan, but I really feel it’s like a spoilt, lazy child, who is quite happy to see its younger siblings sent out to work to keep a roof over its head.
Maybe one day Porsche may drop the 911 as we know it from its line-up? Perhaps only then, will all of Porsche automotive achievements be looked at in the full light of day. I have no doubt that very few will be found wanting and that many more will only then finally receive the recognition they deserve.