A good journalist friend of Sports Purpose paid us a visit recently in a new 992 Turbo S, fresh from the Porsche GB press fleet. While I have to admit to being somewhat of a Luddite when it comes to new cars, I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the technical wizardry of this remarkable machine. Insanely fast, yet accessible, practical and safe at the same time. It is truly astounding how far Porsche have developed a car that first entered the showrooms in 1964. Their approach of continually evolving a design rather than periodically starting with a blank sheet of paper has transformed a seemingly flawed concept and turned it into the benchmark by which all others are judged.
However our friend happened to park the 992 next to a 1965 911 we have in stock and you had to squint pretty hard to see much resemblance between the two. All cars have become bigger and heavier (for reasons outside manufacturers’ control, I know). But I was left pondering what exactly connected these two machines any more. The position of the engine in the chassis and the seating arrangement in the cabin maybe? I was struggling after that. How far can something evolve before it becomes a pastiche of its former self - something with flavours and notes of the original car but maybe not much more?
As far as the 911 is concerned it’s hard to put your finger on it. The end of the air-cooled era in 1997 is an obvious point when there was significant change but so was the advent of the 993 with its radically different styling and completely revised suspension. The G-series cars seem to have a more direct connection but they were significantly heavier and used more powerful engines and wider wheels to compensate. Even the pre-impact bumper cars of the early 70s were fundamentally different with their longer wheelbase that not only changed the weight distribution but also the look of the rear of the car. Picking a moment in time based on specification seems a little arbitrary.
Having read more than a little about the history of the 911, the thought has dawned on me that what is possibly even more exceptional than the car itself is the group of individuals who came together to design it. That group was probably around thirty people in total but it contained the three most influential scions of the Porsche family and two of the automotive industry’s most talented engineers.
Butzi Porsche, eldest son of Ferry Porsche, is rightly credited with having come up with the 911’s beautiful shape. Before Butzi’s arrival at the company, Porsche had been struggling to develop a concept to replace the 356 despite commissioning studies from some the most famous designers of the day. Had Ferry not decided to trust his 26 year old son to come up with the solution, it is doubtful that Porsche would still exist today. Butzi’s design philosophy was true to the German modernist tradition and his genius was such that while working on the 911 project he also managed to design Porsche’s most beautiful race car, the 904.
However Butzi was a stylist not an engineer and his ideas were translated into metal by Erwin Komenda. Komenda was one of Porsche’s longest standing employees, joining Ferdinand Porsche’s nascent consultancy in 1931. During a glittering career he was responsible for such landmark body designs as the VW Beetle, the Auto Union and Cisitalia GP cars and the Porsche 356.