My How You’ve Grown!
The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles will be winding down it’s Porsche Effect exhibit in the next few months, and Porsche just introduced the 2020 911 at the LA Auto Show, so now’s a chance to investigate just how much their famous sports car has changed in 55 years.
Disclaimer: the new car is not expected to be available for purchase until the spring of 2019, so the following information is subject to change.
The story should be familiar. In 1961 Porsche, in order to expand its market, wanted a larger, more luxurious, more powerful car to follow the 356, by then in its 12th year of production. His son (also Ferdinand, but nicknamed “Butzi.”) and Body Construction specialist Erwin Komenda, retained Ferdinand (“Ferry”) Porsche’s layout, with an air-cooled boxer (horizontal opposed) engine mounted behind the rear axle, this time a six, with a single overhead cam on each bank.
The cars were polarizing, but then Porsches always were. The rear-engine layout had always had a reputation for wagging its tail in unskilled hands, often with embarrassing results.
Even some of the Porsche faithful were suspicious of the six-cylinder, viewing it as abandoning the lightweight Porsche ethos. Designer Robert Cumberford, writing in Automobile, went so far as to say, “. . . the 911’s initial design was quite weak, and early models were simply bad cars.”
Others have been more charitable, and most were impressed by a car that, through the skill and hard work of those who prepared them, and the bravery and skill of the drivers, achieved almost instant success in racing. I was one who was hooked.
Purity v. Profitability
The evolution of the Porsche has been purity compromised by competitiveness. Porsches have never been inexpensive, and over the years 911s, to appeal to those with the means to buy one, have gotten bigger, more luxurious, more powerful, and alas, heavier.
Filling a Gap and Restoring Posterity
Until 2014, the Petersen Museum had a car in its Collection that even Porsche’s impressive museum lacked.
At the Rodeo Drive Concours in 2013, Beverly Hills Porsche had to borrow the Petersen’s 901 for the 50th anniversary of its introduction in Frankfurt.
82 901s were produced before Peugeot objected to the name, claiming the right to all three-digit numerical labels with a zero in the second position. In 2014 Porsche finally filled the void in its collection when 901 Chassis number 057 was discovered in an old barn in Brandenburg (Yes – literally a “barn find.”) along with a gold 911L from 1968.
We are under no illusions that this is an actual photo of the car as-found, but it’s the first image in the on-line article by Road & Track.
The car was missing wings and doors, along with other absent pieces and significant rust, posing a challenge requiring a three-year meticulous restoration. The gold 911L that shared the barn will not be restored.
Tah-dah! At the 2018 Los Angeles International Auto Show, Porsche showed the results of that restoration.
The 911 you could buy in the US in 1965 was just under 167 inches long on an 87 inch wheelbase. It was 63.4 inches wide and 52 inches high. It rode on 15 inch steel wheels carrying 165/80 radial ply tires. The 1991 cc engine began by making 130 gross horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 119 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm. The car in the archived 1965 Car and Driver road test had 148 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 140 pound-feet at 4,200 rpm.
The most obvious visible difference between the early car and today’s is the width – it’s an even six inches wider to accommodate today’s wide low profile tires.
It’s certainly recognizable as a 911, but the 992’s windshield is lower and more steeply raked, the roofline slopes more gradually, and – those wheels!
In the last 55 years, the car’s wheelbase has stretched nine and a half inches, each increase moving the rear engine farther ahead in relation to the rear axle, for a little less tail-wagging rear weight bias. A 20 millimeter shift forward of the engine mounts this year also helps.
The 2020 911 is more than a foot longer, reportedly about an inch longer than the 991; so it’s up perhaps 14 inches overall at 177.9 inches. The only place it’s shrunken is in height, down 1.1 inches – that wide open feel from the tall windshield of my 1967 may have diminished somewhat.
Some basics have not changed. The 2020 car is still a rear-engine, rear-drive car powered by a horizontal opposed six-cylinder engine. The biggest change is a sacrilege – there is no manual transmission. Instead power is transmitted to the rear wheels (and the fronts in the 4S) through an eight-speed version of their dual-clutch PDK gearbox.
The torsion bars in the original suspension got twisted into coils in 1989 with the 964, and air cooling gave way to a radiator and related plumbing with the 993 in 1994. Four-valve heads arrived in the 996 in 1997.
With the added inches and plumbing, you know it’s also added weight, a whopping 40.3% increase over 55 years – almost a half a ton more, 959 pounds – for a road-hugging 3,340.
All that extra weight over the years has been countered with a steady increase in displacement and power. While the weight has increased by about a third, engine displacement ballooned over the years to keep up, with the 991 GT3 version peaking at 4 liters. Lately though, the ubiquitous turbocharger (It has two.) has permitted a return to an even three liters – still up by half from the original – permitting the sort of early torque arrival and flat curve common in modern turbos. Horsepower has gone up by a factor of 2.4, to 444. And that’s net, while the original engine was rated at gross.
To handle all that power, for the first time all 911s will have staggered wheels – 245/35-20s at the front, 305/30-21s at the back on the Carrera S. Treads measure 3.15 inches wider at the front (+48.5%), 5.51 inches wider at the back (+84.8%).
Fifty-five years of constant development by some of the world’s best engineers is bound to raise performance level, but we doubt even the most optimistic prognosticators would have predicted these results.
Car and Driver’s Archived Road Test Review (https://www.caranddriver.com/archives/1965-porsche-911-archived-road-test-review) had the ’65 doing the 0-60 sprint in seven seconds flat, which seems a bit optimistic for a car where every horsepower has to move 16 pounds. The XK-E did the same with a weight/power ratio of around 11. The 992, with only 7.1 pounds burden on each horse is expected to do the deed in about 3.7. And that’s just the base 911 Carrera S. Top speed is similarly elevated, from 130 mph in 1965 to a predicted 191 for the 992.
At what Cost?
The 911 had an MSRP of $6,490 in 1965 (About $45,235 in 2018 money). If you can keep out of the multipage options list on a 992 it is expected to list for about $113,200. There’s a silver lining though. In the last 55 years the 911’s expected mileage has improved by 2 MPG. So if gasoline stayed at $3.50/gallon (Yeah. Right. If.), in just 587 years you could amortize that cost increase through gas savings.