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This guide celebrates the Porsche road cars produced between 1950 and 1984, from the 356 to the 944.
Porsche began building the 356/1 around 1948 at their establishment in Gmund, Austria. This first car used a 1131cc Volkswagen flat-four engine mounted ahead of the rear axle which it drove via a four-speed gearbox. The mechanics went into a tubular space frame, there was independent suspension all-round, and the open -body was hand-built in aluminium. It was low, sleek and stylish and formed the basis of the first true production cars, the 356/2s. They differed a great deal from the prototype as the engine was mounted behind the rear axle and the space frame had been replaced by a welded sheet steel platform.
With its dumpy body and tiny windscreen, the Speedster is often compared to an inverted bath tub. It is nevertheless one of the company's great cult cars and is today highly prized by collectors. Due to its lack of trim, the Speedster was very light and thus very quick and was popular on race tracks. It appeared in 1956 as the brainchild of Max Hoffman, Porsche's East Coast American distributor. He suggested the factory strip down a car to get it below $3,000 but still keep it comfortable and able to be used for the street. At this price it could compete with other sports cars like the Austin Healey, Triumph TR3 and the Corvette.
Porsche introduced the 356A models at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1955. Noticeably different from the original 356, the new car featured an all-steel instead of aluminium body, smaller wheels and a new curved windshield. Inside there was a padded dash, reclining seats and improved instrumentation. For general use two engine sizes were offered, the 1300 and 1600 both in familiar flat-four layout with pushrod-operated overhead valves. Coupe, Cabriolet or Speedster bodies were built by Reutter. The 356A was produced between 1955 and 1959 and the desirable Carrera / 1500GS version was available from 1956 in all body styles.
The 912 ran from 1965 to 1969 and sold over 30,000 cars, in the first year outselling the 911 at 6,440 to 4,865. It was only dropped to make way for the "VolksPorsche" 914 and when that experiment had proved not to be a success, was actually brought back as the 912E for the 1976 model year with a 1971cc fuel-injected Volkswagen flat-four engine out of the 411 Variant. The original 912 used a 1582cc flat-four pushrod engine and was priced at US $4,690 when released compared to the 911 at US $ 6,490. Always viewed as second best to the 911, it was, to be fair, the model that you bought if you couldn't afford a 911.
As a replacement for the aging 356 models, the 911 went into production in late 1964. It followed Porsche's traditions, being as fast as ever yet was quieter, smoother and more comfortable. The engine was an air-cooled, flat-six of 1991cc having a single, chain-driven overhead camshaft for each cylinder bank. Independent suspension and disc brakes were features. During 1965 the 911 was joined by the 912, a lower priced alternative fitted with a 1582cc flat-four pushrod engine and simpler interior trim.
A Hybrid, maybe, but the 914 had a production run of 125,000 in five years making it a significant part of modern Porsche history. Produced by a company jointly set up by Volkswagen and Porsche, the 914/4 was powered by Volkswagen's four cylinder engine and the 914/6 by Porsche's 2-litre six. Apart from the wheels and badging, the 914/4 was indistinguishable from the 914/6. Both featured a mid-mounted engine and all were Targa-topped. Built between 1969 and 1975, the 1914's plus points were its compactness and superb handling. High noise levels from the mid-mounted engine were the minus.
Porsche 911 ( Targa )
Targa was the name given to the convertible version of the 911 in honour of Porsche's many victories in the great Targa Florio road race in Sicily. Introduced in 1965 at the Frankfurt Auto Show, the Targa used a built in rollbar and removable fold up roof panel. Early models, 1967 and 1968, also had a removable soft rear window which was replaced by the permanent hard rear window in 1969.
Porsche ( Carrera )
The Carrera name hailed from the Carrera Panamericana, the Pan-American endurance road race in Mexico, where Porsches had performed extremely well. Starting with the 356, models that have carried the Carrera name have been some of the fastest road cars in the Porsche line-up.
With the 924 Porsche returned to their 356 origins by using VW parts and assemblies for much of the car, yet on the other hand changed their history by building a car with both water-cooling and a front-mounted engine. Entering production in 1975, the 924 used a four-in-line 1984cc engine laid over by 40 degrees to ensure a low bonnet line. Styling was by Tony Lapine and was attractive without being distinctly Porsche. Various limited edition 924 models were produced, including a Martini and a Sebring '79.
Porsche 911 Turbo
The year 1975 saw the introduction of the 911 Turbo, with the 2993cc displacement of the old RS and RSR but with a staggering increase in horsepower to 260. For the 1978 model year there was an even more mind-boggling 300bhp available on standard roadgoing Turbo, now bored out to 97mm and stroked to 74.4mm for capacity of 3299cc. The 911 Turbo had placed the 911 series among the elite of the Supercar class.
The 928 was first seen at the Geneva Motor Show in 1977. Conceived as a top of the range grand tourer, it was as fully equipped and luxurious as was feasible in the 2+2 bodyshell. It copied the 924 in having a front-mounted, water-cooled engine and gearbox in unit with the rear axle. The engine was an all-alloy V-8 of 4474cc. There was a five-speed manual gearbox or a three-speed automatic and the chassis followed Porsche convention of independent suspension and disc brakes for all wheels. In August 1979 the 928S was announced. With modest increase in engine capacity and a sportier camshaft, power rose from 240 to 300 bhp. S cars have discreet front and rear spoilers and smooth wheel covers.
The 911, 924 and 928 were joined in 1982 by a new model, the 944. It followed the concept of the 924 by using a water-cooled, in-line four-cylinder engine with rear-mounted transmission but it was a very different car. The 2479cc engine had two balance shafts within each crankcase, belt driven in opposite directions to each other, at twice the engine speed. These generated opposing forces to those of the engine so that all balanced in the crankcase. The result was a very smooth car, faster than a 924 and also attractively priced. From 1986 there were S and Turbo versions and inevitably, a year or so later the 944 Turbo S, a superb machine with a top speed of over 160mph (256km/h).