Monday, April 14, 2014

Porsche Sports Cars: (Almost) Forever Retro

The title of this post is an exaggeration, but not much of one.  Now that 50 years have passed since the 911 model entered production, attention is being paid in the car buff media to the original 911 design as well as current iterations.  I find it interesting that Porsche has held to the 1963 design theme of the model 901 (renumbered 911 when it entered the marketplace) with only a few detours in the intervening years.

The Porsche sports car originated after World War 2 as a modified Volkswagen, retaining its rear-mounted air cooled motor.  This concept seemed advanced in the 1930s and perhaps even when the model 356 entered production in 1948.  But it was an engineering misstep -- a mistake, even.  Rear-mounted engines almost always mean a weight distribution biased towards the rear.  This can be useful when trying to get a car moving in snow or mud, but once under way, such as car is likely to rotate 180 degree when traversing a large patch of ice (I know this from personal experience).  So while Porsche 911s and related models have always had engines mounted behind the driver, the firm's engineers have labored to tame the effects of the problematical weight distribution.

The engine placement affected Porsche styling from the beginning.  With no motor up front and no radiator (in the years before Porsche switched to liquid-cooled engines), the front trunk area could be curved downward from the windshield to the bumper.  The rear of the car assumed a fastback design to accommodate the motor and its cooling ducting.  The result was a distinctive design theme that has been maintained over the decades because it is clearly Porsche, offering a useful marketing advantage.


Here is a 1952 vintage Porsche 356 featuring the original version of the later 911 styling theme.

And this is an early 911.  Essentially it's a crisper, airier (due to the larger windows) version of the 356.  It was also a fairly small car compared to current sports cars.  But nearly all sports cars of the 1950s and 60s were comparatively small by today's standards.  My father owned a mid-1960s Porsche 912 (the four cylinder version of the 911) and traded it for a 911 a few years later.  They were fun to drive.

In honor of the 50th year from the appearance of the 901/911, Porsche paired an early car with its 2013 Carerra 4S model in a series of comparative images.  The Carerra has a liquid-cooled engine and a radiator, but the motor remains at the rear.  Although the Carerra's styling is clearly Porsche-like, the car is noticeably larger and almost all styling details differ, while maintaining the spirit of the original.

In this side view, the closest detail match between the two cars is the slant of the B-pillar at the rear of the door.

Front and rear views further emphasize the larger size of the Carerra.

I find the early 911 design to be pure and classic.  The same goes for the 1950s 356.  The Carerra isn't unattractive, but seems bloated in comparison.

No comments: