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The History of Porsche
FERDINAND ANTON ERNST PORSCHE
For Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche, a man who always felt like he’d been born in a car, building the world’s most iconic sports car came naturally. From the moment he was born while his father was behind the wheel of a self-built racing car to the day that he died, this man lived and breathed automobiles. He received his first vehicle at the age of ten, a two-cylinder, 3.5 horsepower car that his father had constructed specifically for him, and one of his greatest joys as a child was listening to his father discuss cars and tell dramatic racing tales. At the age of 13, Ferry drove the Sascha racing machine and decided that he would build a race car of his own one day.
The realization of Ferry’s dream came in 1948, on the heals of World War II. In May of that year, the first Porsche prototype, the Porsche 356/1, was built by hand. Ferry and his assistant Karl Rabe designed the car, and it was distinct from everything else on the market. With a four-cylinder, air-cooled engine mounted in the middle, this two-seater weighed in at a mere 1300 pounds. Born of Ferry’s desire to build a lightweight yet powerful high-speed vehicle, the 356/1 excelled at every test that was placed upon it, even winning a race on its very first excursion.
Following the success of the 356/1, Porsche built the 356/2, the first production Porsche. Although this car retained the prototype’s air-cooled, 40-horsepower engine and its ability to reach speeds of up to 84 miles per hour, the Porsche 356/2 had the notable difference of a rear-mounted rather than a mid-mounted engine. The company hand-built 52 of these cars before moving production to Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen in 1950. Despite makeshift circumstances, Porsche produced 369 models in 1950, and race car enthusiasts began to pay attention to the speedy, lightweight vehicle.
In the following years, Porsche made several improvements to the Porsche 356 model, including increasing the horsepower to 60 and creating a lower-cost convertible version known as the 356 Porsche Speedster. Today, the Speedster remains one of the most highly sought-after collectibles.
550 SPYDER: THE “GIANT-KILLER”
Built for competition, the Porsche 550 Spyder entered the market in 1953. With its lightweight aluminum body and four-cylinder engine, the Spyder won races from the very beginning. Later, with the change to a 110-horsepower Carrera engine, this car became known as a “giant-killer” when it beat out more powerful contenders like Jaguar and Ferrari in race after race. In fact, the 550 Spyder’s flow of victories was so relentless that its occasional loss was eventually bigger news than its wins. Only 90 Spyders were ever built, all by hand, and no two of them are identical.
When Ferry Porsche and his son Ferdinand Alexander created the first Porsche 911, they never dreamed that the car would still be going strong half a century later. The successor to the 356, the 911 was more powerful, roomier and much faster than the original Porsche. It boasted a 6-cylinder, 130 horsepower engine, five speeds and a maximum speed of over 100 miles per hour. At the same time, it retained its rear-mounted engine, along with the air cooling that made the 356 so light and nimble. With these features balanced by affordability compared to other cars in its class, long-lasting dependability and an instantly-recognizable shape, it’s no wonder that the Porsche 911 remains an icon to this day.
The 911 has undergone many improvements throughout the years. In 1966, Porsche added a 911 Targa with a detachable roof. New for 1967 were semi-automatic transmissions, alloy rims and the Porsche 911 S, a high-performance model that could reach speeds of nearly 140 miles per hour. These innovations were followed by the less expensive Porsche 911 T in 1968, fuel-injected engines and a larger wheel base in 1969, and a 2.2-liter engine in 1970. Porsche continues to release new versions of the 911 to this day, and yet the basic design of the car remains virtually unchanged; even the 2013 anniversary model maintains the classic Porsche 911 look and feel.
First intended as a replacement for the Porsche 911, which Porsche manufacturers feared was nearing the end of its life, the Porsche 928 of 1978 was as different from the 911 as it could possibly be. The rear-mounted engine was replaced with a water-cooled, front mounted V-8 engine, and it had a K-Jetronic fuel injection system rather than a carburetor. With a horsepower of 219 and a wheel base 10 inches larger than the 911, the Porsche 928 had more power and was easier to drive than its predecessor. Unfortunately, the front-mounted design was never very popular with Porsche fans, and the 928 was discontinued in 1995.
BOXSTER, CAYMAN AND CAYENNE: CARS FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM
Debuting in 1997, the Porsche Boxster was Porsche’s first mid-engine, flat-6 roadster. More affordable than other Porsche sports cars yet extremely powerful and effortlessly responsive, it quickly became a best-seller. It was followed in 2006 by the Porsche Cayman, a more expensive coupe which also featured a mid-mounted engine but was more sturdy than the Boxster. A modern Porsche SUV, the Porsche Cayenne, was added to the line-up in 2007. These three cars, along with the abiding Porsche 911 Carrera, are sure to take the brand well into the new millennium and beyond.