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The 1964 911 and today’s 911 Carrera 4S Coupe. There’s significant change in the design, yet remarkable continuity.

50 Years of Porsche 911 Design & Technology

“The 911 is the only car you could drive on an African safari or at Le Mans, to the theater or through New York City traffic.”

“The 911 is the only car you could drive on an African safari or at Le Mans, to the theater or through New York City traffic.”

That’s Ferry Porsche, automotive designer extraordinaire who died last year, on the car that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the car that is the absolute indication that when a vehicle design is right, it merely needs to be enhanced not replaced.

The car, the model 901, made its debut in September 1963 at the Frankfurt IAA International Auto Show. It was renamed the 911 when it went on sale in 1964. 

Since that time, there have been seven generations of the 911 and approximately 82,000 have been manufactured.

The first generation had a 130-hp, air-cooled, six-cylinder boxer engine. Among the modifications that occurred during that vehicle’s run there were Fuchs forged alloy wheels on the 911 S in 1966; the semiautomatic Sportomatic four-speed transmission in 1967; and 911 Carrera RS 2.7 with its ducktail spoiler—claimed by Porsche to be the first rear spoiler on a production vehicle—in 1972.

The G-Series 911 followed in 1973 and ran until 1989. While automotive designers today have to contend with the European regulations for pedestrian safety, the G-Series featured big bumpers in order to meet U.S. crash test standards. The first Porsche 911 Turbo was introduced in 1974; it had a 260-hp, three-liter engine. In 1982 the first 911 Cabriolet was made available.

A big change occurred in 1988, when the third generation 911 debuted. The car’s platform had been in use for 15 years. With the introduction of the 911 Carrera 4, the 964, that platform had undergone a transformation, with 85% new components. The car featured polyurethane bumpers. It was equipped with ABS, a Tiptronic transmission, power steering, and airbags.

The internal design number for the 911 that was launched in 1993 was . . . 993. The headlamps on this car had polyellipsoid headlights in place of the round ones that had previously been used; this different shape helped allow the designers to make the front end lower than previous models. It had a new aluminum chassis. The Turbo version of this generation was, in 1995, the first to have a bi-turbo engine, which is claimed to be the lowest-emission stock powertrain of any car at that time. The 911 Targa featured an electric glass roof. This generation was the last 911 to feature an air-cooled engine.

The next generation, designated the 996, ran from 1997 to 2005. This had a water-cooled boxer engine; the engine had four valves per cylinder and produced 300 hp. The design was lower and sleeker, with a drag coefficient of 0.30. The headlights integrated the turn signals, a controversial design cue then, but taken for granted now. The 911 GT2 that became available in 2000 is the first car to have ceramic brakes as standard.

The 911 Carrera and 911 Carrera S that appeared in July 2004 were designated the 997 (so the 993 of 1993 was. . . coincidental?). The design features clear oval headlights and separate blinkers. Note how the Porsche designers would change things up to keep things fresh, yet this model also harkens back to early 911 designs. In 2006 the 911 Turbo was introduced; it is said to be the first gasoline-powered production car to have a turbocharger with variable turbine geometry. In 2008 the 911 was equipped with direct fuel injection and a dual-clutch transmission.

In 2011 the 991 911 was introduced. Compared to the previous model, it has a longer wheelbase, wider track, and larger tires. It has a steel/aluminum hybrid construction. It has the world’s first seven-gear manual transmission. And even though it is flatter, lower, yet fully contoured shape, this seventh-generation design is still quintessentially a 911.