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Porsche - A Performance and Sports Car Legend

Porsche has recently announced their new Carrera 4S model, a highly sophisticated development of the original performance classic car, the Porsche 911. But lets look a little further back into Porsche's history.

Imagine that you had designed a performance sports car that contained a fundamental design flaw. What would you do? Change it and eradicate the flaw forever? Or would you persist for the next 50 or so years in making the best of the bad design?

You would have probably gone for the first option. If you had gone for the
second then you would probably now be producing a car like the Porsche
Carrera 4S - for indeed, that is exactly what German performance sports car manufacturer Porsche did.

Stemming from the Porsche's first sports car, and the first car Porsche
produced in it's own right - the Porsche 356 - the Porsche 911 has maintained the basic "rear-engine, rear-wheel drive" layout concept that is a basic flaw in any car design, let alone a high performance sports car.

Yet, over the years, Porsche has managed to tame the design to reduce the car's natural tendency to oversteer dramatically and unpredictably. You could say that there are good drivers, fast drivers, racing drivers and then good Porsche 911 drivers.

It takes something a little special to handle a Porsche 911 consistently and safely. The four-wheel drive versions, of which the new Carreras 4S is the latest incarnation, have gone a long way to correcting the inherent handling problems which are still present with rear-engine cars. The fact that many Formula One drivers will at some time have owned or used a 911, is sufficient testimony to this performance classic.

Of course Porsche could, at any time have moved the 911's engine and produced a well-balanced mid-engine super car. But Porsche being Porsche, they concentrated on perfecting what they had. In the process Porsche engineers and designers managed to retain the intrinsic and enduring style of the 911.

The Porsche 911 has gone through many changes and models numbers - the Porsche 964, 993 and 996, the latter being the latest version. There have also been front-engine alternatives in the Porsche 924, 944. 928 and 968 models. These models have cleverly each attracted a new breed of Porsche owner when introduced, thus widening the appeal of the Porsche badge.

Turbo engine versions have dramatically enhanced the already substantial performance, the 911 Turbo "Whale Tail" from the 1980's being one of the original all time classic turbo cars.

Porsche supplemented the range with Speedster and Cabriolet models.

The company also enjoyed a good deal of motor racing success, particularly in the Le Mans 24 Hours and similar endurance races. Classic racers such as the 904, 917(the "Steve McQueen Porsche"), 935, 956 and 959 are some of the most successful motor race cars ever. In addition, Porsche had some in involvement in Formula One including the manufacture of the TAG Turbo engine for McLaren until 1987.

Ferdinand Porsche started the company, which developed as consultant designers to motor manufacturers. One of his most famous contributions was of course to the design of the German "people's car", the car that ultimately became known as the Volkswagen Beetle. But it was Porsche's son, Ferry who took design origins stemming from the Volkswagen Beetle and the Auto Union P-Wagen to produce project number 356 or the Porsche 356 as it became. The 356 had a steel platform chassis, aluminium body and a VW 1131cc engine, mounted at the rear.

By 1965 over 80,000 Porsche 356's had been made. However, it was Ferry Porsche's son Ferdinand (known as "Butzi") who was responsible for the 356's replacement, the Porsche 911. The new 911 was launched at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show and still subtly bore some styling and engineering design cues from the original VW Beetle concept.

More recently, additional models have been added to the range in the Boxster, the two-seater roadster model, and the new Cayenne 4x4. In the Boxster, Porsche have rekindled the pure sports car theme. The Cayenne has been a radical design concept departure for Porsche. Indeed the Cayenne 4x4 is the first off-road vehicle to be mass produced under the Porsche badge and represent a gamble on the part of Porsche to infiltrate the Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) market, particularly in the USA. The car is said to possess excellent off-road capabilities associated with 4x4's and SUV's whilst retaining a performance sports car feel more normally associated with Porsche.

The 911 design looks set to continue and so enhance the opinion of many motor enthusiasts that Porsche, in the 911 (or the 996 to be more accurate), have the ultimate high performance super car.

A. Williams, 29-7-03

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