Chronologically assigned numbers are not – by their nature – particularly sexy. While the 718 designation may be iconic today, it started life as little more than three digits scrawled on a workshop filing system somewhere in Stuttgart.
Each fresh design generated by Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH received a code; in 1948, number 356 was the first automobile made under the official brand name of Porsche. Number 550 – that legendary Spyder – was presented in 1953. And then four years later came the 718: named not by a marketing genius or focus group, but by simple consecutive designation. From, perhaps, an unromantic beginning, this little car’s name would soon be written large on the race track and, eventually, on the streets.
Work began on the 718 RSK in the winter of 1956 to ready it for the 1957 racing season. It was a development on the 550A Spyder, featuring a lightweight tubular space frame construction, stronger brakes and a revised front suspension.
However, the first public début of the 718 at the 1957 24h of Le Mans was less than auspicious, crashing out of the race on lap 129. After further development, 1958 proved to be the start of the stint of race track dominance for the iconic 718. The first big victory came in March 1958 at the 12h of Sebring, when a third-place podium finish gave Porsche a comfortable win in the 2.0-litre class. Then came 1959’s overall victory at Targa Florio, with a 718 RSK heading up a quadruple win for Porsche.
In 1960, a new 718 – dubbed the RS 60 – came on the scene, with reshaped bodywork and engines that made the most of a stronger crankshaft. This reworked version also claimed victories at the 12h of Sebring, the Targa Florio and many more besides. Together, the 718 RSK and RS 60 won more than 1000 races, notching up victories in the smaller displacement classes as well as overall wins.
Dominating motorsport in the late 50s and early 60s, the 718 proved a seminal vehicle for Porsche. It highlighted the power of efficiency and precision, demonstrating how the company’s flat-four race cars could keep up with much More powerful machinery fielded by competitors.
Known as a bit of a giant killer on the track, the 718 was perhaps overlooked once its heyday was done. Sandwiched between the legendary 550 and 911, the legacy of the 718 was consigned – for a time – to Porsche geek circles and vintage motorsport devotees. But you can’t keep a champ down for long, and so in 2016 Porsche revived the historic 718 moniker for a new generation of passionate drivers.
The 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 and the 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 take cues from their mid-century predecessor as a highly efficient two-door sports car. They’re compact and agile, with go-faster curves on the model line more than 60 years in the making.
If the 718 started life in a more humble fashion, it’s certainly made up for it by now. The car’s sense of efficiency, compactness, performance and practicality rings true in a 21st-century context – just as it did in the 1950s and 1960s. Channelling the spirit of mid-century motorsport with even more grace and power, the new 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 and 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 are already effortlessly iconic.