Adding up to something special
Porsche has a strong heritage of numbers as a naming convention. Think 356, 550, 718 and 911. As numbers written down in a student’s mathematics book, they wouldn’t elicit a second glance. But on the back of a car? Well, they’re capable of stirring the emotions and provoking a huge grin. There’s a purity about these digits. Three digits that might appear simple at first but hold an important place in Porsche heritage. And, in the case of the 718, an iconic number that is still appearing on its cars to this day.
Fighting its corner
The 718 name started life more than 60 years ago as little more than three numbers scrawled on a workshop filing system somewhere in Stuttgart. Back then, each fresh design generated by Porsche received a code. It began, in 1948, with the number 356 – the first automobile made under the official brand name of Porsche. Five years later came the 550, as the legendary Spyder. Fast forward four years and the 718 was born. An unromantic beginning, then. But this little car’s name would soon be written large on the race track and, eventually, on the streets.
Work first began on the Porsche 718 RSK in the winter of 1956 to have it ready for the 1957 racing season. It was a development of the ground-breaking 550A Spyder, featuring a lightweight tubular space frame construction, stronger brakes and a revised front suspension. Weighing in at just 530kg (1168 pounds), the 718 had a mid-engine layout – a configuration still used today in its current iteration – giving it perfect balance from one end to the other. Sleekly rounded curves provided aerodynamics over a frame fractionally longer than its predecessor. And then there was the 144PS (142hp), 1.5-litre Type 547/3 quad-cam engine first introduced in the 550A. Efficient, with an ideal power to weight ratio, it would take on and beat the world. Today, the contemporary 718 Boxster 4.0 and 718 Cayman 4.0 have a fondness for tight corners, just like the 718 did in its original guise. Acknowledging the illustrious Porsche heritage continues to be an important tenet of the cars’ designs to this day.
How Porsche heritage inspired the 718 GTS
The public debut of the 718 at the 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans was less than auspicious, however, crashing out of the race on lap 129. It would prove to be a turning point. After further development, the following year would herald the start of an era of 718 dominance on the racetrack. Its first big victory came in March 1958 at the 12 Hours of Sebring in northern California, when a third-place podium finish gave Porsche a comfortable win in the 2.0-litre class. It was followed by overall victory at the 1959 Targa Florio in Sicily, that most evocative of events, with a 718 RSK driven by Edgar Barth and Wolfgang Seidel at the head of a lockout of the top four places 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 12 Hours of Sebring and the Targa Florio, as well as plenty more races besides. Together, the 718 RSK and 718 RS 60 won more than 1000 races, whether racking up victories in the smaller displacement classes or with overall wins. When it comes to Porsche heritage, the original 718 proved to be seminal by highlighting how, through a perfect combination of efficiency and precision, these flat-four Porsche race cars could both keep up with and beat the much more powerful machinery fielded by competitors.
Enter a modern classic
While it was a giant killer on the track, the 718 was perhaps overlooked once its heyday was done. Sandwiched between the legendary 550 and 911, upholding the legacy of the 718 was consigned, for a period, to Porsche fan clubs and vintage motorsport devotees. But you can’t keep a champ down for long, and in 2016 Porsche decided it was time to reintroduce the historic 718 moniker for a new generation of drivers. Today, both the 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 and the 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 take cues from their mid-century predecessor as a devastatingly effective, two-door sports car. Just like their celebrated ancestor, they are compact, agile and very quick. The revival of a sure-fire legend more than 60 years in the making.
If the 718 started life in humble fashion, as three numbers scribbled on a piece of paper, it’s anything but now. More than just a casual nod to Porsche heritage, the 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 and the 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 are a potent blend of excellence, efficiency and performance. Qualities that ring as true today as they did in the 1950s and 1960s.