In August 1972, the gaze of the world was turned towards Germany as Munich prepared to host the 20th Summer Olympics. A little earlier that month, on 5 August, a patent disclosure was lodged by Porsche at the German Patent Office in the same city. Car manufacturers are used to applying for patents for all their many innovations. But this one – document No. 2238704 – would prove to be highly significant. And not just for Porsche, but also its customers and the future of sportscar design.
It seems appropriate that the Olympian motto is ‘Citius – Altius – Fortius’ (Faster – Higher – Stronger) because this patent not just changed the look of a new variant of the Porsche 911, it would propel it to new heights when it came to speed, performance and handling. “The invention relates to a passenger car with a rear spoiler – one preferably mounted between side panels,” read the patent, “and an aerodynamic device in the rear to increase the dynamic rear wheel pressure.” Today that device is known by car fans worldwide by a single, iconic word. The ‘ducktail’. It would prove to be a game-changing invention for a game changer of a Porsche sportscar – the 911 Carrera RS 2.7.
How the game-changing 911 Carrera RS 2.7 was born
The 911 Carrera RS 2.7 was first developed as a homologation special, with a limited number made to satisfy the demands of motor racing organisations to have road-legal versions of the race cars they approved for competition. At first, Porsche initially planned to build 500 examples in order to homologate the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 for Group 4 Special GT cars. It became a road-approved vehicle for customers who also wanted to compete in track events.
“It was to be a very light, fast sportscar,” says Peter Falk, then Head of Testing for series production cars at Porsche. Around 15 engineers developed the car from May 1972 onwards and were joined by production staff. How fast? When it was launched at the Paris Motor Show in October 1972, the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 Sport (a Touring version, which had a few more creature comforts than its stripped back sibling, would follow a little later) was the fastest German production car built to date. With an unladen weight of 960kg and 210PS, the RS 2.7 accelerated from 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds and could hit 245km/h. Mind-blowing today – even more so if you consider that it celebrated its 50th birthday in 2022.
“Those were sensational figures in the early 1970s – and they still are,” says Andreas Preuninger, current Head of Porsche GT Cars, today. “An RS model made by Porsche is characterised by the most emotional relationship between the road and motorsport. This is the unfiltered driving experience that Porsche has represented for 50 years. The 911 Carrera RS 2.7 is a milestone in the Porsche sports car history and continues to shine today.”
The tale of the legendary ducktail spoiler
So, what about that game-changing rear spoiler? When Porsche was developing the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 in 1972, Helmuth Bott – Head of Development at Porsche – asked his engineer Hermann Burst to look into why the car was getting too much ‘lift’, causing the car to behave unpredictably at high speeds. Together with his colleagues Tilman Brodbeck and stylist Rolf Wiener, Burst came up with the rear spoiler for the RS – better known as the ducktail.
At the time, I thought the spoiler was just a solution to a technical problem. It took me a long time to realise that we had created an icon
After watching Porsche test driver Günter Steckkönig put a developmental 911 Carrera RS 2.7 fitted with front and rear spoilers through its paces at the new Weissach test, Helmuth Bott green lighted it for production. He could see the immediate safety benefits compared to a version of the car without spoilers, as it made the car more stable when driven quickly. Like the front spoiler, which had been developed a year earlier, the rear spoiler was initially intended as a retrofit kit for 911 customers. Instead, the new 911 Carrera RS 2.7 was fitted with the combination of front and rear spoiler as standard – a production model first – and in the process set off a worldwide craze for spoilers.
“At the time, I thought the spoiler was just a solution to a technical problem. It took me a long time to realise that we had created an icon,” Hermann Burst says today.
The story behind the Carrera name
But the game-changing qualities of the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 didn’t end there. This car, the most powerful model of the earliest generation of the 911, was also the first 911 to be christened ‘Carrera’ – the jewel in the crown of the Porsche range at the time.
The inspiration for the name came from the Carrera Panamericana, a legendary (and highly dangerous) Mexican road race that ran from border to border for five consecutive years in the early 1950s. Porsche has secured a memorable class victory in the 1953 event with a 550 Spyder and third place overall a year later. Several high-powered Porsche engines were given the Carrera moniker thereafter and when a name was needed for the new top-of-the-range 911, one stood out.
“We wanted to assign the already famous ‘Carrera’ name to a production model and thought about how we could best represent that,” says Harm Lagaaij, a designer at Porsche at the time, and who went on to play a part in the design of many great Porsche cars to come.
The legendary Carrera nameplate
If the ducktail spoiler is the most visually memorable aspect of the 911 Carrera RS 2.7, a decision by Harm Lagaaij and his team to develop a proposal for striking typography on the new car has also had lasting impact. The now legendary letters of the Carrera nameplate were placed between the wheel arches in a contrasting colour to its body paint, crossed by a wide stripe in the same colour. It became a blueprint for the decades to come.
With its palette of eye-catching vehicle colours, like Bright Yellow, Red and Blood Orange, here was a car that stood out like no other on the road. The Carrera lettering retains iconic status to this day, as does the long-famous RS abbreviation, which is still used for the most spirited of 911 models.
The iconic rear wheel arches of the 911 Carrera RS 2.7
And talking of those wheel arches, the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 was the first time at Porsche that a series production car featured different tyre sizes on the front and rear axles.
“We wanted to improve traction and handling with wide tyres on the rear axle because the greatest weight is found on the rear axle,” explains Peter Falk. For this, the development engineers took inspiration from Porsche racing cars. Fuchs, who made the wheels, forged 6 J×15 wheels with 185/70 VR-15 tyres at the front, with 7 J×15 with 215/60 VR-15 tyres at the rear. To make them fit, the car’s body was widened by 42mm at the rear, around the wheel arches. It was combined with a more firmly tuned, lighter suspension system and thicker anti-roll bars, front beams made of lightweight aluminium and reinforced control arms and cross-member reinforcement at the rear.
It gave it the kind of aggressive stance that declared that here was a sportscar that ready to do serious business. With the 911 Carrera RS 2.7, Porsche not only developed a sportscar for the racetrack, but a car that customers could use as a daily driver as well as for racing. It took the grand touring car concept to the racetrack. As one piece of contemporary advertising put it: “Its repertoire: by road to the race and home again… Carrera RS – full of inexhaustible reserves in both sprints and marathons.”
The visual, performance and even cultural impact of the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 story was considerable, a true halo car for Porsche. One that in the 50 years since this game changer of a car was launched has adorned the bedroom walls and screensavers of thousands of Porsche fans the whole world over.