The history of Porsche two-door sportscars
The sporty DNA that has influenced so many great cars
Interior of car, woman driving Porsche 911 cabriolet on road
From the 356, the first-ever Porsche, to the latest 911, every two-door Porsche sportscar has been underpinned by a desire to deliver excitement and a passion for driving
The roads around Gmünd, in the Austrian state of Carinthia, are the kind you dream about driving. Along the valley in which the town sits you’ll find long, sweeping straights, while a few minutes’ drive away are the mountain passes of the Central Eastern Alps. It was here, in 1948, that the Porsche 356 ‘No 1’ Roadster rolled out of the converted sawmill in which it was built. It was the first ever Porsche sportscar. That same mindset that sparked Ferry Porsche’s imagination back then – to create great sportscars – has influenced every one of the company’s two-door sportscars ever since, as we will discover.The Porsche 356 – the first-ever Porsche sportscarBefore the 356, sportscars were – more often than not – long, heavy and bulky. But Ferry, along with his design team that included Erwin Komeda, the man responsible for that now iconic flowing shape had something more radical in mind. A compact roadster with a mid-motor engine, it owed much of its sporty feel to its unique aluminium tube-framed chassis.
Three men and Porsche 356 in countryside during 1940s
(from l-r) Porsche designer Erwin Komenda, Ferry Porsche and Ferdinand Porsche with the first ever 356 in Gmünd, Austria
The 356 went into full production two years later, in 1950, with the original expectation that Porsche may sell around 500 of them over the next eight or nine years. In the end, when the 356 ceased production in 1965, considerably more than that had rolled off the line in Zuffenhausen – almost 78,000 of them in fact. Such was its success that the 356 became the blueprint for all the two-door sportscars produced by Porsche ever since. Sportscars, with their roots in motorsport, that combine everyday driveability with a sense of fun.The birth of a sportscar legend: the Porsche 911By the time Porsche said goodbye to the 356, an all-new sportscar had been unveiled – one known by the same three digits back then as it is today. With styling duties chiefly undertaken by Ferry’s son, Ferdinand Alexander (aka ‘Butzi’), the first ever 911 – originally called the 901 before Peugeot intervened to say they had patented the three-digit car nomenclature with a zero in the middle – was revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1963. With a rear-mounted, two-litre engine that produced 130PS it was another lightweight, highly accomplished sportscar which proved that Porsche had learnt from the stunning success of the 356.
Porsche 901 protype in yellow
The dawn of a legend: the Type 901 prototype from 1963
This first generation of 911 was produced until 1973, featuring differing variants with an expanding list of engine sizes and trim. They included the 911 Targa, which featured a fixed bar encircling its B-pillar, introduced to increased safety requirements for open-top vehicles in the USA. This particular 911 went out with a bang – its valedictory year saw the unveiling of the 911 Carrera RS 2.7, with its trademark ducktail rear aero wing. It was a model that went on to adorn kids’ bedroom walls the world over and remains an icon today. From 1974 to 1989, an all-new 911 held sway as the rightful heir to the Porsche two-door sportscar throne. It was completely redesigned in comparison to the 911 that had gone before, much of it guided by the stricter vehicle regulations of the day. In the shape of the 911 Turbo (Type 930), Porsche introduced its first-ever turbo-charged road car. Its wide rear wheel arches and 'whale tail' aero would take the sporty characteristics of the 911 to a whole new level. Today, the 911 itself is now onto its eighth iteration and is fast approaching its seventh decade. For each of its generations, it has maintained its commitment to timeless design principles and astonishing performance.
Porsche 928 GTS on wet road in countryside
The Porsche 928 – here in GTS form – debuted in 1977 and was the second of the transaxle cars that the company launched
Transaxle Porsche sportscarsIn the late ’70s, the first of a clutch of new Porsche cars arrived that would change the prevailing view of how sportscars were made. The 924, 928, 944 and 968 are known as the ‘transaxle’ cars – front-engined Porsche sportscars with the transmission at the rear. The first of these, the 924, arrived in 1976 with a slew of distinctive design and engineering touches. With its trademark pop-up headlamps, the engine in the 924 was fitted in the front – a first for a production Porsche – and it was now water-cooled too. The ensuing run of front-engined, water-cooled Porsche sportscars were lionised for their stable handling qualities and proved that the company could be successful with rather different vehicles to those they had been making before.The 924 was closely followed by the 928, a grand tourer that was the first Porsche to be fitted with a V8 engine. It was a comfortable luxury cruiser, but its lightweight aluminium construction meant it was a highly capable sportscar too. In the 5.4-litre GTS form – produced between 1992 and 1995 – it generated an impressive 355PS, for example. The next car to turn heads was the 944 in 1982, which slotted in between the 924 and 911 SC in terms of performance and price point. Like the 924, the key to its success was well balanced handling and styling that, with its strong and athletic look, promised a memorable drive. To help with that, a new 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder engine was fitted.
Gold-coloured Porsche 944 on road in the wilderness
Renowned for its handling and speed, the 944 is one of the most successful sportscars made by Porsche
The last of the transaxle era cars was the 968. Launched in 1992, it was designed by Porsche designer Harm Lagaaij. Take one look at its front end and you are immediately struck by its similarities to hugely important Porsche sportscars to come. There are distinctive hints of its sleek, pointed nose and soft, rounded form of its pop-up headlamps in the ground-breaking new Boxster – developed at the same time – and, later, the first of the water-cooled 911 sportscars, the Type 996. This evolutionary aspect of Porsche as a sportscar maker cannot be overstated. There’s a clear, definable thread that can be followed from the current Porsche two-door sportscar models – the 911 (Type 992) and 718 Boxster and Cayman – all the way back to the 356.
Mk1 Porsche Boxster with roof up driving along tree-lined road
With its mid-engine placement helping towards its phenomenal handling, the Boxster was an immediate hit when first introduced in 1996
Mid-engined magic: the 718 Boxster and 718 CaymanHarm Lagaaij was also responsible for the team that designed the hugely successful Boxster, a two-door Porsche sportscar that would be enormously significant for the company’s future. First revealed in a study version shown at the 1993 Detroit Motor Show, its mid-engined roadster design offered perfectly weighted balance, once more proving that Porsche consistently sought to innovate for its customers. With over 530,000 units already sold across its four iterations, it was a car that helped open up Porsche to a younger target audience. Its success led to a coupe version, the Cayman, arriving in 2005. Here, like every Porsche two-door sportscar before it, driving dynamics was paramount. Outstanding agility and responsiveness continue to be key components of the DNA of both the 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman today.
Porsche 911 Carrera 4S in Gentian Blue against pink wall
The latest 911 (Type 992) – shown here in Carrera 4S form – benefits from nearly 75 years of Porsche two-door sportscar expertise
Across nearly 75 years of history making sportscars, each Porsche two-door model has benefitted from its evolutionary sporty philosophy. As the 911 – the epitome of everyday usability in a sportscar – gets ready to celebrate its 60th birthday, it’s a bond that is stronger than ever.
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