Porsche - Code P

Code P

Code P—we explain the origin of the model designations at Porsche and why a legendary digit combination is making a comeback.

They are part of the Porsche cult cachet: legendary numbers such as 911, 356, 918, 917, 959, and 550, to name just a few. Every model has an official name and an internal type number. Sometimes they’re the same, and sometimes they’re not. Which begs the question: How can the Porsche code be cracked?

Some model fantasies are hard to put into words because they have such long names. For example, the Porsche 356 A 1500 GS Carrera, the car that put a broad smile on the faces of car lovers more than sixty years ago. The model was based on the Porsche 356, was part of the further developed A Series, had an impressive 1,500 cc engine, and was marked for speed with the affixes GS (Grand Sport) and Carrera (Spanish for “race”). It might sound simple, but it’s not.

The origins of Porsche’s internal numbering system date back to 1931. Every project of the newly founded design office Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH was assigned a serial number, referred to internally as the type number. The first was the number 7: the design of a sedan for the German automotive manufacturer Wanderer. Type number 60 was the Volkswagen. The numbers began to progress upward with each successive project. On June 8, 1948, a new concept was launched: the first car bearing the official brand name Porsche. The Porsche 356.

This system was to be retained by engineers from then on. With some new models, Porsche used the internal code as the official model name, such as the Porsche 550 Spyder in 1953. However, Porsche dispensed with the usual typology with none other than the successor to the 356. In light of possible future collaborations with the Volkswagen plant, the new Porsche was named to be compatible with the number ranges being used there. As the 900 range was not yet in use at the plant in Wolfsburg, the minds in Zuffenhausen opted for the project number 901 for the six-cylinder variant and 902 for a later four-cylinder version. But then Peugeot objected, pointing out that it had been using three-digit numbers with a zero in the middle since 1929. Thus the 0 between the 9 and the 1 was replaced with a 1, and an icon was born: the Porsche 911. With the 914, a smaller mid-engine sports car was added to the mix, and over the years the 924, 928, and 944 joined the ranks. These cars, too, received their internal type numbers as their names, with the final digit 4 or 8 designating four- or eight-cylinder, respectively.

The naming of all Porsche models increasingly called for flexibility. The example of the 911 is a case in point: with the 1968 model year, the 911 model line received the internal designation A Series for the first time. The B Series followed in 1969, the C Series in 1970, and so on down to the redesigned G Series, which premiered in 1973. Special models within the model line additionally received their own type numbers, for example the 911 Turbo (Type 930) and the 911 SC/RS (Type 954).

A major turning point in the history of the 911 came in 1988 with the completely redesigned 964 model series. The 993 followed in 1993. Then the 996, 997, and finally back to the 991. Between the internal numbers of the 911, there were also other models, such as the Carrera GT (internally, 980), the Boxster (986 in the first generation, 987 in the second, and 981 in the third), and the Cayenne (955). The tradition of the three-digit type numbers, then, continues in its classic fashion—albeit with a certain creative freedom.

But now the names Boxster and Cayman are giving way to a new number code from the legendary nomenclature—the 718. With the model change, the mid-engine sports cars will now be called the 718 model line. A code that follows in the tracks of a legend, translated for a new era. The logic behind the change is clear: two-door Porsches bear the numbers 718, 911, and 918 (as well as affixes such as Carrera, Boxster, Cayman, Spyder, or Targa). Models with four doors receive names: Cayenne, Macan, Panamera. Charming intelligence.

Author Dieter Landenberger
Photographers Frank Kayser, Julius Weitmann