It's hard to think of another sports car which has endured quite like this one. For almost 60 years it's remained as a benchmark for other manufacturers. Its combination of driver focused engineering, sharp steering and a stubborn and unwavering refusal to evolve too far away from the original make for a heady mix.
Lockton's own Emily Fortier is a massive 911 fan and championed the car's inclusion in our Motoring Icons series (not that we needed much persuading). She has a written a truly beautiful piece explaining why she chose the Stuttgart car.
“The nuance of steering occurred to me more than a decade before I acquired the hard-earned privilege of a driver's license. I was maybe 6 at the wheel of a late 70s Ford Country Squire, “You're over-correcting”. Sitting on my father's lap, I realized my first experience that man, and machine could become one. A lesson in precision. This was not, of course, on the open road!
By the age of 12, I had a personal subscription to Car & Driver. There, the Porsche 911 was a perennial favorite and I learned what a Driver's car really was. Once licensed, driving quickly became the experience of freedom. An escape from the mundane where I could feel completely independent, completely in control of “where to next”. It also was a place where I could get lost, and where ZZ Top's LaGrange on ten could put me completely, wholly, in the moment. The love affair with driving cemented there.
It was no doubt a privilege my first daily driver was a hand-me-down, 13-year-old Audi 5000s. It wasn't mine, but it was the car I was allowed to drive. It gave me pleasure to have something unique, to be able to say to my small-town America motor-head classmates, “it has a 5 cylinder”. “There's no such thing” they'd say, and I'd prove it. It was a special car and I'll never forget the look on the technician's face at the local Audi service center when he advised the sunroof motor would cost more to replace than the car was worth. I've never owned a car without a sunroof since.
The exception to the sunroof rule might come in the form of a 911. There's just something about that particular unobstructed roof curve. The car is aesthetically pleasing in every sense of the word. To sit at the dealership and provide my checklist of dial colors, trim and leather... I would like the Porsche crest on the headrest, forgo any exterior badging. Maybe I do want Subaru's beautiful pearl white with the blue metallic flake. Or more favorable, British Racing Green. Why not? What is it about the 911, specifically? The pinnacle of automotive engineering centered on the driver. It's not about the 1/4 mile, though it could be. It's not about exotic looks, nor does the 911 scream “look at me”! When parked, it sits there, in its curved grace, as a work of art. Thoughtfulness in its every contour, perfectly weighted, perfectly balanced. It carries nostalgia. A Porsche is a Porsche and you know it when you see it. It doesn't look like anything else, except maybe a Volkswagen Beetle, and I appreciate the nod to heritage.
Isn't that part of the Porsche's charm? A wink at the car for everyone. An attainable treasure, meant to be driven, enjoyed, revered. Automakers that are experts of the road, the track, the rally circuit. A heritage of the affordable best. Something about the German mind: precision, performance, a striving toward perfection, a willingness to evolve.
Therein lies the thoughtfulness of the 911. I'm not sure I've ever heard “not all drivers will fit, this car is a bear to get in and out of, and I couldn't drive this for 200 miles and be comfortable”. It's the driver a Porsche concerns herself with most. In the cockpit, the driver is embraced. The 911 says, “I've been precision designed and tuned just for you, have fun”.
There's a sense of mysticism. Mystique. The rush of using the dark city streets as my personal playground as in a recent episode of Top Gear. The feeling that I could just sneak away in the night, unnoticed, and be 500 miles away by dawn with nothing but the road ahead of me. Tucked into the bucket seat, falling under the hypnosis of the dotted line. The luminous red needles glowing back at me. A downshift. “Can we just, GO?” Let's just go for a ride, just to savor what it feels like.
The 911 is the car for me because the 911 is a sportscar in the purest sense, and I am a purist.”
Great words Emily and they not only summarize one person's love for a particular car but also what it is that gives so many of us a connection to what is essentially 'just' a machine.
So, to the 911 and another daunting article to write – not least because the car which Jeremy Clarkson once famously accused of looking the same throughout its evolution actually spans a 58 year lifespan and 8 model evolutions. It starts with a 2 litre car with 130bhp to its peak of 640bhp (992 Turbo S, in case you were wondering) – and Porsche has managed to keep a 6-decade old design relevant and, for many, the ultimate sports car.
As many writers far more knowledgeable and eloquent than us have written millions of words about this bastion of the sports car sector, we decided to focus not on every 911 ever made, but on the models from each generation which we think stand out. We hope that this doesn't sound like a cop-out and that you'll agree with some of our choices.
In the beginning
The 911 was designed to replace the 356 and, from its inception, was designed as a four seater. This dictated that it was larger than its predecessor and heavier. This was offset by the use of a 2 litre six cylinder engine with cylinders in a 'boxer' configuration – being horizontally opposed in 2 banks of 3, creating a compact power unit easily installed in the rear of the car.
1965 Porsche 911 sold by RM Sotheby's €297,500 – Marko Cacic ©2018 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's
Design work began in 1959, with the prototype being unveiled in 1963 badged as the 901. Peugeot objected to the model name as they had trademarked 3 digit model names with a zero in the middle and Porsche was forced to rename its car as the 911. Porsche made 82 of the original 901 cars for testing and exhibiting, none of which were sold to the public.
As the first 911, the original car has to be the starting point for our story.
1972 Porsche 911 S 2.4 Targa sold by Bonhams €195,500 – © Bonhams
By 1965, the 911 was establishing itself as a popular and capable sports car but was available only as a 2-door coupe. The decision was made to introduce a version with a removable roof panel and plastic rear window. A roll hoop remained fixed. The car was badged 'Targa' – the Italian word for 'number plate' of all things and was named by the head of domestic sales based on the Targa Florio race where Porsche had enjoyed success in previous years. The model remained within the 911 lineup broadly visually unchanged for a further 28 years, although the plastic rear window was replaced with an attractive curved glass item from 1969.
1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 sold by Mecum $495,000 – © Mecum
Porsche's success in the arena of motorsport began in the 1950's, in both circuit racing and rallying and as the 1970's began, the 911 was establishing itself as a notable competition car. Homologation is a word which has appeared in numerous articles that we've written and the 911 is no exception, with 1972 being the year that the first fully competition inspired model appeared.
The RS featured a 2.7 litre engine, modified from the standard car's 2400cc unit, using Nikasil coating to the cylinder walls to achieve the increased capacity and lift power to 210bhp with a top speed of 152mph making the RS the most powerful and fastest 911 to date.
Porsche offered primarily Touring and Lightweight versions. Both featured flared wheelarches and the rear spoiler which gained the 'duck tail' moniker. The lighter versions did away with rear seats, sound deadening and interior furniture and also featured less undersealing to aid the goal of reducing weight and improving performance.
Forcing the issue of induction – and whale tails. And making an 'impact'
1983 Porsche 911 Turbo sold by Bonhams £102,300 – © Bonhams
The 70's brought us flares, glam rock and, most importantly of all, turbochargers. The use of forced induction to boost performance was popular amongst many manufacturers and brought about genuine improvements – even if some of the badging was rather obvious!
Porsche were no exception and it set about developing what became a mainstay of every 911 generation – right up to today's variant. They had already used the engineering with great success in their racing cars and saw the potential to boost the 911's performance by adding forced induction to the model.
The 911 Turbo (or Type 930 to give it its correct designation) debuted in 1974. Using a 3 litre engine developed from the RSR model, it also featured extensively widened wheelarches, the rears in particular extended to accommodate 11 inch wide wheels. These were coupled with the infamous 'whale tail' rear spoiler and power was boosted to 260bhp, increasing to 300bhp and engine size to 3.3 litres by the time the model was replaced in 1989, its final year of production – the same year it gained a 5 speed gearbox.
The 70's also saw the introduction of larger 'impact' bumpers, to comply with increased USA safety regulations. It remains a matter of personal choice as to whether the earlier models, with slimmer bumpers, are more aesthetically pleasing.
4WD, the return of the RS and, of course, Bad Boys
1992 Porsche 911 RS sold by Bonhams €230,000 – © Bonhams
After the excess of the 80's, when the 911 became as much a part of the cultural picture as braces, yuppies and 'greed is good', the changes next generation, coded 964, saw further cosmetic changes, mostly moulded bumpers and a move away from the classic Fuchs style wheel which had featured on the car for almost 20 years.
The 911 also gained the option of 4 wheel drive for the first time and also 'tiptronic' transmission – allowing the driver to choose either a conventional automatic shift or the option of moving the selector between up and downshift.
This generation also saw the introduction of an RS badged model, featuring no rear seats, air conditioning or electric windows. Harder and more track focused suspension made the car less popular at launch than almost 30 years on, where the 964RS remains a highly sought after model.
The same can be said for the 3.6 Turbo model; whilst RS/RSR versions are rarer, it was the Turbo's appearance in the 90's cop caper starring Messrs. Smith and Lawrence (or should that be 911 Turbo in the star role?) that set its place in history – both in 911 circles and the automotive walk of fame, with this car being known now simply as 'the Bad Boys 911'.
Widowmaker – and the birth of another legend
1995 Porsche 911 GT2 sold by RM Sotheby's £1,848,000 – © RM Sotheby's
The 993 variant was to be the final air cooled 911. Not that we knew this at the time of course as the next variant was the first to start changing the style of the car, which had remained fundamentally the same for 30 years. Lights were changed and whilst evolution is probably a more accurate description, the new car was clearly different.
The lineup remained essentially the same – 2 and 4 wheel drive coupe, Targa and convertible models available in both normally aspirated and turbocharged flavours (the latter in coupe only) and up to 450bhp in Turbo S form.
However, it was a version launched in 1994 that created a 911 still regarded as fearsome and the first to wear the badge which marks any 911 out as being similarly spectacularly fast and demanding of one's attention – the GT2.
It used the 993 Turbo's 3.6 litre twin turbocharged engine to produce 430bhp – a figure which today is impressive but not staggering (and even the Evo model's power boost of 20bhp in 1998 didn't dramatically change this) but the car weighed in at less than 1,300kg and did away with the Turbo's 4WD drivetrain due to the GT class homologation regulations which had created the road car in the first place.
Often the phrase 'racing car for the road' is misused but not with the GT2. It featured carbonfibre wheel arch extensions with exposed bolts (the race cars had these fitted to aid fast removal of damaged panels and to accommodate the larger wheels and brakes which found their way onto the road car) and an even larger rear wing with integral air scoops to drive air into the turbos. In Clubsport specification, of which around 25 are thought to have been made, it also gained a welded-in rollcage, suspension brace and fire extinguisher – and lost its carpets.
It was nicknamed 'widowmaker' as it was a challenging car to drive, to put it mildly. There were few compromises in the conversion from race to road use. That was, and remains, a major part of the car's appeal. Only 193 were made and they continue to be a sought after model.
Fried eggs and losing air
2004 Porsche 911 GT3 RS sold by Silverstone Auctions £123,750 – © Silverstone Auctions
The biggest change to the 911 took place in 1997 with the introduction of the fourth generation.
Whilst the range ultimately featured Turbo. Turbo S, GT2 and GT3 variants (the latter in RS form also with colour schemes harking back to the 2.7RS of 25 years earlier), the main change for the 996 was the change from air cooled engines to a more traditional water cooled system.
Cosmetically the car saw its biggest changes in almost 35 years, with a more steeply raked windscreen and lights which mimicked the smaller Boxster. Inside, the dash was completely new; gone was the row of dials in a simple instrument cluster, replaced with a completely new design and a central console featuring bespoke audio and heating equipment.
The Turbo continued to have wider bodywork, as did the 4WD Carrera models and the GT2 continued to combine RWD with the Turbo motor – whilst more refined that its predecessor, it remains a formidable sports car with a top speed approaching 200mph.
GT2/3 and Turbo variants of the 996 have remained popular since new but many other versions struggled to be as sought after, making this incarnation of the 911 something of a bargain – even now, as values begin to appreciate, a good and useable example can be bought for the price of a small family hatchback (acknowledging of course that running costs may be just a tad higher than a Ford Fiesta or VW Polo).
Size is everything
2007 Porsche 911 GT3 RS sold by RM Sotheby's $137,500 – Ken Wallace ©2020 Courtesy of RM Auctions
The replacement for the 996 was, unusually, the 997. This model gave more than a passing nod to the earlier generations of 911, with a return to round headlights and other features that aped its grandparent.
This was also the point where the 911 started to grow. The 997 was around a foot longer and wider than the original car and almost 400kgs heavier. However, the standard power output was almost 3 times the original car's 130bhp (321 for the newer car).
Choosing the 997 for this article was an easy task – the GT2RS of 2007 was the first 911 to exceed 600bhp and boasted a Nurburgring time of 7:18. Those numbers in isolation are by no means unimpressive but perhaps do the car an injustice.
It used composite materials including carbon and plastic side windows to bring weight over the GT3RS down by around 70kgs. It shunned anything other than a manual gearbox when at the time it was becoming rapidly considered the norm to spec your supercar with a super-fast automated transmission with paddle shift. Suspension tweaks turned the already capable GT2 into a car hailed by many enthusiasts as one of the ultimate driver's 911 models.
Middle aged spread? Not a bit of it
The seventh 911 model stayed broadly the same size and weight as the car it replaced but styling was updated externally. In profile the car remained obviously a 911 but it gained new lights, including a nod to the early cars with slimmer rear lights.
We've picked the R and 50th Anniversary cars, one because it was a remarkable celebration and the other for once again showing that Porsche builds cars for people who enjoy driving them – despite eye watering appreciation. More of that in a moment.
Special editions used to mean a car which a dealer couldn't sell, added some stickers and wheel covers and charged more for the same product. Perhaps a little harsh but when Porsche does a special, it tends to do a little more than this.
Porsche 911 50th Anniversary Edition sold by Silverstone Auctions £85,500 – © Silverstone Auctions
2013 was the car's 50th birthday – a massive milestone reached by only a small number of cars and, of course fuel for Mr. Clarkson's criticism. Porsche took its Carrera 4S model as a base (wider body, 4WD and a useful 40bhp power increase over the standard car), took away the 4WD leaving a wider track and added some options as standard, including its rear differential, renamed Torque Vectoring – a much better way of describing what a differential does we think.
It also added its adaptive dampers, chrome accents externally to pay homage to the original and wheels which beautifully resembled a modern interpretation of the classic Fuchs 5 spoke wheel, seen on previously mentioned icons including the 2.7RS and 930 Turbo models to name but two. 1,963 were made to further reinforce the link to the original car's birth year.
From the birthday boy to another limited run model and please excuse any confusion.
Porsche 911 R sold by RM Sotheby's $313,000 – c2-photography ©2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's
The 991R was effectively a GT3 (not an RS) but with a manual gearbox as the GT3 (not RS) was offered with both manual and PDK options, the latter being a semi-automatic. Still with us? Good.
The R took the GT3, lost its rear spoiler and side air intakes and, as you might have gathered by now, was offered only in manual form. Customers also had the option to specify a single mass flywheel to further enhance the driving experience.
The car was built with enthusiasts in mind and its intention was to once again hark back to earlier cars. It was a popular car and prices appreciated wildly. The car's list price was around £140,000 and Porsche only made 991 of them (see what they did again there..?) and sales were by invitation only, leading many lucky owners to move unused cars on at prices which rapidly exceeded list, peaking at almost £1,000,000.
Out timeline is almost up-to-date and today's 992 variant marks the latest 911 model. Styling is an evolution of the 991 but with another return to circular headlights and a full width rear light which either links perfectly to the cars of the 70's and 80's or resembles Kylo Ren – we think that either comparison is favorable.
The recently announced GT3 would be the obvious pick as it takes the series to its most technically advanced and fastest guise (sub 7 minute laps of a certain German track) but we think that it's the Turbo S which deserves to round out our trip down the 911's memory lane.
Turbocharging has been central to the 911's DNA for almost 50 years and the 911 Turbo has remained the pinnacle of the range despite others being faster and arguably more driver and circuit focused.
The latest model debuted in 2020 and boasts the highest power output yet for a Turbo, at 640bhp. Whilst the engine is loosely based on the Carrera model, it sees many internal changes to boost power by around 200bhp and continues to use 4WD, first introduced to the Turbo in the 993 generation 25 years earlier.
Porsche continues to offer the Turbo with only the PDK gearbox (there hasn't been a manual 911 Turbo offered for over 15 years) and active aerodynamics feature to both front and rear spoilers, together with active suspension.
Top speed is around 205mph and it will hit 60mph from rest in less than 3 seconds.
Porsche has confirmed that the latest 911 platform can adapt to hybrid power relatively easily and prototypes have been spied testing. The success of the Taycan EV, which continues to use the famous Turbo badge to identify its performance variant, has shown that using new technology appears not to have dimmed or diluted Porsche's focus on the driver.
Porsche, at the time of writing, has confirmed that it will not make an all-electric 911 as the weight penalty inevitably associated with batteries could impact the car's balance, so it seems likely that a hybrid of some description will feature within the next few years.
One thing is for sure – that the 911 will continue to spearhead Porsche's sports car lineup for the foreseeable future and we think that's a very good thing indeed.
So that brings our story to a close. We know that we've only scratched the surface of this iconic motor car and we know that we didn't include models such as the 911 Carrera Club Sport from the late 80's or the RSR models from a decade earlier. The 959 is also notable by its absence and who could forget the RUF-engineered CTR 'Yellowbird' or indeed the 996 GT3RS?
That, we think, is at the core of the 911's appeal – we've written over 3,600 words on the car and we haven't been able to look at more than a handful of cars that have stood out during the car's lifespan.
Lockton are proud to be the official insurance partner to the Porsche Club of Great Britain; we insure many members, who own both 911's and every Porsche model and we actively support the club and its members.
If you are fortunate enough to be the custodian of any 911 model, from the earliest to the very latest, then talk to us today as we'd be delighted to assist you.
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