50 Years of the Porsche 911

2013 is a milestone year for Porsche as their long-running 911 turns 50 in September. As a celebration of this landmark anniversary, we're taking a look over the history of the world's favourite rear-engined sports car.

1963 Porsche 911 (Classic)

Since the end of the Second World War, Porsche had been building and developing Ferdinand 'Ferry' Porsche's 356, but the sports car was based on his father Prof. Ferdinand's Volkswagen Beetle and had a reputation for unpleasant handling. The 911, designed by Ferry's son Ferdinand "Butzi" Porsche, was conceived as a replacement.

Originally dubbed the 901, the all-new car debuted at September's Frankfurt Motor Show. There was a lot familiar about the 901 - it was still rear-engined but it was now a two litre six cylinder rather than the four cylinder of the 356. With Peugeot's complaints that they had naming rights for any car sold in France with a three digit number with a zero in the middle, the name was changed to 911.

The original 130hp car was soon joined by a 110hp entry level model and a 160hp range topper - while a 90hp four cylinder was shoved into a variant called the 912 as a low-price option.

1969 Porsche 911 (Classic)

The first major change to the 911 was a response to the car's edgy handling. The wheelbase of the car was increased by two inches, but the overall length didn't change at all.

Though just about every other component of the 911 was changed over the year, effectively this new chassis remained in constant production until the model was canned in 1989. From the 125-180hp 2.2 engine this model was introduced with, power was hiked to 205-230hp for the final 3.2 cars, with associated braking and suspension upgrades

1974 Porsche 930 911 Turbo

After podium success at the 1974 Le Mans 24 Hours with a turbo 911 convinced Porsche of the merits of turbocharging and the 930 was introduced at the 1974 Paris Motor Show.

The 911 itself received an external update - largely based around bumpers for US federal crash tests - at the same time as the 930 was released. Using the same chassis as the 911 with significant bodywork changes for better cooling, high-speed stability and to accommodate fatter tyres, the 3.0, 230hp 930 was significantly more powerful than the 911 - but it came at a price.

Like the 356 before it, the 911 always had a reputation for trickiness, prone to lift-off oversteer. The extra power didn't help matters but it was the turbo lag that did the damage, as the power arrived in sudden spikes well after the throttle was pressed, leading to a series of fatal accidents when combined with inexperienced drivers.

Undeterred, Porsche increased the 930's power to 300hp with an engine update in 1978 and then to 330hp in 1983 and finally offered a 5 speed manual gearbox for the car's last year in 1989.

1988 Porsche 964 911

After 20 years of updates, the 911 was finally completely refreshed in 1989 with the 964 - and with the 964 came four-wheel drive. Though Porsche had put 4WD underneath earlier cars for the 959 project, they were test mules and it wasn't until the 964's launch that it became a 911 standard.

Though the 4WD carried a significant weight penalty over the 2WD model, with a new 3.6 litre, 250hp version of the boxer six engine the 964 was another new performance standard in any guise. The 964 was also the first 911 to have Porsche's automatic "Tiptronic" transmission offered.

Unlike the earlier cars, the Turbo version wasn't stood apart from the range. Early 964 Turbos used the same 3.3 engine as the previous generation until 1993, when the 3.6 was finally turbocharged, for 360hp. Sadly, that was the last year of 964 production as, for the second time in 5 years, the Porsche 911 was replaced.

1994 Porsche 993 911

The 993 remains one of the most popular and enduring 911s as it pushed performance figures into new territories while, conversely, becoming an easier car to drive.

With an all-new 4WD system, a new six speed manual gearbox and an all-new rear suspension dialling out the lift-off oversteer, the base road cars became more refined and more tractable.

The Turbo, meanwhile, became even wilder with over 400hp available from the 3.6 - tamed by being the first 911 Turbo with four wheel drive. Even this wasn't wild enough though, as Porsche introduced the homologation special GT2 to allow it to take the Turbo racing. The GT2 turned the wick up even hotter to 450hp, while removing the front drive to reduce weight.

However, like the 964 before it, the 993 only lasted around 5 years before it was replaced.

1998 Porsche 996 911

Controversy hit the entirely new 996 before it was even launched as noise regulations necessitated a change to that famous Boxer engine - it became a more conventional water-cooled design. The engine range also shrank in capacity slightly for the first time in the 911's history, as more power was available from less engine.

A second complaint came from car snobbery - the new front end, derived from the 1996 Boxster, devalued the car by making it look like the "cheaper" model. The headlights were soon refined to change this, but today it's still possible to buy a used 996 for less than a used 993 for these reasons.

As with the 993 though, the 996 refined the drive while increasing the performance. The new 3.4 litre engine gave 300hp for the basic car on two and four wheel drive variants. The new Turbo arrived in 2000, with a 420hp 3.6 litre engine again tamed by a 4WD system and Porsche's first carbon composite ceramic brakes.

Like the 993, there were lightweight performance variants based on the Turbo too. The GT3 used the Turbo body and 4WD, but the naturally aspirated 360hp engine, while the GT2 used the Turbo body and an updated, 480hp Turbo engine while deleting the 4WD in favour of RWD, pushing the car up to almost 200mph.

2005 Porsche 997 911

Though externally little different from the 996 - and the butt of many jokes for this reason - the 997 was the best selling 911 ever made.

The 997 returned to the visual style of earlier 911s, with the classic round headlights, but it was the technology underneath that drove sales. With a new torque vectoring 4WD system, a new dual clutch transmission and variable geometry turbochargers on the Turbo and GT2, the 997 911 joined the ranks of the fastest cars on the planet. The lightweight, 500hp GT2 could knock off a 60mph sprint in 3 seconds with the new launch control system and reach 200mph.

The model range closely followed the mould set by the 993 and 996, only with much more power across the board.

2011 Porsche 991 911

Again, the car differed little externally but, like the first 1969 update, Porsche increased the wheelbase to improve the weight distribution and handling. The weight itself was reduced with the use of new materials, bringing the car down to the level of the 964 model from 20 years earlier while packing 50% more power.

The 991 also came with the world's first seven speed manual to be fitted to a production car, to go with its seven speed dual clutch automatic.

Over the decades, 911s have captured myriad international motorsports titles, both on track and on dirt, while over 800,000 cars have found homes. Having grown from a tricky, barely evolved Beetle in 1963 into today's genuine, bargain supercar your mum could drive, we wish the 911 a very happy fiftieth birthday indeed.

For more information check out our full summary of the Porsche 911 alongside reviews, stats, photos and videos!

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