In the decades prior to the introduction of the 956, Porsche steadily built up a reputation as a contender in racing. But this car turned it into a dominant force.
The 956 debuted in 1982, and subsequently evolved into the 962 largely so Porsche could race it in the North American IMSA series. The 956/962 racked up six of Porsche’s 19 Le Mans victories –seven if you count the win by a road-going version from German firm Dauer in 1994. Given it raced competitively for more than a decade, the 956/962 also had a remarkably long career.
In addition to being brutally effective on the track, the 956/962 is also one of Porsche’s most attractive race cars, and it represents an exciting era in motor sports history. In the 1980s, cars were faster than ever, but they weren’t defined by technology the way more modern race cars are.
Porsche Cayman GT4
With its mid-engine layout, hardtop body, and compact proportions, the Cayman has plenty of performance potential. Porsche has traditionally reigned in this “entry-level” model, however, in order to keep it from stepping on the toes of the 911. Thankfuly, Porsche finally let the Cayman fulfill its potential in 2015.
The Cayman GT4 was a limited-edition, hardcore performance model that made the most of the Cayman platform. Porsche equipped it with choice bits from various 911 models, including a 385-hp, 3.8-liter flat-six engine from the Carrera S, and suspension and brake components from the GT3.
The result was a Cayman purely focused on driving, and the kind of car enthusiasts had wanted Porsche to build since the Cayman first appeared. It was also a fitting swan song for the naturally-aspirated six-cylinder Cayman ahead of the introduction of the turbocharged four-cylinder 718 series.
Porsche 911 GT1
Before the Carrera GT propelled Porsche into the world of mid-engine supercars, and before the 919 Hybrid inaugurated a new era of Le Mans success, there was the 911 GT1. As both a hyper-exotic supercar and a Le Mans-winning race car, it was like nothing else Porsche had ever built.
Few cars live up to the cliché descriptor “race car for the road,” but the 911 GT1 is one of them. In an era when the line between race cars and road-going supercars was more blurred than ever, Porsche decided to simply build a race car and sanitize it for the road.
The result was the 911 GT1, which, despite its name, had more in common with Porsche’s 962 race car than the 911. Unleashed in 1996, the 911 GT1 was the most extreme road car Porsche had ever built, at least until the Carrera GT came along. Its 1998 Le Mans win was also Porsche’s last for 17 years.
Porsche 911 R
Like any other automaker, Porsche has to consider the needs of a wide variety of customers. But sometimes it produces a love letter aimed at its most hardcore fans.
Packing a 4.0-liter naturally-aspirated flat-six engine, a six-speed manual transmission, and a minimum of electronic aids, the 911 R had all of the ingredients for the ultimate driving enthusiast’s Porsche. The performance figures were pretty astounding, too: 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, and a top speed of 200 mph. It also eats hill climbs for breakfast.
The only downside to the 911 R was its limited production run; the car was only available in 2016. But the positive response the R generated seems to have had an impact on Porsche. As part of a recent update, it restored the 911 GT3’s manual transmission.
Porsche 597 Jagdwagen
Porsche’s first off-roader wasn’t the original Cayenne; it was the 597 Jagdwagen. 597 is the internal designation given to the project while Jagdwagen means “hunting car” in German. Porsche developed the car in the early 1950s after the West German army asked the nation’s automakers to present Jeep-like prototypes that were capable, maneuverable, reliable, and above all affordable. The winner would receive a lucrative production contract.
The Jadgwagen used an air-cooled, rear-mounted flat-four engine sourced from the 356. The engine sent about 50 hp to the four wheels via a shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive system designed in-house. The West German government evaluated the car but decided not to select Porsche’s design because it was too expensive to build. Officials also doubted the small, Stuttgart-based brand could ramp up production in time. The army instead awarded its contract to the DKW Munga. Porsche considered selling the model to the public but it canned those plans after building fewer than 50 examples.
Porsche 928 H50
The Panamera Sport Turismo introduced last year was a long time in the making. While Porsche isn’t known for making station wagons, the Sport Turismo meanders through time as it traces its roots back to the 928 H50, a sporty four-door model built in 1987. Porsche extended the 928’s wheelbase to give the passengers riding in the back more space. They also added a set of suicide rear doors similar to the Mazda RX-8’s to make accessing the rear seats easier.
Porsche seriously considered building this car. The prototype clocked 5,000 miles of real-world testing before engineers in charge of the project decided it didn’t drive like a Porsche should. It hibernated in the company’s warehouse, well out of the public’s eye, until Porsche finally decided to show it to the public in 2012.
As the Panamera’s most direct ancestor, the 989 shows another facet of Porsche’s history. It was built in 1988 when sales of the company’s sports cars were sliding and financial issues loomed on the horizon. Executives believed a sedan would jump-start the business by bringing new buyers into showrooms and convincing existing owners to add another Porsche to their stable.
The 979 looked a lot like a 911 but it sat on a front-engine, rear-wheel drive platform. It wasn’t envisioned with a flat-six, either. The engine bay was home to a brand-new V8 engine derived from the one sister company Audi was using at the time. Porsche tested the engine in a mule based on the Mercedes-Benz w124. Executives were serious about launching the 989, they even mooted a mid-1990s release date, but financial issues killed the project. Porsche didn’t dabble in the sedan segment until the first-generation Panamera made its debut in 2009.
The 1989 Panamericana concept illustrated one of the paths Porsche could take as it examined ways to renew the 911. Starting with a 911 Carrera 4, engineers working on the project designed a futuristic-looking body that blurred the line between sports car and dune buggy. The panels were made out of composite materials like carbon fiber in order to keep weight in check.
While the Panamericana was merely a design study, some of the designers involved in the project asked Porsche decisionmakers to consider launching the model as a limited-edition model. The rationale was that it wouldn’t be too expensive to build because, mechanically, it used a lot of off-the-shelf parts. Porsche considered it, but financial issues prevented them from experimenting with low-volume models.
Porsche Mission E
The Mission E represents a brand-new type of Porsche, one that’s fully electric, connected, and high-tech. Sounds sacrilegious? Don’t worry; Porsche assures us it has what it takes to build such a car without diluting its core brand values. The concept made its debut at the 2015 edition of the Frankfurt Auto Show and the production model will arrive in showrooms before the turn of the decade.
We know the Mission E’s design won’t change much as it transitions from a concept to a production model. Early reports suggest that, at launch, Porsche will offer three variants rated at 400, 536, and 670 hp, respectively. Pricing will start in the vicinity of $75,000, which places the Mission E on the turf occupied by the Tesla Model S. Should Tesla be worried? Time will tell.