Like the Chicago Bears’ immortal “Toy Cannon,” Walter Payton, the first 911 was compact, fast, irresistibly likeable.
It was 1965, and Porsche had really stepped in it. We all knew it. Our favorite boutique Swabian car-maker had taken away the Type 356 and was asking us to love the brand-new Type 901. But the 901—“911,” Porsche insisted—contained none of the curvaceous simpatico, none of the smiley-faced aero quaintness of the 356! The wedge-y new car had all the charm of a kitchen appliance. Zuffenhausen, turn back to the 356…now!
It’s not easy being a Porsche product planner. Porsche owners view all change with anguish. Eyes roll. Hands wring. We love only what we’re used to. You can hardly blame Porsche, then, if they pay no attention to our grousing. We have no vision beyond the present.
But we were back in the mid 1960s, and Porsche was going to hell. Come to that, everything was going to hell: Vietnam, war in the streets, the complete collapse of personal grooming. That was when James T. Crow, editor of Road & Track, phoned one sunny day to say I must write a “Sports Car Country” touring story chronicling the twisty back roads, pastoral oddities and winsome steak houses of California’s Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo quadrant. And instead of me using my ’54 1500 Super Cabriolet, he volunteered fine photographer Cam Warren to chauffeur, shoot, and drive us in his brand-new red, yes, 911.
“Well,” I said, “if he must.”
Cam stipulated an early Sunday morning start up Highway 101, “before Big John and Farmer John were up and around.” Wise stratagem. Rising through the elegant swaying bends of Gaviota Pass into the highlands, his 1966 911 moved with speed and ease. It was only then that I saw we were going 120. Nice. My 1500 Super wouldn’t go that fast downhill in an avalanche, not without spitting out a piston and a quart of balsamic vinegar dressing. This 2.2-liter six, though, loved it. I asked Cam how much more it had.
“Enough,” he said, not feeling the need to prove it.
“This is wonderful,” I said, and meant it.