911 (1965-73): The Progenitor
The earliest ancestors of Porsche’s long-running flagship model are both beautiful to look at and fun to drive.
The 911 was first introduced at the Frankfurt International Auto Show in September 1963. The new model continued the basic concept of the 356 it replaced, with an air-cooled boxer engine mounted behind the driven rear wheels. In most ways, however, the all-new 911 was quite different from its predecessor, offering a more streamlined exterior, a larger interior and more trunk space, torsion-bar suspension — MacPherson strut in the front, semi-trailing arm in back — and a six-cylinder engine.
Porsche had originally considered utilizing a version of the 356’s four-cylinder engine, but given management’s desire for a smoother-running engine that would develop more power, soon decided to develop a flat six. The resulting 1,991-cc air-cooled six was a boxer design, with horizontally-opposed pistons that created a low profile, allowing the engine to be tucked neatly into the car’s tail, where it was partnered with a new 901 five-speed manual tranmission. Although the new six originally displaced 2.0 liters, its displacement ultimately would climb to 3.6 liters by the time it was installed in the 1989 Carrera 4.
The first 911’s body shell would have a similarly long life; it was used through the end of Carrera 3.2 production in 1988. Early 911s were infamous for their tricky, at-the-limit handling — a byproduct of a short wheelbase and locating the engine behind the rear axle — so in 1969 Porsche stretched the car’s wheelbase and widened its rear track to create more benign, if not exactly forgiving, handling.
With proper research, an early 911 can be a fun car to own. These are, and always will be, important cars; they started the legacy enjoyed by every 911, but their visual appeal, charm, and simplicity set them apart from all that followed. Today, the pre-’69, short-wheelbase 911s are more expensive than long-wheelbase versions, but the prices of both look set to climb soon. The current economic conditions may provide one last “breather” before values climb to dizzying heights again.
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