Decoding Excellence: Porsche
If you love the 911, you don’t need to give a reason why. It’s a no-brainer. If you hate the 911, you hate it because, deep down, you want it. You might sneer at it and brand it a car for chubby bank managers, but really you know it’s a car behind whose wheel you’d like to sit.
For 50 years now, it has locked its eyes on the horizon and dropped the pedal; it has sought the perfect racing line around the perfect corner and done it all while looking like a frog who’s had its arse stepped on. Yes, it looks weird, but the 911 carries itself with poise and purpose. It is a car in pursuit of perfection. It may be impossible to achieve, but by God, it’ll rack up some speeding fines trying.
Those seeking the very best in life – the perfect balance, the perfect package – have always gravitated to the 911. While plenty of sports cars radiate excess and drama, the 911 is not about overstatement. Legendary actor and racing driver Steve McQueen drove a 911. This should tell you all you need to know. The fact is, no man’s life is complete without some time in this automotive legend.
The 911’s unique destiny came from being born in a time of revolution. In 1963 The Beatles recorded their debut album, JFK was assassinated, Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream…” speech and the first James Bond film hit the screens in the US. Meanwhile, in Germany, a virtually unknown car company called Porsche unveiled a new sports car that would change the world. At the ’63 Frankfurt Motor Show, the new car immediately snapped heads, promising 128bhp and 131mph. Today a Renault Clio 1.6 will do those numbers, but at the time it was a proper jaw-drop.
Since 1963, around 820,000 911s have found homes with grateful owners. That’s an amazing stat in a sports-car world where a new Ferrari will do a couple of hundred if it’s a really big seller and Lamborghini’s latest ridiculous model will see just three made.
The 911 has been everywhere and done everything. It’s raced at Le Mans, been rallying in the ’80s, set speed records and padded around Hollywood ferrying movie stars to the dry-cleaners. It’s spawned turbo models, drop-top models, 4x4 models and hardcore racing versions. It’s evolved at every stage to go from the super-fast VW Beetle of its birth to the muscled tarmac god it is today.
AGAINST ALL ODDS
The 911 deserves your respect because it is, apart from anything else, a triumph of sheer bloody-mindedness. The key thing that marks the 911 out from pretty much every other sports car is this: the engine is in completely the wrong place.
For most cars, the engine goes at the front. Doing this puts the engine’s weight in front of the driver and over the wheels that are steering, so it helps the car’s handling. If you’re designing a sports car from scratch, you’d generally look to put the engine in the middle of the car. What you absolutely do not do, under any circumstances, is hang the engine out the back of the car. Yes, it means the weight is generally over the driven wheels so get more oomph, but you’ve just given yourself a massive problem – try going around a corner in your sports car now you have a lump of metal hanging out the arse of it. You’re in a permanent wrestling match with the laws of physics. And yet on the 911, the engine hangs out the back.
It’s insane. And sure enough, early 911s had a reputation for spending more time flying through hedges than they did on the road. But it’s a testament to the brutal will of German engineers that they quickly made it work, unveiling cars stabilised to the point where they drove beautifully, embarrassing other motors. 911s may have started from the wrong place but they’ve made it incredibly right. Over the past half a century, Porsche planned to kill off the 911 many times but somehow it’s always survived as if guided by the hand of God. So FHM says hats off to the German legend. The Porsche 911 represents the very essence of man. We’ll take ours in black, thanks.