The corner stone of Porsche’s enormous success over the last seven decades was a car for the people, the Volkswagen. In 1948 it morphed into the legendary 356. Followed over the years by the most desirable sportscars in the world. From the entry-level 718 Cayman & Boxster to the most powerful street-legal 911 ever, the GT2 RS. The cars from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen never ceased to exhilarate.
When Ferdinand Porsche and his son Ferry were developing a car for the people in the 1930s, the design lines of a future sportscar were already hidden in the first beetle drawings. And when the Allies accused Ferdinand of having contributed to the Nazi war effort and imprisoned him, his son Ferry used the opportunity to step out of the shadow of his genius father and build a sportscar, that would carry the family name.
As Germany was in ashes he had to start in Austria, in a wooden shed in the small town of Gmünd. The first prototypes of the 356 were handmade with salvaged Volkswagen parts from an abandoned war depot.
Number one was a mid-engined 356 roadster with an aluminium body, built in 1948. All the subsequent ones had the engines in the rear. When father Ferdinand was released from prison he was delighted with his son’s creation. And together they started to build cars for customers with old, modified Volkswagen parts, like axles, engines and gearboxes. Being ingenious engineers they tweaked and improved whatever they could. Some of the first Porsches to leave the wooden shed even had wartime Kübelwagen steering wheels and rims.
Two years later, in 1950, the Porsche production moved to Stuttgart. Altogether 52 Porsche 356 - 40 coupés and 12 convertibles - were hand-made in Austria. 30 coupés and four convertibles are still known to exist today. As one can imagine, today you can’t even put a value on one of those aluminium-bodied Gmünd-Porsches.
And Porsche Classic recently build an exact replica of the No. 1 car. The original itself was a prototype and changed significantly over the years. The show car pretty much looks like the first one, that was handmade in 1948, including the blue paint. The original, modifed first ever 356, in silver and full working condition is now displayed in the Porsche museum, together with this show car. As an automobile manufacturer to still own the very first car they built is rare. The reason why this vehicle is the company’s most treasured mobile artefact.
My very first motoring piece was about Porsche. It was a frighteningly long time ago. But it turned out to become quite an epic story. Something the guys at 'Auto, Motor & Sport', Germany’s most prestigious car magazine, hadn't expected from a novice. As Ferdinand’s grandson Wolfgang Porsche usually didn't like to give interviews. Somehow I had found out, that he was owning and driving the very first Porsche 959. Months before all other customers were supposed to get theirs. And I wanted him to take me for a spin. So I approached Porsche with the bet I was about to loose, if I don’t get into the 959 with Wolfgang. Surprisingly, after a couple of weeks, I got an appointment and time, when to meet the man and the hyper car, bearing his name.
At the time I was still an apprentice and did a two-months stint as a reporter at a small newspaper in a Franconian village in the Northern part of Bavaria. I took a day off and reached Zuffenhausen after a two-hour train ride, in anticipation of what was to come. When I arrived at the gates of the legendary factory Wolfgang’s secretary was very apologetic. Apparently Herr Porsche has had two notebooks, therefore missed my appointment in one of them.
All the way for nothing? Not quite. ‘Herr Losskarn, the next opportunity would be in two weeks. To make it easier for you, would you mind taking one of our new 944 Turbos in the meantime. Just give it back after the 959 drive”. Did I mind? The hell no. Though I tried my hardest to look cool and unimpressed. The year was 1986, I was penniless and I was sitting in my first Porsche ever. Leaving the premises already left a mark (or two), as I was accustomed to the power of the rusty old Fiat Panda of my then-girlfriend. After the guard at the gate disappeared in a cloud of white rubber smoke, I headed back to my newspaper desk. I never forget the face of my editor and colleagues in the Franconian village.
And two weeks later I finally met the man and his 959, Porsche’s first hyper car. It was also my first time beyond 300 km/h on the German Autobahn. Classical music in the background, the Porsche's growl and the human Porsche's soothing Austrian accent. I will never forget this drive. Together with the 944 Turbo experience those were formative moments in my live. I subsequently stayed in journalism, with the emphasis on motoring. Which still bestows on me the privilege of experiencing, among others, the latest masterpieces from Stuttgart.
Take for instance the most powerful 911 ever, the GT2 RS, which I dated for an exhilarating day a couple of weeks ago. 500 kilometres of the best roads the Cape has to offer. I immediately thought back to the 959 chauffeur drive, but this time I was at the wheel of Porsche’s current fastest 911 ever. Road legal, but race track ready. The acceleration is nothing short of violent. I was thrown back and pressed hard into the red Alcantara bucket seat. As expected the ride is very firm, especially in sports mode. But it cuts the corners with surgical precision. No wonder that it’s the current record holder on the most famous 20,8 kilometres of twisty German tarmac: Nürburgring. With an astonishing 6.47,3 min., reflected in the number plate of my ride, it was almost ten seconds faster than the 918 Spyder, Porsche’s very own hyper car. By the end of 2018 production of the GT2 RS will come to an end. By then about 2500 units will have left the dream factory. All accounted for, despite the rather steep purchase price.
But enormous Porsche racing fun also comes in a more affordable way. In the form of the mid-engined 718 Boxster and Cayman, especially when choosings the (most powerful) GTS models. Recently launched in South Africa, I had the privilege of taking both the closed and the topless one around Kyalami racetrack. Behind a 911 GTS pace car with an experienced Porsche instructor at the wheel. While listening to his voice on my in-car radio, I was following his ideal racing line. That’s what Porsche is all about. During the week you’re using the car as a daily commuter, on weekends you go wild on a track.
Porsche was and is an innovative car brand, impressively shown in their latest creation, the fully electric Taycan. Slotting in between Panamera and 911, available from 2019. It’ll be very interesting to see whether Porsche’s soul will survive electrified. For now let’s just join the birthday celebrations. Cheers to the next 70 years of fascinating automobiles.
Porsche 911 GT2 RS
Engine 3.8-l. flat 6cyl., bi-turbo, paired with a 7-speed PDK auto
Power 515kW and 750Nm
Top Speed 340km/h (electronically limited to save the tyres)
0-100km/h 2.8 seconds
0-200km/h 8.3 seconds
Price R5 511 000 (plus around R600 000 for the Weissach package)
Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman GTS
Engine 2.5-l. flat 4cyl., turbo, paired with a manual six-speed or PDK auto
Power 269kW and 430Nm (PDK) 420Nm (manual)
Top Speed 290km/h
0-100km/h 4.1 seconds (4.6 seconds with manual gearbox)
Price R1 172 000/R1 187 000
70 years of Porsche – the highlights
The grand-daddy of Porsche sportscars. All of them – coupés, convertibles & roadsters - are today sought-after collector’s items. Built between 1948 and 1965. Total production about 75 000 units.
One of the most iconic and famous Porsche models. Due to the tragic death of actor and Porsche fanatic James Dean on a Californian country road in 1955, where he was on his way to a race. The nickname of his car was ‘Little Devil’. Built between 1953 and 1956. 90 of those race cars were produced.
After the Second World War the new German army (Bundeswehr) needed a light military vehicle and several German car manufacturers built prototypes. Including Porsche with their ‘597 Jagdwagen’ (hunting car). But they didn’t have the capacities to produce the large quantities required. At the car was, typical for a Porsche, relatively expensive. In the end Auto-Union got the tender with their DKW Munga. Porsche produced 71 units of the ‘597’, between 1955 and 1958. So the Cayenne wasn’t the first ever Porsche 4x4.
And the Cayenne was also not the first ever Porsche diesel. This honour goes to those cute, red and now very collectible Porsche Junior tractors. From 1956 until 1963 more than 125 000 Porsche tractors were produced.
The 911 is synonymous for the brand and has been produced since 1963 up until today. And in the newest one you can still discover the genes of the first one. 0n 5th November 2017 the one millionth 911 rolled of the production line in Zuffenhausen.
Porsche built 345 units of their first hyper car, the 959, between 1986 and 1993. At the time the all-wheel driven 2.8-l. twin-turbo was the world's fastest and most technologically advanced production car, clocking 317km/h. The Porsche 959 is regarded as the forerunner of all future super cars.
Porsche’s next hyper car, the gorgeous, mid-engined Carrera GT was build between 2003 and 2007. Altogether 1270 units left the factory in Leipzig. Featuring a screaming 5.7-l. V10 engine with 450kW.
In 2002 Porsche unveiled their first SUV, literally a 911 in heels. Featuring among others the first V8 since 1995, when the 928 was discontinued. Purists predicted the end of Porsche, but the opposite happened. Due to its huge success it saved the brand. In June 2018 the third generation Cayenne was launched.
Following in the footsteps of the first four-door Porsche, the Panamera entered the luxury sedan segment in 2009. And with the second generation came the best looking variant of the Panamera so far, the Sport Turismo.
Porsche’s second plug-in hybrid after the Panamera S E-Hybrid, the mid-engined 918 Spyder, was unveiled at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show. Featuring a naturally-aspirated 4.6-l. V8 with 453kW, supported by two electrical motors, adding another 208kW, culminating in a breath taking combined output of 661kW. Between 2013 and 2015 918 units of the 918 left Zuffenhausen.
Soul. Electrified. Says Porsche. And announced the name of their newest, fully-electric creation during Sportscar Together Day on 9th June 2018. Roughly translated as ‘young, wild horse’, the Taycan will feature two electric motors (one in front, one in the rear), running simultaneously with a combined output of more than 440kW. Expected 0-100km/h time is 3.5 seconds, top speed around 250km/h and Porsche is working on a range of 500 kilometres, with an ability to recharge to 80% in just 15 minutes!