A company known for its sports car heritage, achievements in motorsport, and clever advertisements (“Faster than schnell”), Porsche has continuously evolved and created legendary vehicles throughout its 70 years.
The German automaker’s story begins with Ferdinand Porsche. Porsche’s background included engineering at Daimler-Benz, founding his independent design and engineering business in 1931, and designing the Volkswagen Beetle. He developed the four-wheel-drive 1898 Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus, the world’s first hybrid vehicle, the P1 (Porsche’s first all-electric vehicle) at about the same time, and designed 1930s Auto Union grand-prix race cars. He also designed “a people’s tractor,” and while World War II was just beginning then, the idea was put on the shelf for a while. But in 1956, Porsche started licensing tractors to Mannesmann for production, and by the time the licensing agreement ended in 1963, more than 125,000 of the tractors had been manufactured.
In 1948, Ferdinand and his son, Ferdinand “Ferry,” began manufacturing Porsche sports cars in a shop with 200 employees. Ferry played a significant role in growing the company and helped design the 356, the company’s first automobile. Under the 356’s hood was a barely hopped-up Beetle engine. By the mid-1950s, Porsche was producing its own powerplants, and it soon offered more-powerful versions of the little sports car.
It wasn’t long after when an instant legend debuted. The air-cooled, rear-engined 911 was introduced in 1964, and the car would evolve to the water-cooled version it currently is.
On March 12, 1969, the company introduced another legendary car at the Geneva Motor Show: the 917. To accommodate the Mezger-designed, 4.5-liter flat-12 engine’s large size in the compact race car, Porsche set the driving position forward enough that the driver’s front feet were beyond the front axle. A total of only 37 917s were produced.
Later, Porsche produced a few front-engine production models, including the 924, 928, 944, 944 Turbo, and 968. But in 1995, the automaker shifted its focus to the mid-engined Boxster and a new version of the 911. Then the Cayenne arrived in 2002, giving an excuse for purists to complain about something, and the Macan compact SUV debuted about a decade later.
Today, Porsche continues evolving with the development of hybrid and electric vehicles. With a claimed 600 horsepower, its all-wheel-drive Taycan (previously known by its development/concept name, Mission E) will offer a 300 or so mile range and a potential 15 minute charging time. To further develop plug-in hybrids and EVs, the company states that it will invest more than 6 billion euros (almost $7 billion) in e-mobility in the coming years.
Here is a look at Porsche’s history throughout the years:
Porsche’s first car, the 1948 356, was named for its design project number. Its rear-mounted, 40-hp four-cylinder engine was basically a souped-up Volkswagen Beetle engine, and the 356 became known for its comfort, reliability, and agile handling. In a small garage, the first 52 356s were hand-built in Gmund, Austria.
Introduced at the 1953 Paris Auto Show, the mid-engined 550 Spyder became a force to be reckoned with at motorsport events. With its air-cooled, 1.5-liter boxer engine, the 550 made 110 horsepower. Only 90 copies were manufactured.
An instant classic, the 1965 Porsche 911 had a base price of $5,500. The sports car was originally known as the 901, but after Peugeot protested and stated that it had the rights to those three numbers, Porsche opted to change the car’s name to 911 rather than coming up with a new name for the French market. With a rear-mounted, air-cooled 2.0-liter flat-six making 130 horsepower, the 911 became known for its tricky handling.
A joint development between Porsche and Volkswagen, the low priced, mid-engined 1970 914 featured a Volkswagen 1.7-liter flat-four engine that made 80 horsepower, and a 110-hp, 2.0-liter flat-six from the 911T was available in the 914/6. The two-seat sports car featured a long wheelbase for its length and a fiberglass targa top.
Bridging the gap between the 924 and the 911SC on the lineup, the front-engined 1982 944 had a 163-hp, 2.5-liter inline-four and an Audi transaxle. Because of the vibrations created from an inline-four’s typical unbalanced secondary forces, Porsche used a pair of counter-rotating balance shafts that ran at twice the engine speed.
After the introduction of the 1997 986 Boxster, Porsche had to build a second assembly plant in Finland to keep up with its demand. Developed alongside the 996 911, the mid-engined roadster had a water-cooled, 201-hp 2.5-liter flat-four.
Originally intended to be a Le Mans race car, the 205 mph Carrera GT had a naturally aspirated 5.7-liter V-8 that produced 605 horsepower. With a $440,000 price tag, the Carrera GT, also known by its internal code 980, had a claimed zero to 62 mph time of 3.9 seconds. Only 1,270 copies were manufactured during its three years of production.
Porsche’s super hybrid, the 918 Spyder, featured a naturally aspirated, flat-plane-crank 4.6-liter V-8 engine and two electric motors that put out a combined 887 horsepower. At the Nürburgring, the $850,000 918 was the first production vehicle to break the seven minute barrier.