Porsches have won 30,000 races on tracks all over the world, though Porsche says a good two-thirds of them “were notched up by the 911.” So Porsche will celebrate 50 years of the 911 with a return to the highest level of competition at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
Porsche will race in the LMP1 prototype category, going head-to-head with fellow Volkswagen Group rival Audi, which itself has used Le Mans to burnish its high-performance bona fides for more than the last decade. This might even get ugly. We can only hope.
Porsche’s Le Mans effort is only a piece in the bigger 50th anniversary toast to the 911. If you’re in Germany this year and you love cars, a visit to the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart is essential. The museum is staging a history of the 911 show with a special exhibit from June 4 to Sept. 29. Porsche also is sending a 1967 model 911 on a world tour of international fairs, historical rallies and motor sport events.
Before you go, here is a look at the 911 through the generations:
The First 911 (1963)
This was the successor to the beloved Porsche 356. First unveiled at the Frankfurt IAA Motor Show in 1963 as the 901, the production car had an air-cooled six-cylinder boxer engine rated at 130 hp.
The 160-hp 911 S arrived in 1966 with forged alloy wheels from Fuchs. The 911 Targa, with its distinctive stainless steel roll bar, also had its debut in 1966. Engine displacement increased to 2.2 litres (1969) and later to 2.4 (1971). The 911 Carrera RS 2.7 of 1972 with 210-hp engine and weighing less than 1,000 kg remains an impressive machine.
Second generation G-Series (1973)
The first thorough makeover of the 911, the G model was produced from 1973 to 1989. Its bellows bumpers were designed to meet the latest crash test standards in the United States. The car also had three-point safety belts as standard equipment, as well as integrated headrests. The 1974 unveiling of the first Porsche 911 Turbo (3.0 litres/260 hp) had power and an enormous rear spoiler. Then came 1977 with the intercooler-equipped 911 Turbo 3.3 (300 hp). The 911 Carrera Speedster, launched in 1989, harkened back to the 356 of the fifties.
Generation three, the 964 (1988)
The 911 Carrera 4 (964) was a milestone. But most important of all, after 15 years, the 911 platform was finally renewed with 85 per cent new components. Its air-cooled 3.6-litre boxer engine delivered 250 hp. But in design, the 964 differed from its predecessors only slightly. This 911 came with anti-lock braking, a Tiptronic gearbox, power steering and airbags, and rode on a redesigned chassis with light alloy control arms and coil springs instead of the previous torsion-bar suspension. In 1992, the Turbo was upgraded to a more powerful 360-hp, 3.6-litre powerplant.
Generation four, the 993 (1993)
The 993 was the last of the air-cooled 911s. It is known for dependability, reliability and agility. The latter thanks to an aluminum chassis. The Turbo version was the first to have a bi-turbo engine, giving it the lowest-emission stock automotive powertrain in the world in 1995. An electric glass roof that slid under the rear window was one of the innovations of the 911 Targa.
Generation five, the 996 (1997)
The 911 became a sports car with a water-cooled engine, a major turning point in the car’s history. The four-valve cylinder heads of this boxer led to 300 hp and lower emissions, noise and fuel consumption. The exterior design retained the 911’s classic line, but with a lower drag coefficient (cd) of 0.30. The 996 also shared many components with the Boxster. The 911 GT3 became one of the highlights of the model range in 1999.
Generation six, the 997 (2004)
Key here were clear oval headlights with separate blinkers in the front apron, a return to older 911 models. The 3.6-litre boxer engine turned out 325 hp, while the new 3.8-litre engine of the Carrera S managed 355 hp. The reworked chassis in the S came with Porsche Active Suspension Management as standard equipment. In 2006, Porsche introduced the 911 Turbo.
Generation seven, the 991 (2011)
Porsche says this car represents the greatest technical leap in the evolution of the 911. It had a totally new suspension with a longer wheelbase, wider track, larger tires and a better interior. The 3.4-litre base boxer engine was powerful yet efficient and the hybrid steel/aluminum construction reduced weight while providing a rigid structure. While bigger, the design remains true to the 911 form.