The one-millionth Porsche 911 – a Carrera S in green with gold and mahogany trim – rolled off the line on May 11 at Porsche’s factory in Zuffenhausen, just a few yards from where the first 911s were built in 1963.
One million cars is, perhaps, an odd milestone to celebrate. After all, there have been individual years in which Volkswagen produced more than one million Golfs, or Toyota a million Corollas. But the one-millionth 911 represents survival for this unique sports car, a justification of the rightness of a single brilliant, if unlikely, idea.
Wolfgang Porsche – the son of Ferdinand [Ferry] Anton Ernst Porsche, co-creator of the 911 – was at the factory to see number one million unveiled. The idea for the 911, he said, was “if the form is right, you don’t need all the embellishments and the chrome.”
It was a simple sports car with an unusual layout suitable for daily driving, a distant relative of the Volkswagen Beetle, which was designed by Ferry’s father. Of the 911’s customers, Wolfgang Porsche said, “those who don’t want to catch the limelight went towards the car.”
For more than 50 years, the 911 has stayed remarkably true to the original formula. The 2018 model remains a two-door coupe with a flat-six engine mounted in the wrong place, hung way out behind the rear axle, where the trunk would be in most other cars.
Its shape hasn’t changed much, either. Although it has gradually grown bigger, the current model is instantly recognizable as a 911: short nose, two round headlights, steep windshield, bulbous rear end. It’s become cliché to call it an icon, which shows how much of an icon it has become.
Over the years, engineers at Porsche turned what could have been a weakness – having the engine and all that weight behind the rear wheels – into the 911’s great strength. It’s this fact which gives the car its shape and handling characteristics. There’s nothing else like it.
Work at Porsche’s factory in Zuffenhausen paused only briefly for the ceremony celebrating the 911.
Karlheinz Kurz, a mechanic in the final assembly area, watched from a distance. “We don’t want to disturb the show,” he said.
Kurz has been working at the factory here for 34 years, building Porsche sports cars. His first job, in 1983, was working on the 928 production line, checking tires and wheels, and installing a protective bumper on the doors which prevents them from damage if they hit anything.
“I started learning to be a car mechanic from Volkswagen, and then I saw Porsche,” he said. “It was my dream because of the racing cars, good cars.
“My dream came true. I came inside to [work at] the factory.”
After 25 years on the job here, you get to drive a Porsche for a weekend, he said. “They give you the car for free, so you can test it on the weekend.” Incredibly, that was his first time behind the wheel of one of the cars he’d been building for so long.
When the show ends, Kurz and his colleagues in final assembly will return to work. His next job is to check the brakes on a 911 Turbo Cabriolet to ensure it’s safe for the test-driver who will take the car from here.
Is it ever boring, all these 911s?
“No, no, no, no. Still, every time when a new model comes, they have a new technology, the engine is better – every time it’s good,” he said. “We never say, ‘Again, a 911.’ No. It’s still exciting, every day.”
The one-millionth 911 is a special one. Plaques on the B-pillars read, “911 Nr. 1,000,000.” It’s similar to Ferry Porsche’s own 1964 car, with the same Irish green paint and houndstooth cloth interior. The steering wheel and gear-lever are covered in mahogany, while the exterior badges are finished with real gold. And yes, the one-millionth 911 has a proper manual transmission.
Ferry Porsche’s first 911 would’ve had around 130 horsepower from its naturally-aspirated air-cooled engine. This special Carrera S, with an optional performance kit, generates 450 horsepower from its turbocharged, water-cooled 3.0-litre flat-six. It does 0-100 km/h in 4.1 seconds and reaches a top speed of 312 km/h. It also has satellite navigation and a touchscreen, which Ferry’s car certainly did not.
But it’s not for sale. It will go into Porsche’s museum across the road from the factory, but not before going on an around-the-world tour, stopping in at the Nurburgring, the United States, China, and elsewhere.
Despite 54 years of success, the 911 still has its work cut out. It was the car which defined Porsche, sure, but today the Cayenne and Macan SUVs vastly outsell it. Combined SUV production has already passed the one-million mark. To remain at the core of the brand, the 911 must maintain its position as the benchmark by which all sports car are judged. That is no easy task – even for such an icon – as production marches on towards two million.