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70 Years of Porsche: A Brief History

Looking back at historic moments from Stuttgart's finest sports car maker

Porsche is celebrating an important landmark in 2018. Seventy years ago, the very first Porsche, the 356, rolled off the production lines. Well, out of a shed might be more appropriate as, back in the day, the assembly plant wasn't quite as advanced as it is now. This little sports car—which shared more than a few parts with the Volkswagen Beetle—showed the whole world what the German manufacturer could do. Over the following seven decades, Porsche would develop some amazing technologies and launch some of the most legendary vehicles on Earth.

Join us on a quick trip through history as we revisit some of Porsche's most iconic moments and models.

As mentioned, the very first car to bear the Porsche name was the 356. Originally developed by Ferry Porsche (the son of Ferdinand Porsche, who rose to fame by launching Volkswagen and designing the Beetle), the diminutive coupe wasn't especially powerful and had little to no luxury features. However, it proved that it could keep up and beat some of the world's fastest race cars on the most prestigious tracks.

After seeing just how popular the 356 was, Porsche wanted to expand its operation by creating a car that would be even lighter and nimble, with a 1.5-litre engine, a minimalist body and an open cockpit. The 550 Spyder was born.

The 550 Spyder has a unique reputation; on one side, it is one of the most successful race cars to have ever been created, having seen podiums and trophies all over the world. On the other, it's the car in which actor James Dean was killed on September 30th, 1955, canonizing it for an entirely different and far grimmer reason.

By 1964, the 356 was getting on and ready for a successor to take the reins as the company’s flagship product. By applying ideas and techniques they developed while building race cars, Porsche's engineers design a rear-engined, flat-six powered coupe. The name of this sports car? The 901.

However, since Peugeot had already trademarked the x0x nomenclature (basically, every car name composed of three numbers with a zero in the middle, like the Peugeot 205, 207, 307, 508, etc—Porsche had to change their new car's name. So, they went with the closest thing: 911.

Those first-generation 911s are now pretty rare and valuable. Even the 912—which used a four-cylinder engine derived from the 356’s and had been far less valuable for a long time—is now sold for collector prices.

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Throughout the years, the 911 gained power and renown. To race in certain series, a number of homologation units had to be built, which in turn led to the arrival of the RS in 1973. Then, two years later, the 911 Turbo was launched.  

In 1978, Porsche launched the 928, a luxury coupe that was originally slated to replace the 911. However, sales of the old-school car never dried up, and the 928 never really took off.  

At the start of the 80's, Group B (a rally series where pretty much any technology and unlimited levels of power were admitted) was in full swing. Audi was dominating the series, and Porsche desperately wanted to beat their German rival on this theatre. For this, they developed the 959. With an advanced AWD system, a twin-turbo flat-six with sequential turbochargers, adjustable suspensions and a Kevlar composite body, this car was the precursor to modern supercars. Sadly, Group B was outlawed before the 959 could hit the track. But that didn't stop Porsche from racing the car; in 1986, a pair of them entered the harsh Paris-Dakar rally, where they finished first and second.

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In 2002, Porsche broke new grounds by unveiling its first SUV. While purists were quick to announce the beginning of the end for the brand, they were just as quickly proven wrong. The Cayenne went on to become the brand's best-selling vehicle, and the profits that it generated helped build an even better 911... as well as the 2003 Carrera GT, a supercar built as a modern interpretation of old-school race cars.

Thanks to the Carrera GT’s mid-mounted V10 (which was originally developed for a Formula 1 project that never came to fruition), six-speed manual transmission and utter lack of driving aids—not having so much as power steering or ABS—the Carrera GT was very rare and utterly beautiful.

In recent years, Porsche launched other vehicles. A smaller, mid-engined roadster (the Boxster) now sits under the 911 sports car. There is also a coupe version, the Cayman. Those looking for the driving experience of a typical Porsche, but with an extra set of doors and seats, were thrilled when the Panamera sedan was launched. And recently, the Macan crossover also arrived on the scene; it’s smaller and cheaper than the Cayenne, but delivers the same sporty driving experience and interior luxuries.

As for the future, one thing is certain: Porsche isn't going anywhere. Thanks to some very interesting technologies in electric drives and even a fully electron-powered vehicle on the way—the Mission E, which is slated to launch in 2020—Porsche shows it is fully committed to staying on the bleeding edge of automotive technologies while staying true to its rich heritage. Here’s to 70 more years of outstanding Porsche products!

Date Posted: May 31, 2018