To celebrate the half century of the Porsche 911, the annual Salon RetroMobile in Paris, which runs February 6-10, features a retrospective of the diminutive German sports car throughout the ages including the first sightings on French soil of the T7 prototype and a host of rare models including the 911 SC Safari and a 911 2.7RS.
Even in 1963, the Porsche 911's design was a simple evolution of the Porsche 356, seen here in the background in hardtop and convertible forms. Photo:AFP
Originally called the Porsche 901 when it made its world debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1963, but quickly renamed when French carmaker Peugeot pointed out that it owned the copyright on three-digit numbers with a zero in the middle, the Porsche 911 this year celebrates its 50th birthday.
And, because its styling has remained largely unchanged throughout that time, the 911 not only still looks good for its age, but has also become one of the most easily recognizable, and -- thanks to continued German engineering expertise -- successful sports cars in history.
Some in the industry would argue that this obsession with retaining its appearance is nothing short of obstinacy. For every 911 fan there is a critic who complains -- quite rightly -- that by using an air-cooled rear-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive the 911 is not only flawed but, with all of that weight over the back wheels, potentially dangerous in corners. Yet, while Porsche finally adopted water cooling in 1998, the company has never seen fit to move the engine to the front or into the middle to achieve better balance and handling. Instead it has looked to four-wheel drive and numerous technological drivers' aids to bring the rear under control.
Then there's the naming convention. To the uninitiated, the Porsche is simply known as a 911. Yet ask a 911-owner what type of car they drive and they will invariably claim to own a 996 or a 964, or, if it's the latest generation of model, a 991. These people are showing that they understand Porsche's own internal naming conventions for different models and different generations.
However, strange quirks of engineering and ownership aside, each generation of the 911 has been better than the one before and in each case Porsche has raised the bar in terms of what is possible from a 2+2 sports car with a six-cylinder engine. And in doing so the brand has ensured for 50 years that Ferrari, Lamborghini, Jaguar and Aston Martin have continually raised their own games in order to keep up.
As part of the celelbrations at this year's Salon RetroMobile in Paris, Porsche's success at Le Mans and in the Paris-Dakkar will also be recognized with a number of ex-drivers including Henri Pescarolo and Gérard Larrousse being welcomed as special guests of the event.