That’s right, we’re going to attempt to tackle the near-impossible task of picking the 10 best Porsches of all time... One of the most prominent and dominant forces in motorsport, the influence Porsche has had on road-going sportscars and the motoring world as a whole cannot be overstated. Spoiled for choice and like a kid in a candy shop, one could give an inexhaustible, encyclopaedic tome on its history, but the swathes of great Stuttgart machines have been whittled down to just ten. And they are sub-zero cool.
The 10 best Porsches of all time
1. Porsche 356
Though diminutive in stature, this rear-wheel-drive, rear-engined, two-seater defined what to expect in a modern sportscar – it was light, stiff and reliable. Whilst not exactly a rocket out of the box – you can thank its Beetle heritage for that – period modifications made the Porsche 356 a spritely racer. The 356 SL’s class win at Le Mans in 1951 not only solidified Porsche’s status as a performance vehicle manufacturer but also laid the foundations for its later dominance in sportscar racing.
Porsche’s almost obsessive year-by-year development of the 356 gave improvements in performance at a rate unseen by even Ferrari or Jaguar. This progressive development strategy has been applied widely and successfully to its models since – much to the chagrin of Jeremy Clarkson but to the joy of most everybody else. Racing accolades aside, the 356 became the car of choice for young Hollywood and rock ‘n’ roll superstars of the day, from James Dean (perhaps better known for his 550 Spyder ‘Little Bastard’) to Janis Joplin and Steve McQueen. It doesn’t get cooler than that!
2. Porsche 917
Speaking of Steve McQueen… Of course, the iconic flat-12, Le Mans-winner (fictional or otherwise) had to be included. Most famous in its 917K form in Gulf colours – for obvious reasons – the Porsche 917 was developed into multiple butt-kicking variants over the years. The beautifully proportioned Langheck and the experimental low-drag Pink Pig 917/20 did much to push the boundaries of knowledge in aerodynamics. The ultimate 917 though? It would have to be the mega-powerful 917/30 that proved so successful in the American Championships they were termed "Can-Am killers". Anyone who attended the 77th Members’ Meeting would understand how compelling these cars are in person!
3. Porsche 911 2.7 Carrera RS
I tried. I really tried to leave 911s off this list! But we just can’t have a top ten Porsche list without one. As much as my esteemed colleague tried to twist my arm to include the 997.2 series… Nah! For me the 2.7 Carrera RS will always stand out and for many the original ‘Rennsport’ remains the most desirable of all 911s – especially the run of 200 Lightweight models. It was produced in order to be homologated for Porsche’s 1973 assault on the Group 4 GT class after the 917 was made obsolete by regulation changes. The result was the bored out, wide-shouldered 2.8-litre RSR and it was almost unbeatable, winning six of the nine rounds and the European Championship including an overall win at the 1973 Targa Florio and Daytona 24 Hours.
Ultimately, it was Porsche’s first real attempt to produce a stripped-back racecar-for-the-road and we have the original to thank for the spicy GT3, GT3 RS and GT2 RSs of today.
4. Porsche 956 (and Porsche 962)
Quite simply the ultimate Le Mans car. The 956 achieved four overall wins on the trot (’82-’85) and even remained competitive under its successor – the 962 – which grabbed another two successive victories. To top that off, a young Stefan Bellof solidified the 956’s place in history by setting a Nürburgring Nordschleife record that stood for 25 years until it was beaten… by a Porsche.
A replacement for the 936 in the new Group C class, Porsche’s 956 featured a number of design firsts for the company. An all-aluminium monocoque reduced weight to around 800kg whilst a double clutch transmission – later developed for use in their road cars – was also introduced. The 956 was the first Porsche to utilise ground effect aerodynamics resulting in levels downforce up to three times that of its spiritual father, the 917. Its legacy lived on in the 962, which was effectively a lengthened 956 with a new engine. Campaigned by Porsche and its customers, the 962 won a combined 21 constructors titles in a decade, remaining competitive in modified form well past the end of Group C. The fastest ever lap of Le Mans was retained by a 962C and Hans-Joachim Stuck for 35 years! I rest my case – a deserved top 10 nominee.
5. Porsche 924 Carrera GT and variants
I might get it in the neck for this… No, not the carbon-clad, mid-engined, V10 spaceship from 2003. It’s not a mistake, I actually do mean the 924 Carrera GT! Yes, the 924 was a Volkswagen reject. Yes, it is a measly four-pot, ‘van-engined’ Porsche. No, I can’t afford a 911! BUT, this 924 is cool.
Far from being a ‘baby’ Porsche, the 924 Carrera GT was the pinnacle of the front-engined, transaxle project proselytised as the replacement for the crusty, rear-engined, flat-six 911 under the Ernst Fuhrmann chairmanship. Already known for its handling and reliability, this über-924 was widened and lightened substantially, whilst increased turbo-pressure and compression gave a boost up to 210bhp. It came complete with a deliciously aggressive hood scoop and a tasty flared body kit. Fuhrmann saw this as the homologation base upon which a Le Mans-winning successor to the 934/935 could be built. Hence, in 1980 three race variants – 924 Carrera GTRs – were fielded at Le Mans, replacing the usual works 934/935 entries. These were even lighter and wider than the road-going car, with more aggressive performance upgrades: kicking out up to 320bhp and capable of reaching 180mph plus! Having ultimately failed to build the 400 road-going Carrera GTs for homologation into Group 4, the GTRs ran in the Grand Touring Prototype Class of purpose-built race cars. Despite this, they performed admirably in a wet race, outlasting and outclassing more powerful cars, with one finishing 6th overall and 3rd in class! Whilst the 924 race cars were entered again in 1981 and 1982 with some success, Porsche’s motorsport focus had shifted towards the Group C class. Peter Schutz’ replacement of Fuhrmann in early ’81 meant development of the 911 resumed and consequently the 924 was demoted back to ‘entry-level’ Pork.
That said, don’t knock the ‘baby’ Carrera GT – it’s reliable, it handles beautifully, it has racing pedigree, and it remains one of the cheapest Porsches to maintain!
6. Porsche 959
What a beast the 959 was. Capable of 0-62mph in well under four seconds and topping out at somewhere between 195 and 210mph, the road-going Porsche 959 was peerless in performance upon its release in 1986. Yes, the 959 was the world’s fastest street-legal production car at the time, but its origins actually lay in rallying…
What started as a project to develop a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system ended up with two outright Paris-Dakar Rally wins. Dubbed the Porsche-Steuer Kupplung (PSK), the sophisticated system varied the front/rear torque split ratio according to road conditions. First trialled in the 911SC at Dakar in 1984, Porsche shocked the world as much as themselves earning an overall win on their debut. Now tried and tested, the AWD system was repurposed for Group B and the 959 project was born.
A hiccup with homologation requirements meant that in1985 three under-powered 911 Carrera 3.2-litre 959s debuted but retired. By 1986, two 959s fitted with turbocharged 2.8-litre engines derived from the 956/962s crossed the line 1st and 2nd. Another feather in Porsche’s hat and another trophy for the already bulging cabinet.
Though it was originally built for Group B, by the time the 959 was ready for competition the class was made redundant by new rules. Regardless, the 959 was a Dakar victor and a hypercar of its day. Very cool. I mean, one can barely imagine Porsche developing a works GT2 RS Dakar car today…
Oh, and the fancy PSK all-wheel-drive developed for the 959 has also been realised for the road in every 911 Turbo model since the 993. How’s that for a legacy?
7, 8 and 9. Porsche Cayenne, Porsche Boxster and Porsche Cayman
You might raise an eyebrow at these choices, but please don’t bite my head off yet. The Cayenne, Boxster and Cayman were important landmarks in Porsche’s history and vital to its survival into the 21st Century.
By the mid-‘90s, Porsche was once again in financial strife and required a shake-up. Enter the Cayenne. Porsche’s first SUV was vital in diversifying the brand and a very capable vehicle on release, if a little fat and ugly by today’s standards. Along with the X5, it kickstarted the SUV trend we find ourselves drowning in today. Ultimately it was a commercial success and meant that the glorious line of sportscars hailing from Stuttgart could continue.
The Boxster is the modern day 914. I know that doesn’t sound great either but please leave your ‘hairdresser’s car’ insults and machismo at the door. Once again, serving up an affordable, mid-engined sportscar proved commercially successful for Porsche despite frowns from the industry on its release. Not to mention the reality that the Boxster – and its coupé sibling the Cayman – are still very capable performance vehicles despite Porsche’s determination to keep it in the shadow of their perennial 911. That said, the Cayman GT4 and GTS both pushed these boundaries, forming the pinnacle of the sub-911 Porsche range.
If you’re lucky, an early 3.4-litre 987 Cayman S can be picked up for as little as £12,000. making it one of the best value for money sportscars out there. Just watch out for the bore-scoring and IMS bearing issue common on these models!
10. Egger-Lohner C.2 Phaeton AKA ‘P1’
Okay, so probably not what you expected to see on a top ten Porsches list! This is in fact the first car designed by Ferdinand Porsche – hence ‘P1’ or Porsche No. 1 – and was built for car company Lohner in 1898. Fascinatingly, it was powered by a compact electric drive system, with two motors located in the wheel hubs. Capable of harnessing 3bhp with the option to overcharge to 5bhp, the P1 had a top speed of around 22mph. So not quite a Porsche Taycan levels of performance… However, it earned its stripes when Porsche Senior entered the P1 into a road race in Berlin where he beat competitors by over eighteen minutes around a 25-mile course! Salt was rubbed into the wound when he took home honours for lowest energy consumption vehicle in urban traffic in the efficiency test. The P1 also became the basis for the Lohner-Porsche Mixed Hybrid which was – as the name suggests – the first hybrid vehicle ever made, powered by batteries and a petrol engine generator. This car gives an early indication of the ingenuity and innovation of Porsche. Who’d have thought the hybrid 918 Spyder and the new, all-electric Taycan had their origins so early in the marque’s bloodline!
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