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. While not unique in repurposing their racing DNA into their road offerings, Porsche have excelled in developing some of the most exciting and revolutionary cars of the last century. Here is an attempt to scratch the surface of some of the best road cars Porsche has ever made.
The eight best Porsche road cars ever made
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. 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!
Porsche 911 2.7 Carrera RS
The 2.7 Carrera RS, the original ‘Rennsport’, remains one of the most iconic 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 that inspired a whole generation of future motorsport inspired 911s.
Porsche 930 Turbo
Internally designated 930, Porsche’s first turbocharged road car became popularly known as ‘Widowmaker’ due to its tricky handling. While demanding to drive, mastering its turbo-lag, consequent fickle power delivery and exaggerated, tail-happy nature could provide a rollercoaster experience. With 265PS under your right foot, 0-62mph was possible in 5.5 seconds, putting it on par with its Italian rivals the Countach and 365 GT4 BB. While the 930 lacked its rivals’ top end speed, it proved much more agile at around 100mph if piloted by a skilled driver.
Certainly, the first 911 Turbo took no prisoners and with the 930’s close connection with Porsche’s successful turbocharged motorsport programme one can hardly be surprised. Not quite as crazy as the behemoth ‘Can-Am Killer’ 917/30s or the 935 that would later dominate Le Mans, the very fact this technology was made available on the road for the first time in the 930, was an exciting prospect. Though lacking the flamboyance of the Lamborghini or Ferrari offerings, the 930 was of genuine racecar pedigree as well as being manageable in traffic, and you can even fit your kids in the back. This combination of convenience and performance proved potent and is maintained in Porsche’s top-of-the-line Turbos of today: but it all started with the 930.
What a beast the 959 was. Capable of 0-62mph in under four seconds and topping out at somewhere between 195 and 210mph, the road-going Porsche 959 was peerless in speed upon its release in 1986. Packing a twin-turbocharged 2.8-litre flat-six derived from the legendary Le Mans 956/962s one shouldn’t expect any less. Originally intended as a Group B homologation model, Porsche’s first real hypercar certainly was born out of motorsport. While the 959 never competed in the category it did clinch victory on the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1986.
Beyond motorsport, the 959 stands out as one of the most advanced supercars of its age. Ultra-sophisticated, computer-controlled, active all-wheel-drive and suspension with adjustable ride height, magnesium wheels with run-flat tyres and an air pressure monitoring system as well as sequential turbocharging and a six-speed manual as standard made the 959 a marvel of ‘80s engineering. Efforts were made to reduce weight using aluminium alloy or composite materials like Kevlar and Nomex for body panels while the body shape itself was designed to minimise drag and was rare in actually managing to eliminate aerodynamic lift completely.
By the standards of today the Porsche 959 was a hypercar ahead of its time, but in the mid-‘80s it was the stuff of science fiction. Where rival supercars of the period were raw, uncomfortable and difficult to drive, the 959 managed to reconcile bonkers autobahn-storming 200mph performance with a smooth ride and fully equipped interior. This car did it all. Oh, and the fancy 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?
Porsche 911 GT1 Straßenversion
Straßenversion or ‘street version’ undersells what is essentially a road-legal Le Mans prototype racer. Headlines include a top speed of 191mph and a 3.9 second 0-62mph time, but what is the real story?
Exploiting a loophole in ‘90s GT1 rules that required only 25 road-legal examples to homologate a car, Porsche began to design a purpose-built prototype to be eligible for road and competition use. For 1996 the cash-strapped German manufacturer spliced the front end of a 993 911 with the rear end derived from the legendary 962, creating the Porsche 911 GT1. A familiar 962 3.2-litre turbo flat-six with 600PS was mounted longitudinally and in the middle of the car: making it the first mid-engined 911! Very little separated the Straßenversion from its racing counterpart with modifications including: a slight engine de-tune, more practical gear ratios and softer suspension with improved ground clearance. By 1997 an uprated 996 Straßenversion EVO was released to align with new competition and regulations with distinct fried-egg headlights and a comprehensive revamp to the aero package. Ultimately rarer than the legends it was built to race against – McLaren F1 and Ferrari F40 – the Straßenversion is perhaps a Porsche die-hard’s ultimate road car choice!
Porsche Carrera GT
The carbon-clad Carrera GT is an absolute road-going monster, though its ties to racing are obvious. Its beating heart – the mid-mounted naturally-aspirated V10 engine – is the main attraction. Originally a shelved F1 engine later used in the stillborn LMP2000 Le Mans project, it was repurposed for the Carrera GT into its final 5.7-litre form. It goes without saying that the Carrera GT’s screaming soundtrack is enough to evoke memories of early ‘90s F1 and reduce any petrolhead to a giggling wreck. Kicking out a dizzying 612PS and 590Nm of torque the Carrera GT is far from tame. This wild beast is a 200mph car that could match an Enzo up to 100mph at almost a third of the Ferrari’s price-tag. While it is fair to say this Porsche is stripped back sat next to most supercars of today, at its core, the Carrera GT prioritises driver experience over bells and whistles. The good old fashioned six-speed manual and clutch for example is something the Carrera GT holds over its paddle shifted counterparts. This targa-topped beast remains one of the most sought-after Porsches of recent years and for good reason. Spine-tingling raw noise, jaw-dropping performance and schizophrenic handling help solidify the Carrera GT’s status as a Porsche road car legend.
Porsche 918 Spyder
The Porsche 918 Spyder was essentially a no-holds barred concept to demonstrate the ultimate potential of hybrid technology to maximise both efficiency and performance: a seemingly impossible task. The result was a limited-production hybrid masterpiece that sits alongside the McLaren P1 and Ferrari LaFerrari in a trio popularly considered the hypercar holy trinity. Praise indeed, and rightly so. The greatest motorsport minds at Porsche came together to develop a hybrid powertrain that developed a total of 887PS while also capable of delivering between 30 and 40 miles per gallon and squeezing out almost a 400-mile range. Performance figures are equally eye-watering with a 0-62mph time of just 2.6 seconds up to 124mph in 7.2 seconds all the way to a v-max of 214mph.
The 918 Spyder’s 4.6-litre V8 is actually a reworked version of LMP2 RS Spyder’s engine. This jewel has the highest power output per litre of any naturally aspirated Porsche at 132 horsepower per litre – beating even the Carrera GT – while also taking title of lightest naturally-aspirated production V8 engine, weighing a mere 135kg. The top pipe exhausts are awesome not only for aesthetic and sound but because their existence is purely functional: to allow hot exhaust to escape through the shortest route to minimise energy wasted on battery cooling.
The breakthrough hybrid system comprised of a battery and two electric motors, one at the front and one at the rear. The 918 Spyder can cover over 20 miles on purely electric power while still giving acceleration to 62mph in less than seven seconds and speeds of up to 150km/h. Somehow the brains at Porsche developed a revolutionary platform whilst maintaining a driving experience that is very, well, Porsche: speed, grip, agility and thrill in abundance. Mission complete right?
Aiming at producing an all-electric grand tourer with a range of 300 miles but hoping to reconcile that with performance that will melt your brain? No pressure. Certainly in 2015 such a feat seemed a long-shot. One might have laughed at what Porsche were able to make reality in just five years. Okay, so the Taycan Turbo S, only tops out at 200 and a bit – not 300 miles, but Porsche certainly delivered on a 0-62mph under the 3.0 second mark and it still only takes a long-ish coffee break to charge on a 50kW rapid charger! Not only expletive-inducingly quick, the Taycan handles in a way that belies its giant weight. Certainly, only the staunchest of petrolheads aren’t charmed by Porsche’s record in conceptualising and executing the development the first semi-usable electric supercar. With greater battery and charging infrastructure on the way, Tesla should be worried: when Porsche set their sights on something they do it, and they do it well. The Taycan represents Porsche’s ambition for its road cars over the next century, and what a statement! Has anyone else seen a new Tesla Roadster yet, anyway?
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