GRR

Five obscure Porsches you may never have heard of

22nd April 2018
Ethan Jupp

By now you should be aware that we will be celebrating 70 years of Porsche at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard in July. While we’ll have all things Porsche great and good on the Hill, Central Feature and Cartier Lawn during FOS, we wanted at this point to take a closer look at some of their weirder, more obscure creations as well as prototypes that never made showrooms and early versions of successes to-be.

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1983-85 Porsche B32

We start with Porsche’s first (and only) van. The B32 is exactly what it appears to be – a Volkswagen Type 2 Transporter rebadged, with 911 wheels and, in some cases, round lights. What you can’t see is the 3.2-litre 230hp engine whipped straight out of a contemporary mid-'80s 911, as well as upgraded suspension and a plusher interior. It was born out of Porsche’s need for a support vehicle for their Paris-Dakar campaign in the Group B 959. If you think you’ve found your next coolest bus, think again. Comfortably less than 20 were made between 1983 and 1985.

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1989 Porsche Panamericana Concept

If you thought the B32 van was a quirky creation, then the Panamericana must verge on the utterly absurd. Take a couple of laps round it and you can’t help but wonder if there was a lightbulb moment for the designers when spotting a 964 Cabriolet parked next to a Dune Buggy in the company car park. Beyond the bulbous beach-friendly haunches and jacked-up ride lay design elements that would live on in the coming Boxster, 993 and 996 generations of 911 – the latter two cars still gracing showrooms over 14 years on from the Panamericana’s 1989 debut and all three were absolutely essential to Porsche’s miraculous mid-'90s recovery. Far from the result of someone slipping something funny into the commissary brownies in Stuttgart, then, this car hid essential cues as to the vitality of Porsche’s future. If not for Porsche’s financial situation at the time, it might have even made limited production…

1989 Porsche 989

Porsche is very proud of its determination to bring a more-door sporting something leaning heavily on the 911 for both design and sporting ethos. The idea has been around almost as long as the 911 but as we know what would become the Panamera wouldn’t see production until 2009. The last serious effort to produce such a car came 20 years previously in the form of the rather pretty 989. We know the 989 well here at Goodwood. A prototype sat proudly on the Porsche stand at the Earl’s Court Motorshow at 2016’s revival, alongside a long-wheelbase 915 prototype and the then-new second-generation Panamera. The 989’s designer Dr Ulrich Bez (of Aston Martin stewardship fame) called it a “Lear Jet for the street”. Its conception was spurned by the mid-to-late ‘80s spike in sales of the long-legged 928 V8 grand tourer. Alas the sales boom that pushed Porsche towards the four-door, rapidly turned bust in the early ‘90s, thus rendering the viability of a similar four-door virtually nil. We basically got what would have been a successor to this car in the end of course, but we’re not sure it’s as pretty. As ever with these things, much of the styling lived on in subsequent Porsche models. A bit of 993 here, a bit of 996 there, a bit of Boxster even. Nothing ever goes entirely to waste in the depths of Porsche’s prototyping womb.

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1993 Porsche Boxster Concept

The sad tale of the 989 brings us rather neatly on to where the Boxster’s story begins. Though it went on sale in 1996 the idea of an “entry-level” Porsche sportscar had been around for much longer. A successor to the 914/6 was on the tip of designers pens just as the 989’s death knell was being readied. The Boxster concept debuted near-on 25 years ago in 1993 to a rapturous reception. It very much was the face of Porsche to come in the coming years, with the divisive “fried egg” lights debuting on it. This sub-911 budget sportscar was every bit the answer to pressing financial times that the decadent 989 sedan was not. Bronze accenting, gorgeous stud detailing in the wheels, a pretty exposed gear linkage in the cabin and that diminutive and curvaceous rear design were early-'90s flights of fancy that wouldn’t live on in the production version. A shame but it was a hit all the same and a fitting tribute to the timeless mid-engined sports racers of the marque’s past.

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1993 Porsche C88

This is, without doubt, THE obscure Porsche. Everything from the looks, to the idea behind its creation, to what sort of car it is. Nothing about this car says Porsche, besides perhaps any under-the-skin clever engineering that could only come from the bright minds behind the gates in Stuttgart. Indeed, nothing about it is supposed to say, Porsche. The C88 is a subcontracted project delivered by Porsche to the Chinese government who had put an invitation out to a variety of manufacturers to propose designs for their market in the early ‘90s.

If you’re looking for a Porsche badge, you won’t find one. Given an empty studio with the car and no prior knowledge, you’d sooner work out who it’s made for than who it’s made by – the most obvious clue as to its target market is the single rear child seat in line with Chinese population laws. The badge is also a clue, with the three dots representing two parents and a child. The name C88 refers to “Comfort” and “Cheap” while the 88 is there to appeal to the Chinese people, who see it as a lucky number. Its diminutive proportions, sub-1,000kg weight and conservative 65hp 1,100cc four-cylinder engine allowed it to achieve an impressive 49mpg average consumption figure. Even though Porsche had designed the perfect car for the Chinese people, their efforts were not rewarded, with their clients pulling a dine and dash – noting everything that made the C88 great and copying it on the cheap. Poor (at the time) financially ailing Porsche’s plan for a comfortable new revenue stream had backfired. Still, they got a curious little prototype out of it and a fun story to tell in more prosperous times.

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