The Porsche 911’s Life, Death, and Rebirth

August 25, 2023
10:41 am

Porsche had a rough time in the mid-1970s. A series of global changes, including a dramatic rise in oil prices, a stagnant economy, and increased consumer and government concern about fuel economy, tailpipe emissions, engine and exhaust noise, and occupant safety, caught the German brand off guard—or intentionally ignored.

The Porsche 911 featured a loud, air-cooled, rear-mounted engine at the time. Its small size and purposefully challenging driving characteristics—the rear end would swing out if a driver eased off the pedal in corners, which surprised many—made it especially unsuitable for achieving these new standards. The model, already a decade old, was cut off from further investment by the carmaker, and sales started to decline by the middle of the decade. This just added to its vulnerability.

In addition, the Porsche family left the company’s management structure in 1972, and technical activities were centralized under Ernst Fuhrmann, who had been the principal engineer on the brand’s iconic performance and racing cars, including the 911 Turbo, 934, and 935.

Porsche started developing a new family of cars under Fuhrmann’s supervision to overcome 911’s flaws and produce a suitable successor. By putting a water-cooled engine up front, these vehicles would break decades of Porsche tradition. They would also have a cutting-edge, crash-resistant design, which is unavailable in the 911. This anachronism can be traced back to the Nazi rattletrap Volkswagen, which company founder Ferdinand Porsche created for Adolf Hitler.

The resultant automobile, the 928, was built on a transaxle design that put the gearbox at the back of the car. This resulted in a virtually perfect 51/49 weight distribution in the front and back, resulting in a more stable and predictable driving experience. Aluminum body panels reduced weight and increased efficiency. The front-mounted V-8 was easier to modify to meet new emissions and noise restrictions—furthermore, the packaging provided creature amenities that luxury car customers desired.

The 928 debuted in 1978 and received rave reviews for its aesthetics, stability, comforts, and performance. It was pretty simple to drive fast—it circled the Nürburgring just as swiftly as a 911 but with less hassle. However, it did not sell as well as a 911. VW created another front-engine vehicle, the 924, which was available as an entry-level Porsche beginning in 1977. It was chastised for being inexpensive and weak.

Porsche’s worst year was 1980. The brand suffered its first setback when unsold vehicles, primarily 924s, piled up behind the facility. Morale had reached rock bottom. However, front-engine automobiles were still considered the best option for improving performance and sales within the limits of the aforementioned worldwide constraints. The 911 was obsolete and had no future. The model was decided to be phased out after 1982.

The Porsche faithful were enraged. The corporation replaced Fuhrmann. His replacement was Peter Schutz, a German Jew whose family had immigrated to America to escape the Nazis. Schutz had previously worked as an engineer for Caterpillar and an executive for Cummins. He embarked on a listening tour with Porsche stakeholders. He established that the 911 was the company’s lifeblood—critical to its financial success and identity as a sports car manufacturer. The eccentric machine gave Customers a feeling of driving pride and achievement.

Schutz determined that to revitalize the brand, Porsche needed to capitalize on its strengths as an inventive and daring corporation. He asked Ferry Porsche, the company’s founder’s son, what he believed should be done. Schutz was encouraged by Porsche to design his dream automobile. As a result, the newly hired management opted to elevate Porsche’s further premium while highlighting its core values rather than making it more accessible.

The 911 Cabriolet, a wonderfully rendered convertible variant of the venerable classic, culminated in this frantic skunkworks effort. The same person who worked on the 356 Roadster, Porsche’s final complete convertible, produced it in eight weeks. Despite costing 20% more than the coupe, the Cabriolet sold well and rekindled customer interest in the long-dead vehicle. This was enough to persuade Porsche management, on Schutz’s advice, to postpone the 911’s execution.

Porsche made a substantial profit in 1982 and spent heavily on creating a new 911, which debuted in 1984. Even though Porsche’s lineup has grown dramatically over the last four decades, the 911 remains the apex of the brand’s character.

During a recent interview, Dr. Porsche was asked what his favorite Porsche automobile was. Schutz responded on his behalf, saying, “We haven’t built it yet.”


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