The origin of the model name, Porsche Carrera, is not only interesting but also somewhat hazy. It all started in a dusty town called Tuxtla Gutiérrez near the southern border of Mexico. The year was 1950, and an epic road race was about to get underway, La Carrera Panamericana, in celebration of the completion of the Mexican section of the Panamerican highway which stretched from Alaska to Chile. Little could the engineers at Porsche have foreseen that four years later, Hans Herrmann would steer the diminutive 550 sports car, then fitted with their latest high performance engine, to an overall third place in this gruelling event.
In brief, the Spanish word carrera means ‘race’ which has an obvious application in this instance, but for a full explanation and background to the tortuous world in which Porsche came to use the name Carrera, you need to read this book – Porsche: The Carrera Dynasty, by Glen Smale.
Work had begun on a new high performance engine in 1952, but it wasn’t until the following year that it would be ready for testing, and still another year later before it would be raced in competition. The Type 547 engine was of course the factory design name for the Professor Fuhrmann-designed four-cam 1498cc four-cylinder boxer engine, but it was only following their third place finish in Mexico in 1954, that the engine was given the name of ‘Carrera’.
356 Carrera Coupe/Cabriolet
At the Frankfurt Motor Show, September 1955, the public were presented with the first four-cam engined 356 model, the 356 A 1500 GS Carrera Coupe. Those early achievements by the Porsche drivers in that inhospitable and unforgiving environment in Mexico, were to be offered to the buying public in the form of the new high performance 356 road car, fitted with a slightly detuned version of that same engine.
Although the 356 Carrera was not a raging sales success, due to its complex engine and demand for a high revving driving style, the name Porsche Carrera created a platform for the Stuttgart company on which to build a high performance reputation in the future. The 356 enjoyed success as a model with over 77,000 cars of all derivatives being built between 1955-1965, but the 356 Carrera through the A-B-C evolutions, would account for just over 1200 units.
911 Carrera RS 2.7
However, the Porsche Carrera name had now been established in the market, and within the company the intention was to reserve this hallowed name for the top performing model of any series. The Frankfurt Motor Show, September 1963, saw the introduction of the successor to the 356 model, the new 911, but to the public’s surprise there was no Carrera model to carry the performance crown in the model range. It would be another nine years before that honour would be bestowed on a production 911 model. This time, at the Paris Salon in October 1972, the iconic 911 Carrera RS 2.7 was launched amid much trepidation within the walls of the Porsche sales department. The concern for the sales department was that they might not sell all of the initial batch of five hundred cars. This number was deemed necessary in order to break even. And so the price was set at just DM1500 more than the standard 911 S Coupe, which cost DM32,500.
History has shown us that these concerns were ill-founded, as almost the whole run of five hundred cars was sold at the Paris Show and in the few weeks that followed. Such was the demand for the model that eventually over fifteen hundred Porsche Carrera RS 2.7s were produced. The success of this model lay in the perfect combination of performance and practicality, as the Porsche Carrera RS 2.7 possessed none of the difficulties associated with 356 Carrera ownership. The flawless and smooth six-cylinder engine delivered seemingly endless power and at DM34,000 it presented a very real opportunity to go racing.
The classic 1973 RS 2.7 was finished in white with red, green or blue Carrera lettering below the doors and was the first Porsche model to be fitted with the now famous ducktail spoiler. The spoiler was a new feature on production cars although within the factory, some thought it upset the car’s lines, while others felt it gave the car a more menacing look – either way, it certainly improved traction at speed.
Powered by a 2687cc 6-cylinder engine, the RS 2.7 now developed 210bhp and could propel the car to 149mph (240km/h). Conscious of the fact that not all customers would race their RS 2.7, Porsche offered a more comfortable ‘Touring’ version of the car which carried the same interior options found in the 911 S. But for those who wanted an all-out race car, there was the 300bhp RSR with a 2806cc engine. It was the Porsche Carrera RSR that stunned even the factory staff with a victory on its debut outing at the Daytona 24 Hour in February 1973 in the hands of Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood.
911 Carrera RS 3.0
For 1974, the engineers stretched the engine capacity still further to 2994cc, or 3.0-litre in marketing speak. Although power was up to 230bhp, there wasn’t a significant improvement in performance, but there was a big jump in price – the 911 Carrera RS 3.0 cost DM64,980. Featuring a revised rear spoiler more akin to a whale’s tail than a duck’s tail. The RS 3.0 was further developed until 1977 when the 911 lost its Carrera name, being replaced by the ‘SC’ range.
911 Carrera 3.2
Following the departure of Ernst Fuhrmann, Peter W. Schutz took over at the helm of Porsche in 1981. There can be no doubt that Schutz’s reign at Porsche included one of the most turbulent sales periods the company had experienced for many years, and something drastic had to be done to calm the volatile sales position. However, it wasn’t until 1983 that the Carrera name was revived, now adorning the engine cover of the new Porsche Carrera 3.2. There are many enthusiasts who feel that the 3.2 is one of the finest Carreras, as it offered greater comfort with similar performance and power characteristics.
But this was also a very significant period in the history of Porsche and for that matter the name of Carrera, in that all models within the 911 range were from here on called Carrera, with the exception of the Turbo. There were those within the company and many customers as well, who felt that to give the whole 911 range the name Carrera, was to dilute the heritage of this hard-earned title. However, this step was taken by Porsche management to save what was a rather dire situation, and so the company had to ‘borrow’ on one of its most respected names to help lift sales. Sales had suffered severely due to a strong Deutsche Mark which had the effect of significantly pushing up prices in America. And the oil crisis had not helped either. In a further attempt to revive some of that old Porsche magic, the Porsche Carrera Speedster was introduced in 1989 in the hope of recapturing those magical memories of the 1950s when the 356 Speedster was launched back in 1955.
911 Carrera Type 964
Borrowing from the technology and lessons learned with the awesome 959, an altogether new series, the Type 964 with permanent all-wheel-drive, was announced in 1989. Called the 911 Carrera 4, this model came with a new and larger 3.6-litre engine, while its two-wheel-drive sibling was introduced a year later. Despite a very close resemblance with previous models, this newcomer was almost totally new but with softer styling.
With the onset of the 1990s, Porsche realised that the typical customer profile that they had come to know over the preceding decades had changed, rather significantly. Where previously Porsche customers had purchased their cars for the sporting prowess, increasingly, younger buyers now wanted a performance car with the trappings of comfort and luxury. No longer did they hanker after the hard and brutish power of an all-out sports car, the modern buyer had become more sophisticated and increasing female independence and earnings capabilities, had lifted this new market segment too. Porsche would have to adapt, or fall behind.
911 Carrera Type 993
Enter the 993-series, or 911 Carrera 3.6 Coupe to give it its full name. Launched in October 1993, the new 911 Carrera was wider and more spacious than its predecessor and an altogether more mature looking vehicle. The introduction of models like the ‘Exclusive’ and the Cabriolet with its electric folding hood were further evidence of the company’s push into the younger and more executive oriented markets. 911 marketing terms such as the ‘Business Coupe’ were applied by the company in order to emphasise the model’s position in the global sports car hierarchy. Porsche had the right product, it was just a matter of aiming it at a broader market to increase sales. If the competition was offering power windows, power seats, electric mirrors and other electronic driving aids to satisfy a more demanding and sophisticated buying group, then Porsche had to do the same.
911 Carrera Type 996
When rumblings of new regulations were heard that could affect further development of the 911’s air-cooled engine, and news of this reached the Porsche Board, some very serious questions had to be answered. This time, more than any other time in the company, the 911 would have to take a monumental leap forward not only on the technology front, but also in appealing to a much wider audience. As though these pressures were not great enough, there were concerns that a new 911 would not satisfy noise level regulations set by the EU, which ruled out an air-cooled engine. The requirement, therefore, for a completely new water-cooled power plant, would provide a major challenge in itself for a company that had grown up on air-cooled thinking and technology.
When the all-new Type 996 was introduced in October 1997, it was sporting a new 3.4-litre water-cooled six-cylinder boxer engine, and despite being more powerful, the 996 was quieter than its predecessor. Once again, with the ever-changing buyer profile in mind, the Porsche engineers made the car longer, wider and higher than before, while retaining that familiar 911 profile. The roof now peaked over the drivers head and not at the windscreen/roofline as before. A longer wheelbase gave an improved ride with increased straight line stability.
Available on the 996 Carrera for the first time, was the Porsche Communication Management system (PCM). In a single console-mounted facility, this offered customers a communication system for the radio, air conditioning controls, electronic computer display for fuel consumption and day/date/time information, an integrated car phone system and of course the satellite navigation system. For the sophisticated buyer of the new millennium, these were about all the electronic toys you could wish for in your super sports car.
911 Carrera Type 997
When the next evolution of the 911 family was introduced in 2004, the Type 997, it had taken another step forward. The 996 Carrera had received a bigger 3.6-litre engine in 2001, and it was this unit which powered the new 997-series Porsche Carrera. However, it was not long before this was increased to 3.8-litres with the introduction of the Porsche Carrera S in 2004, the engine now almost double the capacity of the first 911 2.0-litre back in 1963.
The 997-series Carrera S featured Porsche’s new active suspension system (PASM) as well as a new generation Porsche Stability Management system (PSM) for greater control and traction. The PCM now boasted internet access with the owners own personalised email address, and if that didn’t pander to the needs of the upwardly mobile executive, then nothing would.
Following Porsche’s victory in the 1998 Le Mans 24 Hour race with the GT1, Dr. Wendelin Wiedeking gave the task of producing a roadgoing supercar that utilised some of the GT1 technology, to a small group of engineers. A design study of the car was shown at the 2000 Paris Motor Show. The public’s response was so overwhelmingly positive, that a prototype was commissioned. Drawing its inspiration from such iconic cars as the original 550 RS, the 911 Carrera RS and the GT1, the Carrera GT was destined to be a stunner. In fact, project leader Michael Hölscher said, “It had to be the Porsche among the supercars.”
The 5.5-litre V10 engine was taken directly from the stillborn LMP 2000 race car project. The V-engine was chosen in preference to the boxer engine as the crankshaft sat lower in the overall frame. The boxer engine, despite being a flatter engine, needed to have its exhaust outlets existing under the car which raised the height of the engine, and therefore the centre of gravity was higher. The monocoque was fabricated from lightweight carbon-fibre, a philosophy that borrowed heavily from the company’s motorsport heritage.
The V10 engine was increased in size to 5.7-litres and produced 612bhp, and could propel the car from rest to 62mph in 3.9 seconds, reaching a top speed of 205mph (330km/h). Only 1500 units of the Porsche Carrera GT supercar were produced, and all were sold out before production ceased in 2006. With chassis #001 sitting in the Porsche Museum today, this means that only 1499 Carrera GTs found their way into the hands of private owners.
911 Carrera Type 991
Launched in 2011, the seventh generation 911 while remaining true to its 1963 roots, featured a number of significant changes. Firstly, the wheelbase was extended by 100mm while the overall length grew by just 70mm. Boasting a new transaxle system allowed the engineers to move the rear wheel backwards which permitted the weight to be better distributed.
When introduced, the Porsche Carrera featured a 3.4-litre engine and the Porsche Carrera S a 3.8-litre engine, both naturally aspirated engines. The Porsche Carrera GTS featured the same engine as the S, but power was boosted by 30bhp to 430bhp.
In keeping with Porsche’s philosophy of downsizing their engines, the second generation 991 Carrera and Carrera S introduced in 2015 (2016MY) featured smaller 3-litre twin-turbocharged engines. This step respresented the first time in Porsche’s history that the standard Carrera model was fitted with turbo power, the new models all being launched with the now customary increase in power output.
Looking back at the path the Carrera has travelled, it was inevitable that Porsche sports cars would have to evolve with the advent of new technology and the needs of the market. If Porsche still made a Carrera sports car today with bone-jarring suspension, a high performance and complex motor, and with an interior devoid of any creature comforts, then they would still be measuring their annual sales in the low hundreds, just like back in the early 1950s.
To have had such a rich past on which to build their future is surely a privilege that few manufacturers have been able to enjoy. The Carrera name had its beginnings in the humble and dusty surroundings of the Mexican countryside, but time changes many things. The name of Carrera will still always conjure up images of a small silver sports car whose victory was to carry the fortunes of a company proudly into the future.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & Porsche