In 1973, the Porsche 911, by now a decade old, was ready for a make-over. The 3-litre engine had reached its development ceiling, and it was thought that lessons learned from turbocharging the 917 Can-Am racers in the early ‘70s could be put to good use in a production environment. Turbocharging the 911 would open a world of new opportunities for the model, and today Porsche are widely regarded as world leaders in the field of turbocharging.
But back in the early ‘70s the world was changing on many different fronts. Russia sent its Luna 21 module to the moon, and the US launched Pioneer 11 to study the distant planets Jupiter and Saturn. The first mobile (cell) phone call was made in New York, while Chrysler and other US motor manufacturers closed a number of car plants affecting 100,000 workers. OPEC stunned the world when they announced a two hundred per cent increase in the price of oil. While these big events hit the headlines around the world, the relatively small Stuttgart motor manufacturer, Porsche, was about to announce its own big news story, the introduction of the 911 Turbo, at the 1974 Paris Motor Show.
The principle of forcing air into the combustion chambers to boost power may seem like an obvious solution to us today, but to get this system working efficiently and at reasonable cost on a production car in the 1970s, was not without its difficulties. This not insignificant obstacle might account for the reason why, up to that point, no other manufacturer had really put this technology into practice on a production car, until that is, Porsche proved that it could be done.
The story of turbo power at Porsche started with the 917/10 Can-Am Spyder race car. Firstly, George Follmer made the American series his own in 1972 driving the Penske 917/10, scoring twice as many points as Denny Hulme in the McLaren M20. This was followed in 1973 by Mark Donohue who steamrollered the series with the 1100hp Penske Sunoco 917/30, scoring more than double Follmer’s points that season. Of course, development and testing on these race cars would have taken place during 1971 in order for the turbo system to be ready for the 1972 season, but the engineers must have already had one eye on a production car application.
Following a runaway success with turbo power in competition, it wasn’t long before the technology found its way into the realms of the production department and in 1973, the 911 Turbo prototype was shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show for the first time. This was a decade after the introduction of the 911 model at the same show, a minor milestone in itself, and a year later the Turbo was shown at the Paris Motor Show.
Louise Piëch (née Porsche) was Ferry Porsche’s sister and married to Anton Piëch, one-time head of the Volkswagen factory at Wolfsburg. For Louise’s 70th birthday on 29 August 1974, the Porsche factory gave her the very first 911 Turbo produced in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen. The silver car, chassis #9115600042, was fabricated just prior to the annual August shutdown on 17 July 1974 but, as with all Porsche prototypes or racing cars, they do not adhere to the traditional production model years.
The early chassis number above which has a ‘911’ prefix would appear to support the plans for limited production of the Turbo model. A limited production run after all, would not require additional expensive chassis and body modifications. This plan for limited production of the Turbo would prove to be a complete underestimation of the market’s hunger for a high-performance 911. The series soon took on its own ‘930’ prefix that commenced with the first production cars in 1975 – for example, #9305700001, where the first three digits identify the turbo model, and the ‘5’ refers to the model year.
Delivery of the first Turbos to customers started in March 1975 but initially the factory planned a production run of just 500 units. This decision must be seen in context with the times as, at around DM65,000 each (about $24,000), the Turbo cost almost the equivalent of two 911 Carreras. The automotive world had also just been turned on its head by the oil crisis a year or so before, but the response of the public to the 911 Turbo was overwhelming. The first batch of 500 cars was sold out almost before you could say ‘wheel spanner’ and so a second run of 500 cars was commissioned, followed by a third.
The Piëch car has several unique identifying features. Firstly, and in support of the plans to produce just a limited number of cars, a standard narrow-chassis 911 Carrera body was used. This is evidenced by the ‘Carrera’ badge that the car still wears on the engine cover. Secondly, this car sports a rather ambitious 10,000rpm rev counter which was taken from a race car, and this was done quite possibly because there was one to hand. Both the regular 911 Carrera, as well as the production Turbo, were fitted with a rev counter that was only marked up to 8000rpm with a recommended usable limit of 7200rpm.
A third, and unexplained feature in this car was the engine, which was originally a 2687cc turbocharged unit and not the 3-litre engine as used in the 911 Carrera at the time, and later in the production Turbo when it was launched in ’75. Despite the best efforts of all concerned at Porsche today, no-one could explain why this 2.7-litre engine was first installed, but suffice it to say that a 3-litre turbocharged engine does now reside under the engine lid.
The Piëch car’s odometer reads 31,999km, so this car was obviously well used and not just parked up. This fact is also supported by the presence of the Austrian vehicle authorities’ autobahn tag on the front right fender which shows that it was registered in that country for road use in August 1979. The Porsche and Piëch clans have a family home at Zell am See in Austria, and no doubt this car was used on a few trips back and forth between the family home and Stuttgart.
When your family name is written on the factory building it is a little easier to get your new vehicle ordered with the colours and options of your choice, especially if these differ from the standard options list. With this in mind, Louise Piëch selected the McLaughlin tartan interior finish to match the silver exterior colour, which, upon reflection, is a handsome combination. During the research for this article at the Porsche Museum, the author asked if they had any evidence of the original paint and interior colour samples. This request prompted a flurry of activity in the depths of one of the storerooms, and before long, wearing a broad smile, my contact emerged with the official interior colour chart for the Piëch car showing the owner’s name and date (17.7.74) of implementation. I was informed that these early vehicle detail cards were only kept for cars destined for the Porsche and Piëch families, and other senior company officials or dignitaries.
Traditionally the Stuttgart manufacturer had adopted a fairly conservative approach to colours and styling, but at this time Porsche was experimenting with some external styling and decoration. In 1973, the Carrera RS 2.7 appeared with some bold scripting along the bottoms of the doors and some almost brash optional lettering was even available for the front luggage compartment cover. It is therefore perhaps no surprise to also find the tartan styling applied to the name Porsche running along the bottom of the door of the Piëch Turbo, in fact it was all rather typical for the ‘70s.
The fitting of impact absorbing bumpers in line with US Federal regulations posed more than a few problems for many manufacturers. Porsche designer Tony Lapine set about turning this potential problem into a styling success so as not to disturb the styling of the timeless lines of the 911, and it became a feature on all Porsches as from 1974. As from the 1976 model year (autumn 1975) the 911 received an electrically adjustable, heated, body-coloured exterior wing mirror but, as the Piëch 911 was produced in ’74, this car’s mirror may have been retro-fitted.
Of course, one of the 911 Turbo’s most prominent characteristics is its large rear spoiler. Porsche was the first manufacturer to introduce the concept of a rear spoiler on a roadgoing sports car, when it appeared on the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 in 1973. The rear wing was received with mixed feelings at first, as there were those who said it spoilt the classic lines of the 911, while others said it gave the car a more aggressive look. Taking this concept a step further, two years later the Turbo’s rear wing was larger, flat and had a polyurethane rim to it which was required by the authorities, lest a passer-by should walk into the protrusion injuring themselves on a sharp corner! Some years later, this wing had been further developed in that it remained submerged in the engine lid for low speed driving, extending automatically at higher speeds.
Factory records show that in May 1977 a service was carried out on the Piëch 911 Turbo, at which stage the odometer read 30,500km. The following year Louise Piëch handed the vehicle back to the factory to become part of the Museum collection. Considering the Turbo’s odometer reading of 31,999km today, it is interesting to note that most of the distance travelled by this car was in fact done by Mrs. Piëch prior to it entering the Museum collection in ’78.
Turbocharging was responsible for much of Porsche’s success through the 1970s as the company sold 2850 units of the 3-litre model (1975-1977) and a whopping 14,500 of the 3.3-litre model (1978-1988). The Turbo model has expanded over the years to include the Targa, Cabriolet and Turbo-look derivatives, as well as powerful versions such as the ‘Slant nose’ cars. On the race track in the 1970s and 1980s, the 934 and 935 turbo-powered models rose to such prominence that they were almost unbeatable even against more powerful cars, as the victory of the Kremer 935 K3 in the 1979 Le Mans 24-Hour bears witness.
From humble beginnings, the Turbo has grown far beyond the wildest dreams of its creators, and today enjoys its own niche following around the world. But then Porsche always were über-conservative in their estimation of the market’s reaction to new, radical and exciting products. Long may it continue…
|Model||Porsche 911 Turbo No. 1|
|Maximum power||240PS (176kW)|
|Suspension front||Independent suspension with wishbones and McPherson struts, one round, longitudinal torsion bar per wheel, hydraulic double-action shock absorbers, anti-roll bar|
|Suspension rear||Independent suspension with light-alloy semi-trailing arms, one round, transverse torsion bar per wheel, hydraulic double-action shock absorbers, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes front||Ventilated discs 282.5 x 20, 2-piston fixed aluminium callipers|
|Brakes rear||Ventilated discs 290 x 20, 2-piston fixed cast-iron callipers|
|Wheels & tyres front||6J x 15, 185/70 VR15|
|Wheels & tyres rear||7J x 15, 215/60 VR15|
|Dimensions – L/W/H||4291/1652/1320mm|
|Top speed||150mph; 240km/h (more than)|
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & Porsche Werkfoto