An appreciation of some of the greatest Porsche road- and race-going cars - and of the German manufacturer's superb models of them available from its Porsche Design online store that would make superb last-minute gift ideas.
Porsche 911 GT3
The Porsche 911 GT3 RS will be remembered as one of the finest road cars of the past 20 years. Some so-called purists had been whining ever since 911s stopped whining as they went from air-cooled to water-cooled engines in the 993 to 996 transition back in 1998. Hopefully, those same purists were humble enough to regret their ill-chosen words as, over the next dozen years, the 911 remained the benchmark sports car as well as the most immediately identifiable car on the road.
And, as the 911 got ever faster, so also its range of abilities became more accessible to those of us not blessed with the talent of a Pat Long or a Jorg Bergmeister. Like humans, sports cars have to evolve and become more civilized, but they can also become more entertaining.
The zenith of the 996/997 911s, in road car form, was the GT3 RS 4.0 (ABOVE). When it came out some 18 months ago, Andrew Frankel of Autocar magazine was lucky enough to get his hands on one of the 600 units, and declared it “the greatest version of the greatest sports car ever built.”
Model made of metal and plastic. 1:43 scale. $65
Little wonder that the GT3 also became the turn-key sports car that hundreds turned to. In 2000, the 996 won the Nurburgring 24 Hours, in 2003 the Daytona 24 Hours and Spa 24 Hours. We're talking outright wins here, never mind the class victories in sports cars series in the U.S. and Europe. GT3s also won the Nurburgring 24 Hours four straight years between 2006 and 2010 and took seven straight class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. On this side of the pond, the American Le Mans Series has been a happy hunting ground for the GT3 – nine times between 1999 and 2009, Porsche won the Manufacturers' Championship!
Porsche 918 Spyder
The Porsche Carrera GT was a short-lived 5.7-liter V10 mid-engined slice of cool that won our hearts from concept in 2000 to reality in 2004 to demise in 2006. It was astoundingly quick (as it should be with 612hp) and aiding its development was the astoundingly quick Walter Rohrl, which only added to the car's allure. It wasn't beautiful from every angle, yet it made most red-blooded sports car enthusiasts hot under the collar because its visual drama wasn't contrived, just functional – and it functioned better than any of its contemporaries.
Detailed collector's model of the 918 Spyder Concept Study. Liquid Metal. Black interior. Made of metal and plastic. 1:43 scale, $65 or 1:18 scale, $140
And yet its successor, the 918, has gotten more dramatic still, faster still and yet incorporates technology that simply isn't normally associated with supercars. It has a 4.6-liter V8 that develops 580hp but this is supplemented by two electric motors with an additional 240hp. OK, so here at RACER, we love the fact that the V8 part of the equation has been developed from the engine used by that king of LMP2 cars, the Porsche RS Spyder. But it's the electric motors that intrigue: one works in parallel with the gas engine to drive the rear wheels through Porsche's PDK 7-speed gearbox. But the front motor drives the front wheels and the energy storage system can not only be plugged in to recharge, but also charged by braking energy and unused engine energy – for example, when coasting.
What will interest RACER readers even more is the RSR racing version which replaces the spyder with a roof, the 4.6 with a 3.4 V8, and the passenger seat with a flywheel KERS system to power the electrical motors, bringing total power output to 767hp. If this gets the green light as the Spyder version has done, we hope it will be seen one day on American racetracks.
250: that's the big number to remember when looking at the Porsche 906 Carrera 6 (LEFT). That is how many pounds lighter this car was than its predecessor, the 904, and when we're talking about a car that weighed just 1,300lbs, that's a huge reduction. Yup, while this writer is convinced the 904 GTS is the prettiest car ever to wear a Porsche badge, there's no question that the 906, moved the game on considerably. In fact, it's hard to believe their designs were just two years apart.
As you'd guess, the weight saving came in the car's method of construction: underneath the fiberglass body of the 906 was tubular spaceframe, replacing the 904's boxed steel chassis. And what a body it was! Shaped in a wind tunnel (a first for Porsche) the curves at the front end resembled stones shaped by river flow, while at the rear, a huge plexiglas cover topped the 2-liter, 6-cylinder engine and swept down to a neat ducktail spoiler.
Model 906 in white with gray/red interior. Made of metal and plastic. 1:18 scale, $190
Combined with the lightweight chassis, the result was a car of a modest (by today's standards) 220hp that could nonetheless hit 170mph in a straight line. That was effective enough to ensure it went head to head with the Ferrari Dino 206SP – which the Porsche beat first time out to win its class in the 1966 Daytona 24 Hours, a feat it repeated at the Sebring 12 Hours – and, to the chagrin of the Italian crowds – at the Monza 1000km and the Targa Florio road race.
The latter achievement was the Porsche's only overall victory in the world class sports car arena, but maybe a bigger achievement was when four of them were beaten only by a trio of Ford GT40s at Le Mans that same year. The big Detroit muscle was of course in the class above but soon, Porsche would be there.
Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS
Such is the progress made by Porsche from year to year that unless you're a Porsche fanatic, the 911's rapid evolution since its 1963 birth can turn into a peculiar jumble of letters, numbers, and power outputs. But in many people's eyes, 1973 provided one of the absolute highlights of the car's life: the arrival of the Carrera 2.7 RS.
Created for homologation purposes, the car was all about Porsche maximizing everything it could on a road car to make it suitable for racing. The engine was a 2.7-liter unit producing 210hp (30hp up on the 2.4-liter of the 911S), the suspension was firmer, the brakes were bigger, the fenders were bigger (to accommodate bigger wheels/tires) and, in Sports Lightweight form, the steel of the body and the glass of the windows was thinner too.
Detailed collector's model of 911 Carrera 2.7 RS made of metal and plastic. In Grand Prix White with black interior. $190
It's not as if the 911 didn't already have competition pedigree: it had won events as diverse as the Monte Carlo Rally and the GT class at Le Mans, and was one of the first choices of professional and amateur racers the world over. But the Carrera RS was the crucial next step. In the end, Porsche tripled the number necessary for homologation, and saw the latest version of its charismatic sports car – and its immediate successors, the RS 3.0 and turbocharged RSR – go on to write some of the greatest chapters in the 911's motorsports history. The 2.7 RS, if you like, turned the 911 from a great sports car into an icon.
And speaking of icons… The Porsche 956 would be a classic anyway. It dominated its second-ever race – the 1981 Le Mans 24 Hours, no less! – but was also quick enough to win its final race, the 1986 World Sportscar Group C race at Mount Fuji. But by then, the 962 was the car being utilized by the works Porsche team, as the 956 hadn't complied with IMSA's rules. To be slightly simplistic, the crucial evolution from 956 to 962 was the insertion of a steel rollcage into the aluminum chassis, a wheelbase extension to get the driver's feet and pedals behind the front axle, and a single-turbo unit to replace the twin turbos on the 2.8-liter air-cooled engine.
Model 962 made of metal and plastic. 1:43 scale. $70
The Group C-spec cars would run 2.8-, 3.0- and 3.2-liter engines over the years, while in IMSA, twin turbos were eventually allowed. Porsche's works team was backed up by myriad excellent privateers such as Joest, Brun and Kremer, all of whom starred and won with their 956/962s. The cars weren't unbeatable, but there were times when it certainly seemed that way. Even when they weren't fastest, they were frequently rock-solid reliable, and drivers of the caliber of Hans Stuck, Derek Bell, Klaus Ludwig, Jacky Ickx, Al Holbert and Mario Andretti could help make up the difference.
And teams modified their 962s through the years as they fought hard to beat stern opposition from Jaguar, Nissan, Mercedes and Toyota. Many of these mods were successful and certainly extended the car's life way beyond anyone's original expectations. The 956 had debuted in 1981, the 962 in '84 – and yet Jochen Dauer's heavily modified 962 won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1994. In terms of all-time classic racecars, the 956/962 family is a strong contender to be nominated the G.O.A.T..
• Check out all the great accessories and personalizations available for your Porsche by clicking on the Porsche Tequipment ad at the top of this page! From there, click on the "Personalization and Service" and then the "Driver's Selection Online Shop" tabs to navigate to the shop to purchase thee model cars shown in this article.