Porsche's 911 introduced the world to a different way of thinking, one bolder and braver than any before or since. Testimony to this statement is the fact that the 911 has been in production since 1963. Over the past 50+ years, the 911 has evolved incrementally – what's today known as the Design Thinking Process. That study is for another time. In this study, I examine Porsche’s 911 through the lens of industrial design.
The 911 is arguably one of the most desirable cars ever. It’s a status symbol for success, and it’s considered as the gold standard – not just for cars in its own segment but also for sports cars on and off the racetrack in general. Enthusiasts argue Porsche’s motto should be “don’t fix what isn’t broken”. However, there's more to Porsche's design philosophy than that: it prefers evolution to revolution.
“Race on Sunday, Drive on Monday” was Porsche’s motto back in the 50s, and it rings true even today. Having won 24 hours of Le Mans in France and Safari Rallies in Africa, the 911 is one of the most versatile cars. While the low-end torque make it drivable in city traffic, the higher horsepower helps it push on the racetrack.
The 911’s silhouette has remained the same through its 57-year existence. Its minimalist design is driver-centric. In the 911, form is driven by function – every part of the car has a function that helps make the car better in some way, shape, or form.
Back when most automakers were making their engines bigger, from 6-cylinders to 8 then 12, Porsche decided to stay with the 6 and evolve the car as a whole. The rear-engine layout allowed for a flatter front, making the car more aerodynamic. The flat-six design allowed for a smaller engine as well, enabling a lower center of gravity and better weight distribution in the rear. As a whole, this allowed for a lighter, more nimble car.
The 911 is a driver’s car. It’s an immersive experience. The sound of the flat-six roaring in your ears and the sensation of the mechanical, unassisted steering wheel in your hands provide aural and physical feedback matched by no other car.
The 911 was released as a successor to the legendary 356 in an effort to inject more practicality into customers' lives without any compromises on performance. Testament to this are Porsche's 25+ Le Mans wins.
While the air-cooled engine may sound like a poor warm weather car, Porsche was smart enough to use oil-cooling throughout the car to help deliver reliable performance in all weather extremities.
For optimal performance, you need to become one with the car. You need to understand the physics of a rear-engined car. To avoid the tail from spinning, one needs to accelerate through a corner, unlike most other cars. Slow-in, fast-out.
The 911 has always had a flat and horizontal six design instead of a vertical and/or inline six. This allows Porsche to position the engine at a lower height, use less space, and achieve peak performance.
The 911, since its launch, has been a high performance luxury sports cars. It was launched at a price of $5,500 in 1964 ($43,000 today). Today, an entry-level 911 starts at $97,400, so it has continued to hold its upmarket, luxury sports car label over the decades.
Vary from collectors to enthusiasts. 911s can be garage queens or daily drivers. Drivers can be anyone from teenagers to their great grandparents. 911 owners span an extremely rich and diverse group of people.
Porsche claims over 70% of 911s ever made are still on the road, demonstrating the universal love for this car. There is a strong demand for every model of the 911 launched since 1964. In fact, the earlier 911s are among the most collectible Porsches in the market today.
Porsche has paid close attention to its users over the years and evolved the 911 with its user’s needs in mind. The “Targa” model pictured below is one such example. When government regulations prevented a “convertible” body-style, Porsche invented the “Targa” bar to mimic a convertible experience while ensuring passenger safety.