While there are several cars whose history began long before the Porsche 911, few have experienced the plethora of changes that this quintessential sports car has been through. Considered by many to be one of the car world’s most important automotive genealogies, the Porsche 911 is often the yardstick by which fans measure other performance cars. By constantly redefining what it means to be a Porsche 911 — in areas of performance, handling and interaction — the company keeps the competition on its toes and fans clamoring for more.

The designation of The Most Successful Selling Sports Car in the World falls squarely on the shoulders of the Porsche 911, with more than 1 million cars sold by 2018. With an iconic design that is continuously evolving, this popular sports car has a long and often confusing history. Each generation of Porsche 911 brings something new for customers and carves out its place in sports car history.

In 1999, the Porsche 911 was the only sports car to make the Car of the Century list, coming in behind the Model T, the Mini, the Citroen DS and the Volkswagen Beetle. The 911 is one of only two that are still in continuous production.

To fully understand the Porsche 911 and why it’s left such an indelible mark on the automotive landscape, you must first know how this iconic sports car has changed over time.

The History of the Porsche 911

Porsche steering wheel

Porsche realized success with its 365 and various derivatives throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s. When it came time to retire this model and introduce a new one to the world, Porsche designed the 911, meant to lead them into the next century. The 911 was based on the same air-cooled, horizontally opposed, rear-engine layout of other, successful Porsche models. Porsche unveiled its new model at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show under the moniker 901, and the rest, as they say, is automotive history.

1964: The Porsche 901/911

As we previously stated, the Porsche 911 came into existence as the Porsche 901. However, due to a conflict with the French carmaker Peugeot — who claimed rights over the use of three-digit numbers with a zero in the middle — the zero was changed to a one. Thus, the Porsche 911 was born. It bore the same fastback design as its ancestor, the Porsche 356, and had an air-cooled, flat-six, 130 horsepower engine.

1965: Two New Models of 911

Porsche 912

This year was the last for the 356 and the first time the new model faced the automotive market on its own. Produced as a more affordable alternative to the 911, the 912 used the four-cylinder engine of the 356. This model saw production for only four years, ending in 1969.

911 Targa

The Targa model of the Porsche 911 made its debut with a number of innovations. These included a removable portion of the roof and a protective roll bar that is a prominent part of the design.

1966: The 911 S

The 911 S marked the fourth incarnation of the Porsche 911 in two production years. This model saw a rise in the top horsepower, from 130 horsepower to 160 horsepower. To facilitate this increase, Porsche redesigned and improved the brakes and chassis. Although these new features made control easier, the rear engine made it a tricky vehicle to drive. This factor helped to build the reputation of the Porsche 911 as a sports car for experienced drivers.

1970: The 911 2.2

This model of Porsche 911 took its moniker from its 2.2 liters of engine displacement, accomplished by an increase in engine size. In addition, the company lightened the body by changing the engine lids and bumpers from steel to aluminum.

1972: The 911 2.4

The quick, lightweight body of this model made it tremendously agile. In addition, Porsche enlarged the engine yet again to allow for a displacement of 2.4 liters and 190 brake horsepower.

1973: The Carrera RS 2.7

A decade after the first 911 hit the market, Porsche introduced a model that quickly becomes a favorite of automotive aficionados. Porsche designed this model to compete in races in the FIA Group 4 class. Inside, the engine was bumped up again to produce 2.7 liters of displacement, which could provide 210 brake horsepower. In addition, Porsche added a mechanical fuel injector and the now-iconic ducktail spoiler. The Carrera moniker paid homage to the Carrera Panamericana Race that took place in Mexico throughout the early 1950s.

1974: The Base 911 Gets an Overhaul

Now that the 911 line had an official race car, Porsche felt it was time to overhaul the patriarch of this automotive family: the base 911. The company raised the engine size to match that of the Carrera, giving it 2.7 liters of engine displacement.

1975: The 930 Turbo

While development for this model began in 1972, it didn’t debut until 1975. When it reached the market, it became an instant hit. The 3.0-liter turbocharged engine allowed for a brake horsepower of 250. The body of this model also won over the public with its large rear wing and widened hips. At the time, the 930 Turbo was the fastest production car in Germany.

1977: The Carrera SC

Now that Porsche had a race car model, the Carrera RS 2.7, and a supercharged model, the 930 Turbo, the automaker decided to combine the two. The company permanently replaced the 2.7-liter engine of the past with the 3.0-liter version employed in the 930. This motor increased reliability and tuning potential.

1978: The Turbo Gets an Upgrade

This year, the Porsche engineers chose to fine-tune the 930 Turbo model for performance and speed. The engine was changed yet again to raise the Turbo’s displacement to 3.3 liters which, in turn, increased its brake horsepower to 296. An intercooler also found its way into this model, requiring the rear of the car to be redesigned to accommodate it. This redesign resulted in what is known today as the tea-tray tail.

1984: The Carrera 3.2 Upgrade

The 1984 model was an upgraded version of the Carrera. As its name implies, this model saw the 3.0-liter supercharged engine replaced with a 3.2-liter model that provided the Carrera with more power. This model also came with an improved braking system and the options of the spoiler and wide body of the Turbo.

1989: The 964 Carrera

Engine upgrades have long led to new models of the 911 for Porsche. The 964 Carrera is no different. This model boasts a 3.6-liter, air-cooled, flat-six engine and floor-hinged pedals.

1990: The 964 Turbo

This turbo version of the 964 has an upgraded 3.3-liter engine that is capable of 315 horsepower. It was instantly popular but soon lost steam in anticipation of newer models promised by Porsche.

1992: The 964 Turbo S

Geared for performance, the 964 Turbo S employed a lower stance and less extravagant interior. The company only produced it for one year, making about 80 cars.

1994: The 964 Turbo 3.6

Another model of the Porsche 911 that only saw one year of production was the 964 Turbo 3.6. As its name implies, the Turbo 3.6 had a turbocharged 3.6-liter engine capable of producing 360 horsepower.

1995: The 993 Carrera

This generation of 911s is widely considered to have many of the best features of that line. It was the last of the air-cooled models and featured an aerodynamic appearance achieved through the new front and rear ends. The power train made use of the 3.6-liter flat-six to obtain 268 horsepower. Moreover, this was the first 911 to offer a six-speed manual transmission.

1995: The 993 Turbo

If Porsche is nothing else, it’s at least consistent. As with previous years, a Turbo version soon followed the 993 Carrera. It was the first standard-production Porsche to use a permanent all-wheel drive (AWD) system and twin-turbos. The power of this model was increased over previous models to 400 brake horsepower with a 3.6-liter engine.

1999: The 996 Carrera

This model is noted for being the first water-cooled 911. The original build borrowed its front end from Porsche’s Boxster, much to the dismay of 911 fans, and Porsche changed this in 2002. The 996 Carrera offered 296 horsepower with a 3.4-liter engine.

1999: The 996 GT3

This model used a 3.6-liter flat-six with natural aspiration that produced 355 brake horsepower. This is the same engine found in the 996 Turbo, sans the turbo.

2000: The 996 Turbo

The 1998 Le Mans-winning GT1 car inspired the engine for this model. It’s wider than the Carrera and boasted 415 horsepower.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, Porsche has continued to turn out new models of the 911 as well as fine-tune the models it already produces. This has resulted in more horsepower, better handling and quicker response times. Porsche continues to perfect this iconic American sports car and shows no sign of stopping.

Innovative Technology

red porsche with view of front driver's side

As the above history shows, Porsche is all about innovative tech. While the company is dedicated to the DNA of the 911’s design, its engineers are constantly striving to find new ways to improve the models. Whether this is a simple engine upgrade or an added advanced computers system, Porsche is always ready to take the next step or lead the way.

The newest generation of Porsche 911s includes touch-screen monitors, intelligent controls and innovative assistance systems. Combined, these features help Porsche and its drivers keep up with the demands of the rapidly changing modern world. Moreover, the flat-six turbocharged engine that the 911 is known for continues to evolve and produce ever-increasing horsepower.

Throughout all these changes and innovations, one thing has remained the same. That is Porsche’s commitment to improving the 911. There are never more than two identical 911s. Although it produces roughly 25,000 models at its Zuffenhausen factory, plant manager Christian Friedl points to the growing number of variants and customized trim options as the reasons why this is true.

Porsche 911 News

The largest news story involving a Porsche 911 is easily the death of Paul Walker, American actor and self-proclaimed speed junkie. The 2013 accident occurred as Walker left a charity event with a friend, who then crashed his Carrera GT after losing control during acceleration. Porsche was cleared of any responsibility in the crash, but many remember this tragic incident, supporting the assertion that this car is not for the novice driver.

For an insider’s take on Porsche news, the company offers a look at exciting projects, current technical developments and general topics through its publication, Porsche Engineering Magazine. Whether you just discovered the 911 or have been a life-long fan, this periodical has something of interest for everyone.

Celebrity Endorsements

A number of celebrities have endorsed Porsche over the years. These include singer Rod Stewart, British singer/songwriter Natasha Bedingfield and professional golfer Daniel Berger. The newest name on the list is a professional tennis player and winner of Wimbledon, Maria Sharapova. She is expected to perfectly accentuate Porsche’s desire to convey that its cars break through barriers and represents champions.

User Groups and Cult Followings

With such a diverse line, the Porsche 911 has developed several fan clubs, and many individual models have cult followings. The Flat-Sixes is a blog for Porsche enthusiasts of all kinds and shares information about the cars while connecting those who love them. In addition, DriveTribe.com hosts the Porsche Cult, with nearly 2,000 members. It’s a group for Porsche enthusiasts where pictures, events and sale information is shared. For 911 specific groups, Facebook is a great resource.

Wrapping It Up

The Porsche 911 is an iconic part of automotive history and a fixture in popular culture. It continues to evolve and is represented in movies, television and even toys. With a constant eye on what the next big thing in car manufacturing is going to be, this line is sure to keep surprising us with improvements and upgrades long into the future.