The complete and abridged history of Porsche: Legend of Motorsport

In an automotive world where most of its competitors have been absorbed by larger manufacturers, Porsche remains a steadfast and profitable independent manufacturer of high-performance sports cars. The Porsche name has become synonymous with sports and racing cars, as that is what the company’s founders, Ferdinand Porsche and his son Ferdinand (“Ferry”), set out to build when they started their business with 200 employees in 1948.

Ferdinand Porsche, whose engineering experience included Daimler-Benz, founded an independent design and engineering firm in 1931 and designed the Volkswagen Beetle. He brought half a century of innovation experience, from a four-wheel-drive gasoline/electric hybrid vehicle at the turn of the century to the unbeatable Auto Union Grand Prix cars of the 1930s.

On the other hand, the young Porsche helped grow the new company and was instrumental in the design of the first Porsche sports car, the 356. Despite having only 40 horsepower from a slightly modified rear engine from the Beetle, the first Porsche quickly made its mark with its agile handling and attributes almost unheard of among sports cars at the time, such as comfort and reliability.

Photo: © Porsche

In the 1950s, Porsche introduced its own engines, along with more powerful versions of the 356. After the 356, came a legend among modern automobiles, the Porsche 911. Ahead of its time when it was introduced in 1964, the rear-engined 911 evolved over three decades until Porsche introduced an all-new 911 Carrera in 1999. The lineup includes the 911 S (1967), 911 Turbo (1974 [1976 in the U.S.]), the first 911 Cabriolet (1983) and the first 911 Carrera 4 with all-wheel drive (1990).

Porsche introduced a series of front-engined models in the 1970s, starting with the four-cylinder 924 (1976) and the unrelated 928, powered by the company’s first V8 engine (1978). From the 924 came the more powerful and sophisticated 944 and 944 Turbo, and finally the 968 in the early 1990s. Porsche retired both the 968 and 928 in 1995 to focus on the development of the rear-engine 911 and mid-engine Boxster.

In addition, Porsche is synonymous with racing, and its cars began competing almost immediately. To date, Porsche cars have won an estimated 24,000 automobile races worldwide, including more than 50 class victories at Le Mans.

1948-1950: A Humble Beginning

In 1948, Porsche introduces the streamlined “356”, named after its design project number. Throughout 1949, the company builds the first 52 cars by hand in a small garage in Gmund, Austria. In 1950, Porsche leases space in the Reutter body factory in Zuffenhausen, a suburb of Stuttgart. Reutter builds bodies for the 356 and production reaches 369 units for the year.

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1951-1954: Growth and Success

In 1951, Ferdinand Porsche dies and the 356’s power increases to 60 horsepower. The 550 Spyder model, a road and competition car, becomes a “giant-killer” among larger, more powerful cars from brands such as Ferrari, Jaguar, Maserati and Aston-Martin. In 1954, the Speedster model is introduced, a “stripped-down”, low-cost version of the 356. Today, 1954-1957 Speedsters are among the most sought-after Porsches by collectors.

1956-1963: A Sports Legend

In 1956, the 10,000th Porsche is built. The high-performance road model is the 100-horsepower Carrera. In 1958, the 10,000th Porsche 356 model is built. Porsche outsources body production as demand increases. In 1962, Porsche establishes an independent distribution network in Europe. In 1963, the successor to the 356 is introduced: the 911, with an all-new 2.0-liter six-cylinder engine with 130 horsepower. Porsche takes over its former bodywork subcontractor, Reuter, and establishes its own distribution network in the United States.

1964-1972: An Era of Continuous Innovation

In 1964, production of the 911 begins, quickly becoming a successful model at a price of $5,500 in the U.S. In 1965, production of the 356 ends after 17 years and 77,361 units. Porsche quickly responds to the demand for a new entry-level model with the 912, which was the 911 body with the 356’s earlier four-cylinder engine. Porsche quickly expands the 911 range, adding an innovative Targa with removable roof (1966), a semi-automatic Sportomatic transmission (1967), the high-performance 911 S (1967), a lower-priced 911 T (1968), fuel injection (1969) and larger engines (1970). In 1969, production exceeds 14,000 units. Porsche expands the Zuffenhausen factory with a new multi-story assembly operation. In 1970, Porsche replaces the 912 with the 914, a lower-priced mid-engine sports car. The 914 offers a Volkswagen four-cylinder engine or a Porsche six-cylinder engine (914/6). In 1972, Porsche opens its Research and Development Center in Weissach, Germany, and Ferry Porsche becomes chairman of the supervisory board of Porsche AG.

Foto: ©Porsche

1975-1989: A World of Innovation

In 1975, Porsche introduces the 911 Turbo in North America as a 1976 model. The 911 Turbo combines exotic car performance with luxury and everyday utility. In 1976, Porsche replaces the 914 with the 924, a front-engine sports coupe. The car is powered by an Audi engine and is built with a rear-wheel drive for optimal weight distribution. In 1977, Porsche’s total production exceeds 300,000 units. In 1978, Porsche introduces the 928. It is radically different from the 911 and features a 240-horsepower, liquid-cooled V-8 engine. The 911 becomes the 911 SC, with a 3.0-liter engine and numerous improvements. In 1981, the 924 model is joined by the 924 Turbo.

The 924 is Porsche’s most popular model and also a successful racing car. In 1982, the new 944 model based on the 924 but with modified bodywork and a Porsche-built four-cylinder engine is introduced. In 1983, the first 911 Cabriolet is introduced. In the USA, the Cabriolet outsells the Targa and quickly accounts for approximately one-third of 911 sales. In 1984, Porsche Cars North America is established with headquarters in Reno, Nevada. Porsche AG goes public, with the Porsche and Piech families owning 875,000 shares and 875,000 preferred shares listed for investors. The 911 is now known as the Carrera, with increased performance from a 3.2-liter engine. In 1986, the Porsche 944 is the first car sold in the U.S. with both driver and passenger airbags. In 1987, the 250,000th Porsche 911 is built. In 1989, body production ends at the former Reuter plant. Production moves to a new factory across the street. Porsche builds the 500E high-performance sedan for Mercedes-Benz. The company will produce more than 11,000 of these cars until 1995.

Photo. ©Porsche

1990-1996: Return to the Origins

In 1990, Porsche introduces the four-wheel-drive 911 Carrera 4 and the rear-wheel-drive 911 Carrera 2. The cars share only 15 percent of their parts with the previous 911. The new Tiptronic automatic transmission available for the Carrera 2 offers the possibility of switching between fully automatic and clutchless manual transmissions. In 1993, Dr. Wendelin Wiedekin, head of production and materials management, becomes president of Porsche AG. Focused on the development of the 911, Porsche introduces the latest version of the air-cooled classic. In the same year, Porsche introduces a mid-engine sports car concept called the “Boxster”. The overwhelmingly positive response persuades Porsche to develop the car, which will appear in 1997. In 1995, Porsche discontinues its front-engine models, the 968 (the final evolution of the 944) and the 928. In 1996, the one millionth Porsche is produced in July. The 911 Turbo features the all-wheel drive system of the 911 Carrera 4, two turbochargers and intercoolers and 400 horsepower.

Towards a New Millennium (1997-2000)

In 1997, the Boxster is introduced with a 2.5-liter, 201-horsepower mid-mounted engine. Porsche quickly responds to worldwide demand by establishing a second Boxster assembly site in Finland. In 1998, Ferry Porsche dies at the age of 88. Porsche introduces the first completely new 911 model since the original in 1964. The new car breaks with 911 tradition by using a liquid-cooled engine, although it remains a horizontally opposed six-cylinder. The all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 introduces the Porsche Stability Management stability management system. In 1999, Porsche confirms that it will build its new sport utility vehicle in Leipzig, Germany. The vehicle, designed and developed by Porsche and shared with Volkswagen, is scheduled to debut in 2002. In 2000, the Boxster introduces a larger 2.7-liter engine. The Boxster S with a 3.2-liter, 250-horsepower engine is introduced. The all-new 2001 911 Turbo is introduced with an engine based on that of the GT1 race car that won Le Mans in 1998. The five-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission is introduced as an option.

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The New Millennium (2001 and Beyond)

In 2001, the Porsche 911 GT2 debuts with a top track speed of 195 mph. The Carrera’s engines increase to 320 horsepower. It adopts the headlight design of the 911 Turbo and receives a new enlarged front and rear design, and redesigned oval tailpipes. In 2002, Porsche announces plans to produce the Carrera GT with a six-liter V10 engine. A new 911 Targa and 911 Carrera 4S are introduced based on Porsche’s current 911 models. In 2003, Porsche introduces the Cayenne sport utility vehicle as the Cayenne Turbo and Cayenne S. The Boxster and Boxster S get power increases thanks to Porsche’s patented VarioCam(r) engine technology. In 2004, the Carrera GT Supercar and Porsche 911 GT3 debut in the United States.

The complete lineup includes 911 Coupé, Cabriolet and Targa models, Boxster and Boxster S roadsters, and Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo sport utility vehicles. In addition, a special 40th anniversary 911 and the new Cayenne with V-6 engine are presented. 2005 marks the debut of the all-new 911 Carrera and Carrera S, with a familiar silhouette but with more power and options. The 911 Turbo S, available as a coupe or convertible, comes standard with 444 horsepower and Porsche composite ceramic brakes. The Cayenne introduces new standard features, including Homelink, an electronically locking tailgate and a six-speed manual gearbox on the V6-powered Cayenne.

In 2006, at the Geneva Motor Show, Porsche exhibits the first series-production car with a spark-ignition engine featuring a variable-geometry turbocharger (VTG): the 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo. In addition, the new Porsche 911 GT3 equipped with a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter engine developing 415 horsepower is presented. Around the same time, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S is launched. In a historic race in the third American Le Mans Series (ALMS), Porsche RS-Spyder race cars entered by the U.S. Team Penske took the top two places overall, marking the first, but not the last, time that a sports prototype race car in the LMP2 class outperformed all competitors. That year, Porsche dominated the LMP2 class with seven series wins. In August 2006, Porsche introduces an updated and more powerful version of its famous Boxster and Boxster S roadsters. At the same time, Porsche launches the standard version of the Cayman at a price of $49,400.

In 2007, the all-new 2008 Porsche Cayenne is unveiled to the public for the first time at the North American Auto Show, marking the world debut of the most powerful and stylish generation of Porsche’s sport utility vehicle. Porsche also plans the Frankfurt, Germany, launch of its next-generation 911 Turbo Cabriolet, which offers a thrilling 480 horsepower (60 horsepower more than its predecessor), Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG) and all-wheel drive. Market launch is scheduled for September 8, 2007.

In 2008, on February 4, the 200,000th Porsche Cayenne proudly rolls off the assembly line in Leipzig, Germany. The model was a Cayenne GTS, which was unveiled that month at the Chicago Auto Show and launched that spring. That same month, Porsche Cars Canada, which had previously been part of PCNA, becomes a separate subsidiary called Porsche Cars Canada. In March, PCNA celebrates 10 years in Atlanta. On June 8, Porsche celebrates its 60th anniversary of a Porsche nameplate sports car. On the U.S. racing front, the big news is that Porsche, with Penske Racing, wins the ALMS LMP2 Championship and Porsche wins the GT class in ALMS as well. In October, Porsche launches the new 911 Carrera and Carrera S and their Cabriolet variants that offer innovative new technologies, including direct injection and the advanced PDK transmission. On November 19, Porsche unveils the new, more powerful second-generation Cayman and Boxster models at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Photo: ©Porsche

The following year, in 2009, Porsche unveils its first four-door sports sedan, the Panamera, at the Shanghai Auto Show. The opening of the impressive Porsche Museum in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen provides a window into the brand’s rich history.

In 2010, the introduction of the Boxster Spyder and the launch of the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo series marked another milestone. In addition, Porsche reached the production of 22,518 Panameras, while Matthias Müller took over as CEO.

The decade of 2010 represented important innovations, from the presentation of the Porsche 918 Spyder at the Geneva Auto Show to the expansion of the range with hybrid models such as the Cayenne S Hybrid. The brand commemorated its 60th anniversary in the United States with special events and the search for Porsche classics, finding rare models such as the 356 Cabriolet.

Continuous Evolution and Porsche Awards

The following years saw further impressive developments. In 2013, Porsche celebrates 50 years of the iconic 911 with a commemorative model. The brand also presents the new generation of the Cayman and unveils the Porsche Macan S and Macan Turbo at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Porsche continued its streak in 2014 with premieres at the North American International Auto Show and the Auto China in Beijing. The introduction of the first plug-in hybrid in the premium SUV segment, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid, further solidified its position as a pioneer in automotive technology.

The years that followed continued to mark notable advances, from the expansion of the Taycan line to Guinness World Records and the launch of exclusive models such as the 911 Carrera GTS America Edition.

Photo: ©Porsche

Porsche Today: Celebrating a Track Record of Success

In 2023, Porsche continues its legacy, participating in endurance competitions and presenting innovative design studies. In addition, it is preparing for the seventh edition of the Rennsport Reunion in California, marking 75 years of excellence in sports car manufacturing.

With every model, event and achievement, Porsche has consistently exceeded expectations and redefined the automotive industry. Its commitment to quality, performance and innovation continues to be the cornerstone of its success.

From its founding to the present, Porsche has proven to be much more than an automobile brand – it is a symbol of dedication, exceptional engineering and an unrivaled passion for driving.