|© Simon Poulter 2013|
Viewers of television's bloketastic Top Gear will be overly familiar with a gag that has run almost as long as the Porsche 911 has been in production, which is that Ferdinand Porsche's frog-eyed, rear-engined sportster has not changed at all in the 50 years since it made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show on this day in 1963.
Whereas other performance brands like Ferrari and Lamborghini have regularly brought through new designs and shapes, and other marques that have been around for a while - like the Golf, Fiesta or Astra - have gone through numerous design generations, it is certainly true that the two-seater has changed - to the eye, at least - relatively little over the seven generations Porsche has produced.
There aren't many examples of unchanging industrial design: the Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul, Converse All-Stars, the Swiss Army Knife, Anglepoise lamps, Levi's 501s and RayBan Wayfarers come to mind. I'm sure there are more, but not many.
Initially named the 901 (until Peugeot pointed out that they had a car with same name), the 911 joined Jaguar's E-type as a motoring icon of the 1960s, a car as quick and as exciting as a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo. Stoned rock stars and film stars would famously hare about Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon Boulevard in the Hollywood Hills in their newly-acquired 911s, at a time when the car was regarded more for fun than as a symbol of aspirational wealth.
That would come 30 years later, when bloated bankers getting rich quick off the banking revolution in London and New York picked pick up 911s with spare change from their bonus cheques, instantly becoming a hate symbol for yuppie opulence. A shame, really. Even today, claiming ownership of a Porsche (unless you're Californication's Hank Moody, who is cool) will be met by a sneer, while ownership of a Ferrari 458 or Aston Martin Vanquish might result in a round of applause.
|© Simon Poulter 2013|
In September 1963 the first Porsche 911 would have cost around $5,000 - about the same as an average sports car of the day. Today, a 'standard' 911 will set you back $122,000, $222,655 if you want the lunatic 552bhp Turbo S model. At prices like that, it is no longer a fun and sporty runabout.
|The 50th anniversary Porsche 911|
It is, though, still a breathtaking car, both to drive and to look at. The Top Gear boys (well, Clarkson - May and Hammond are great admirers of the 911) might joke about Porsche's somewhat unadventurous design department and their slavish obedience of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" adage, along with a naming strategy reminiscent of Peter Gabriel calling his first four albums Peter Gabriel. But there are few cars on the road today that combine simplicity and elegance with a signature design that you could never mistake for something else.
Happy 50th, Neunelfer.