The 911 is really just the tip of the Porsche iceberg.
While the 911 is the model that springs to mind when most people hear the name Porsche, the German sports car company is far from a one-trick pony. It’s not even solely a sports car company now with additions of SUVs, sedans, and even a wagon variant.
We’re going to disqualify the 959 from this list though as it was built in the 1980s to push the development of what the 911 could become, and the basis for the first all-wheel-drive 911 Carrera. That may seem a bit harsh as it was its own thing when it became the fastest road legal car on the planet, but we have plenty more to go on the list without it. We’ve also stuck here to cars that made it onto the road.
The 914 came about as a joint development between Volkswagen and Porsche and is still not particularly appreciated outside of a narrow niche. It came out in 1969 and had neither the lower price point of a Volkswagen or the higher performance level expected of a Porsche. Even after Porsche gave it a power upgrade in the form of the 911T’s 2.0-liter flat-six, the problem was a 911T was much more money.
It still remains under-appreciated despite the fact that, on the used market now, they aren’t expensive compared to a 911 and the bottom line is that the 914 is a fun to drive lightweight, mid-engine, rear-drive sports car.
When Porsche introduced the 924 as the beginning of a line of front-engined, rear-wheel-drive cars in 1976, it didn’t grab the enthusiasts by the beard. But, sales were good despite its mediocre performance. The 928 was introduced in 1978 with the intention of replacing the 911, believing a more refined, comfortable, and well-equipped car would appeal to more people than the more hardcore 911. The 911 didn’t go away though, and that’s a whole other story, but the 928 still hung around until 1995 in all of its V8-powered glory.
It was Porsche's first V8 powered car, and in GTS form it was a match for the BMW 8 Series as a torque churning cross country GT car. It was faster then the contemporary 911, but it wasn’t better unless you were happy to sacrifice handling for comfort and more practicality.
A cynical person might suggest that the Boxster is what would have happened if Porsche had put the engine in the correct place in the first place. Other cynics might suggest the Boxster is just a poor person's 911. There’s probably an element of truth to both ideas, and the reality is that Porsche underpowered the Boxster from the start so it wouldn’t contend directly with the 911. What Porsche also did though is make the mid-engine Boxster chassis a delight to drive while also making enough money to survive until it built the Cayenne. Over time the Boxster has gotten better and better, and finally Porsche is giving it the kind of power behind the driver it truly deserves.
The Cayman is as unadulterated as a driver’s car as the Boxster currently is and, indeed, shares everything but the Boxster’s lack of a solid roof. It’s best specced as a poor man's Porsche as options quickly mount up the price. But, as a basic drivers car, there’s not much to rival it. The Cayman begs journalists for complimentary cliches, such as it having telepathic steering and ballistic acceleration, while also being criticized for the sound of its 4-cylinder engine and bland interior.
We’ve spoken before about how building an SUV saved Porsche from financial extinction, and how many hardcore enthusiasts didn’t like the idea of a Porsche family vehicle. Well, those that don't like the Cayenne really won't like its little brother, despite the fact Porsche waved some magic Stuttgart dust over the Macan and made it drive like a sports car. It may have a cramped rear seat, but for a Porsche enthusiast with knee problems, it's not so bad to walk past the 911 for when you're just going to get some milk.
The purists also had a lot to say about the 4-door Panamera, and they can moan all they want. Or not. We don’t care. What we care about is 4.0-liter V8 making 550 horsepower in a top-spec luxury 4-door chassis that truly performs. Sure, a smaller and more agile 911 is a better performance car, but if you want four doors and all the bells and whistles a luxury car brings, then you do have a Porsche option.
Once Porsche was out of the woods financially at the end of the last century, the company set about reminding us it could build sensational drivers cars. Using cutting edge technology and basing the design off the back of an LMP1 racing program, Porsche built what’s probably the last of the truly analog supercars. In 2003, the 605-horsepower V10 took the Carrera GT from 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds, despite Porsche's modest claims of 3.9. If that doesn’t sound staggeringly fast, bear in mind it only came with a six-speed manual transmission, not a lightning quick PDK.
The Carrera GT could also touch 208 mph with a tailwind and journalists found out it could genuinely brake from 100 mph in a neck-straining 277 feet. The Carrera GT was also clocked pulling 1.4 g on the Nurburgring in the Schwalbenschwanz section. Its performance was down to the race-derived technology, including a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis and subframe and inboard suspension design.
Like the 959, the 918 Spyder is a rare bird and also a roadmap for where Porsche is taking its technology. Hybrid is the future, but that’s not to use electric motors for fuel economy. It’s to use them to boost performance.
Porsche took a naturally aspirated V8 and combined it with three electric motors to generate a combined 887 horsepower and a stomach-churning 944 lb-ft of torque. The most stunning aspect is in how easy it is to drive. Jared Gall, writing for Car and Driver about piloting a918 Spyder behind a Porsche test driver in a 911 Turbo S, claimed he was "a little bored by the lack of effort required to stay on his bumper.”
The 550 Spyder was Porsche’s first purpose-built race car. It immediately won the 1953 Nurburgring Eifel Race, the first race it was entered into. The 550 was consistently successful after that, but the real wonder is in how well it worked as a road car and it wasn’t unknown for racers to drive the car to the track, race, then drive it home again.
The most famous 550 was the one the actor and racing enthusiast James Dean was driving when he died. He traded in his 356 Porsche Super Speedster in 1955 for the 550 and immediately entered a racing event, but was killed on the way to the event when he hit another car shortly after receiving a speeding ticket.
Back when Le Mans still ran under the conceit that the cars racing were supposed to be street legal, Porsche started campaigning the 962 sports-prototype in 1984. It quickly became a dominating force in endurance racing in its various specs. Despite only being in the hands of privateers going up against factory teams in the early 1990s , the 962 still won races in 1993 and won the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship in 1994 - ten years after its introduction.
At the end of its competitive lifespan, privateer teams, and tuners set about converting some to meet regulations for actual road use. Cars from shops like Schuppan and Dauer created some of the earliest hypercars. Most notable is probably the Schuppan 962CR with its 600-horsepower 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged flat six that’s capable of getting the car to 230 mph. Only six were built and, amazingly, there is one out there with zero miles on the clock.