Some are just more special than others.
Now in its 57th year of continual production, the Porsche 911 is a special car in so many ways. Consistently one of the best sports cars money can buy, in all that time the 911 has managed to retain its shape and essence. That alone is enough to label the 911 as an icon, but It also has the distinction of being one of the longest-running production cars featuring an air-cooled engine. It wasn't until 1998 with the introduction of the 996 generation that Porsche switched the 911 to water-cooled technology.
It's not just as a consumer sports car that the 911 has found elongated success, either. It is also one of the most successful cars in motorsport. Porsche's drive to build faster and faster models has given us some incredible cars. These are our favorites.
In 1987, the world was recovering from a major recession, and Porsche needed something to revitalize customers' interest in expensive sports cars. The result was the Porsche 964 Carrera 4 Lightweight. It was 286 lbs lighter than the standard 911 despite using the four-wheel-drive drivetrain from the Dakar-winning 959 rally car. The 3.6-liter twin-plug flat-six air-cooled engine pushed its power into a 5-speed transmission with short-ratio gearing, and mechanical differential bias was controlled from the cockpit. Only 22 were made, which makes the 964 Carrera 4 Lightweight an incredibly rare breed.
Not only was the 964 Carrera RS 3.8 a crazy car to drive, it's also one of the best looking Porsches to venture onto the road. Only 55 were built in order to homologate the 964 Carrera RSR for international competition in the 1990s. It featured the smooth and wider Turbo trim bodywork, a large wing, and a new 3.8-liter flat-six engine making 300 horsepower. It's one of Porsche's rarest road-going Rennsports, and if one shows up at auction, you had better have a couple of million dollars in your back pocket to have a chance of taking it home.
There was no 911 RS in the 1980s, but the Porsche 911 3.2 Carrera Club Sport made for one hell of a road and track weapon. Only 340 Club Sports were produced worldwide between 1987 and 1989, and only 28 were made to US specifications. Non-essential equipment like the sunroof, rear seats, air conditioning, power windows, fog lights, and some sound insulation was stripped out to help lose around 160 lbs of weight. The blueprinted engine used hollow intake valves to allow it to rev out to 6,520 rpm and go from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds with a top speed of 149 mph. It also benefitted from a short-shift gear selector, sport shock absorbers, forged allow wheels, and front and rear spoilers.
The 2019 Porsche 911 Speedster is a perfect swan song for the 991.2-Generation 911. The GT3-based Speedster packs a 502-hp flat-six that roars its way up to 9,000 rpm, a manual transmission, and handling that borders on the sublime. It's also a convertible, so all that ferocious GT3 fun can be had while truly enjoying the fresh air.
It's a real speedster as well, with a two-inch-shorter windshield frame, a carbon-fiber front trunk lid, front fenders, and rear decklid. On top of that, it has its own lighter weight exhaust system, and an automatic transmission is not an option. It's a GT3 variant that cruises comfortably and can fit a couple of light weekend bags for the journey.
Built by Porsche, but perfected by the tuning house RUF, the CTR Yellow Bird is still a sensational car. It was Road & Track magazine that gave the bright yellow phenomenon its nickname, clocking 211 mph and discovering it was faster than contemporary Ferraris and Lamborghini models at the time. It was when test-driver Stefan Roser was strapped into the Yellow Bird for a blisteringly fast lap of the Nurburgring that the world saw just how fast it was for themselves.
The original Yellow Bird is based on the 911 Carrera 3.2, but with a wide body kit and a host of mechanical upgrades, including the flat-six engine being bored out to 3.4-liters and adding two turbochargers. RUF claimed 469 hp, but nobody knows how the company kept a straight face with that level of understatement.
Ask a fan what the ultimate 911 looks like, and they will likely point to a picture of the 997 GT3 RS 4.0. It was the final car in the 997 line and the most extreme. The "standard" GT3 model used the 3.8-liter flat-six, while the GT3 RS hijacked the 500-hp 4.0-liter flat-six from the track-only GT3 R and RSR. For the purists, there wasn't even an option for the PDK dual-clutch transmission Porsche insists is much better for performance, so the 997 GT3 RS 4.0 is a stick shift only model. All 600 sold out instantly, including the 126 sent to the US.
This list wouldn't be complete without the pinnacle of the classic 911 - the 1973 911 Carrera RS. In 1972, European GT racing banned cars over 3.0 liters in displacement from World Championship of Makes eligibility, so Porsche bored out the Carrera's flat-six engine from 2.4 liters to 2.7, put 7.0-inch rear wheels on the back along with wider fenders, and developed the front air dam and rear ducktail spoiler to perfection in the wind tunnel. For weight saving, the 911 Carrera RS even used a thinner gauge glass. For homologation, the 500 cars built for the road had limited sound-deadening materials and carpeting and non-reclining front race buckets, as well as no rear seats, armrests, clock, interior or passenger-side sun visor. "Racecar for the street" is an expression that has been beaten to death, but the 1973 911 Carrera RS is nevertheless the personification of that term.
In GT2 spec, the 3.6-liter twin-turbo flat-six from the 1995 Porsche 911 Turbo fed 430 hp to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. It's one of the most hardcore 911 models yet, and you had to know what you were doing to drive one. On top of the beefed-up air-cooled flat-six engine, the 57 models that Porsche built came with riveted on flared fenders so it could fit the brakes and tires from the Porsche 959. The cabin boasts a three-spoke steering wheel, bucket seats, and pull-strap door handles. If you can find one, you had better have well over $2 million in your bank account to spend.
There are incredibly few production cars that have destroyed a lap of the Nurburgring in under seven minutes, and the 2019 911 GT3 RS is one of them. It joined the select few that also includes the GT2 RS and Porsche 918 Spyder using a 4.0-liter naturally aspirated flat-six making "only" 520 hp. The 911 GT3 RS was developed alongside the race car, which explains how a naturally aspirated car with just 347 lb-ft of torque and 520 hp can outperform much more powerful cars. That's not to say the 911 GT3 RS is a slouch on a straight line - it'll punch 62 mph in 3.2 seconds, pass 100 mph in 6.9 sec, scream through 124 mph in 10.6 sec, and top out at 194 mph.
The Porsche 911 GT1 was designed purely to race in GT1 competition, and, to do so, Porsche went all out to exploit the rule book. Instead of adapting a road car, Porsche built what was essentially a sports prototype that adhered to regulations then constructed a handful of street-legal versions called the 911 GT1 Straßenversion. Few parts were shared directly with the 911 at the time, but the "fried egg" headlights of the 996 generation made it onto the car.
It's easy to forgive the controversial headlight design when you look at the 911 GT1 specs, though. The twin-turbocharged flat-six was fitted in a rear mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout and made close to 600 horsepower and was clocked at 205 mph on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans. Only 41 911 GT1s were built in total - 18 race cars and 23 road cars.