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Porsche Looks Back On The Speedsters That Sped Before

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The new 911 Speedster isn't Zuffenhausen's first, and hopefully won't be its last.

Say the word "Speedster" around certain Porsche fans and you're bound to illicit a fair amount of salivation. The German automaker has only made these chopped-down roadsters on a handful of occasions, of which the new 911 Speedster represents the latest. So on the occasion of its launch, Porsche is looking back on those that came before.

The first Speedster wasn't actually called a Speedster, but it owes its origins to these very United States. Called the 356 America Roadster, it featured unique aluminum coachwork that trimmed a good 350 pounds off the coupe's curb weight.

Its boxer four produced just 70 metric horsepower, propelling it to a 112-mph top speed. Only 16 examples were made in 1952, but US importer Max Hoffman saw an opportunity for more and convinced Zuffenhausen to make extras. The subsequent 356 1500 Speedster launched in 1952, adopting the name for the first time. But instead of being positioned up-market (like the latest model), this one was cheaper, with the Cabriolet's steel body and a sticker price of just $2,995.

Several iterations of the 356 Speedster followed through '57, eventually packing as much as 110 metric horses for a 124-mph top speed, and (in)famously drawing James Dean's attention.

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It wasn't until 1988 that Porsche made another, introducing the bodystyle to the 911 line for the first time. The first 911 Speedster was based on the Carrera, with the wider body of the Turbo, and of course that chopped-down windscreen. This time 2,103 units were made, including 161 with a narrower body.

The next one saw those numbers inverted: of the 945 examples of the 964-generation 911 Speedster made in 1992 and '93, only 15 had the wider Turbo body. It also had an improved roof mechanism (as infrequently as it was likely used), and borrowed its buckets from the Carrera RS with color-keyed seatbacks.

It had no air conditioning, though. No electric windows, either, or airbags (at first). And the next one was rarer. Much rarer: Porsche Exclusive built just two Speedsters based on the 993 in 1995: one for Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, and another (built later) for celebrity comedian (and noted Porschephile) Jerry Seinfeld.

"The rest of us" didn't get a new Speedster until 2011, when Porsche Exclusive built 356 units to celebrate its own quarter-centenary. Its windscreen was 2.4 inches lower, its rear track 1.7 inches wider, and its engine bored out to 3.8 liters to produce 402 hp.

Seven years later Porsche showcased a new 911 Speedster concept to celebrate its 70th anniversary, forecasting the new limited-edition model now entering production, restricted to just 1,948 units. With the engine from the GT3 and that same signature double-bubble rear deck (this time made from carbon fiber), it looks to uphold an obscure if sought-after mantle of the most extreme open-air Porsches. And if we bide our time, we just may seem another a few more years down the road.