For decades, Porsche couldn't figure out how to get anything but compact sports cars into showrooms.
Most Porsches sold today are four-door models, but Big Car on YouTube has shown us that it's been an arduous journey for the Zuffenhausen-based automaker to get to the point where its four-door models got the green light. The video chronicles Porsche's failed attempts to bring more practical models to the market long before the Panamera, Taycan, and Cayenne arrived.
In its earlier years, Porsche considered several examples of more practical models with extended wheelbases without necessarily resorting to four doors. One of the earliest examples was a prototype known as the Porsche 530. It came about when Studebaker wanted Porsche to develop a new engine, but the German automaker ended up with a new car, a four-seat version of the 356. The 530, along with the 542 (known at Studebaker as the Z-87) that followed, were canned since Studebaker wanted an even larger car.
A few years later, Pininfarina came up with the 911 B17 concept, a 911 that had its wheelbase extended by around 7.5 inches, but it didn't go further than that.
For much of the 1970s, Porsche successfully focused on the compact, two-door 911. Even the larger 928 was still primarily suited for just two occupants, but Porsche experimented with more practical versions of it. This resulted in the 928 H50 prototype, a rather ungainly Porsche with rear-hinged rear doors (much like those of the Mazda RX-8).
Here, finally, was something much closer to a four-door Porsche, and it's a car that could be considered an early spiritual predecessor to the first-generation Panamera. Porsche conducted 5,000 miles of testing with the H50 and its 5.0-liter V8, but it remained flawed.
Not only was the impossibly large transmission hump an issue for rear-seat comfort, but the design of the doors necessitated the removal of a B-pillar, resulting in a chassis that wasn't stiff enough. According to various sources, the H50 concept was put to bed somewhere between 1987 and 1989.
Some of you may be asking why Porsche even bothered to develop a more practical model. While the 911 was already a legend by the time the 1990s rolled around, the company wasn't profitable enough and needed to expand its range. But it became clear that doing so based on any of its existing model platforms wasn't feasible.
Enter the Porsche 989, a vehicle that got further along than the 928 H50 but was also scrapped. For the 989, Porsche went as far as developing a new front-engine, rear-wheel-drive platform for the four-door model that was supposed to be an answer to the BMW M5 of the period.
A particularly colorful part of the 989's development history was that it used an Audi V8. Yet, its mechanicals were tested in a Mercedes-Benz W124 E-Class while its dedicated platform was readied.
By 1991, Porsche had developed three full-scale models of the 989. But with the company still facing financial strain, serious doubts began to creep in about the project.
The car was supposed to sell for around 150,000 Deutschmarks each (or 50% more than a Panamera in today's money), and Porsche would need to sell 15,000 989s annually to break even. In early 1992, Porsche decided to call it quits on the 989, and both its CEO and Ulrich Bez left the company shortly after that.
It was another bitter disappointment for Porsche in the four-door arena, a company that just a few years earlier collaborated with Mercedes-Benz to produce the legendary 500 E sedan. But the stars simply hadn't yet aligned for Porsche to have its own alternative in that segment.
Porsche kept the 989 prototype largely hidden for many years, and rumors that the prototype was destroyed were false. One more ill-fated four-door sedan developed by Porsche - the ugly C88 designed explicitly for the Chinese market - followed in 1994. It never made it to production. Also in the 1990s, the Boxster arrived, and, poor man's 911 image issues aside, it was an example of what Porsche always did well: small, compact, and fun sports cars.
Another few years followed before Porsche finally delivered a practical four-door model that would significantly boost its fortunes. Not a sedan at all, we are referring, of course, to the first-generation Cayenne SUV. It may have had a face that only a mother could love. Still, it was a deeply impressive performance SUV and financially lucrative, too - the nameplate recently celebrated two decades and is still going strong.
The first Panamera followed, and although it was also not an object of beauty, Porsche had more financial freedom to give its underpinnings the attention it deserved and to see it through to production.
The Cayenne and Macan continue to lead the way for Porsche sales, while the Panamera has become more palatable with each generation. By the time the all-electric Taycan arrived, the talk was about its powertrain, not its four doors, as Porsche had finally been accepted as a sports car maker that could accommodate a family in comfort.
The four-door Porsche is now a fairly common sight, but it has been a challenging journey.
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