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March 1965: CAR’s first drive of the first-ever Porsche 911
23 February 2012 11:51
To mark CAR Magazine's Porsche special in the new March 2012 issue, we've also looked back - to when we first drove the 911 at launch in 1965. This is our first review of the very first 911, taken from our archive and reprinted in full here. If you like your Porsches, don't miss the new magazine. We've ridden in the new Porsche Boxster, driven the new 991-spec 911 for 1400 miles across America and met the people of yesteryear and cars of tomorrow which keep the company at the sharp end of the sports car market.
Six cylinders, five forward speeds, four disc brakes, three seats (well almost) and two overhead camshafts add up to one hell of a car. Our man Jerry Sloniger has just come back from testing it for the very first time. Porsche’s spanking new 911 is the company’s bid for medium-GT supremacy.
There’s a basic law at Porsche which reads ‘two seats are enough’ – and the man who says so is named Ferry Porsche, so it’s hardly surprising that the new six-cylinder Porsche 911 is more of the familiar Porsche mix done better and not a new departure from Zuffenhausen. In short the big boy, first real change in the line in nearly 15 years of production, is entirely a Porsche.
Now the model number 911 refers to almost exactly the package seen at Frankfurt’s biannual motor show in the autumn of 1963. Then it was called the 901. It seems a famous French firm has patented all the three-digit titles with a zero in the middle, at least for France, hence the minor alteration in the name. To go with this change Porsche has altered the facia from two big dials to five of graded dimensions and changed the carburettor arrangement, apart from detail product ionising changes at the course of the year.
The factory has also put a price on it; just £10 under £2000 ex-factory and pre-tax, with many months of waiting. Porsche is building perhaps three cars a day as I write this and is still six months behind on dealer demonstrators – due largely, some say, to supplier delays.
Thus small CAR’s test was necessarily brief. After fighting our way through the waiting ranks of journalists with similar ideas we found ourselves with probably the first road experience ‘in English’ to be achieved so far. (It helps to live near enough to the factory to annoy them non-stop.) Our car was chassis number five, literally wrested from the hot hands of racing manager Huschke von Hanstein when he came to work one morning. For that reason I don’t propose to bicker over minor wind whistles et cetera; this was a pre-series car with standard mechanicals.
Unfortunately, winter weather made exercises like trying out the rated 130mph top speed pretty dicey. But we did contrive to calibrate the speedometer – a very honourable 2.7percent fast at 100mph – and do some 0-60 runs as a test case. Our time of 8.7sec matched the published factory graph as near as you can read. To get it we observed the 6800rpm red line religiously on up-changes so it seems we can reasonably take the other factory figures on trust for the nonce. Our consumption, needless to say, was considerably higher than Porsche’s but the German DIN system favours long-geared cars that way in any case: 20-25mpg used fairly briskly should be a good average I think.
Also I suppose we must mention very sotto voce (Jerry you can relax now; it’s the new image – Ed) that the displacement is 1991cc after all, but the 911 remains a small car with a big heart no matter what the arbitrary displacement. It also remains a two-seater – period.
To lay out the basics: the 911 engine is still air-cooled but a six for the first time with one overhead camshaft for each bank. This gives Porsche the best of the no-pushrod school (like the Carrera 2 it actually replaces) without the complication of the twin ohc arrangement. You can actually change a spark plug without being an asbestos octopus. While the 911 has the same horsepower rating as the now historic Carrera at 130 DIN, it does it all with far more elasticity and a good deal less driver fuss. Naturally it’s also smoother and neater about maximum revs than any of the pushrod fours – in fact the new engine is a high point for Porsche.
On the road you can feel really healthy acceleration from 3000rpm on, with the power peak at 6100 where the fairly new and tight test engine (1200 miles as collected) began to die away; 6800 doesn’t sound rough in the gears bit it just isn’t necessary to get about quickly. Below 3000 there’s some torque, but nothing sporting. After all a rev band with the first rate pull of over 3000rpm is very good for the sports/touring division. This car at over a ton is obviously not aimed for competition (watch for a prototype factory set of 904 bodies with roughly 180bhp six cylinder engines next season).
In fact the torque is so good that the five speed gearbox is a little redundant, though great fun. You feel racier with five and reverse. The box is just as smooth and quick as the four-speed Porsche once you get over the idea that the change from first to second must be accompanied by a positive movement across the gate. That just lands you in fourth instead. From first, simply push straight forward as in a normal box. You won’t get reverse. Porsche has rigged the gate so it falls on its own into second, and after the first few miles the only down-change to watch is fourth to third.
Of course having five gears can be disconcerting – for example, when you realise you’re doing the ton and not even in top yet. Fourth is near enough direct, though not precisely and for the record the car will do 35 in first, 65 in second, 95 in third and 120mph in fourth – with another cog to go.
Our test coincided with a nasty era of damp, maybe with ice on that next blind corner, and a great awareness of the car’s value both intrinsically and because they didn’t have another one at the time. This in all honesty is really a road report with some figures, not a giant road test having something for your editor to drool forward to. Accordingly absolute handling judgements will have to wait. Shod with Dunlop SPs I found the car more nearly neutral than any Porsche I have driven back to the original 1100s, and even a bit more neutral than the current 350 line. The tail would eventually come out first which is the way I like fast cars, but you had to get pretty gay to provoke it. The ride is still not limousine soft, fortunately, but a Porsche comment that they might have it a bit firm didn’t appeal to me. Thanks to the usual top flight Porsche seats you are solid but not bouncy.
There’s no feeling of roll or insecurity even if you hurl the car around a tight circle, though some is apparent from the outside – roll that is. Otherwise the nose simply goes where you point it at a very high rote of knots indeed. Thanks to the more elastic engine, which still sounds Porsche but more refined, you could find yourself going quicker than planned. One drawback to my mind was the unexpected amount of road shock felt at the wheel rim.
For such speeds you need stopping power, and this the Porsche 911 has in full measure with its four-disc system taken from the fours. The designer took the vestigial handbrake-drum idea over too and it held on any incline we came across. Pedal pressures are light but the brakes felt entirely progressive.
Once you’ve settled into your seat, with all the various adjustments made, you begin to see where some of that money went. The car looks richer for its price than the 356 to my taste, with leather and wood to hold up those five large, round black dials with their luminous faces. The tachometer takes pride of place dead centre, with the slightly small speedometer to its right (re-settable tenths odometer) and a clock to the right of that (left-hand drive model). On the other side the dial next the tach gives you both oil temperature and pressure while the outside face shows fuel level (13.5 lmp gallons) and oil level as well: no dipsticks for 911 owners. This needle reads between a whopping eight litres which is almost full and five which is time to add some more.
Knobs are held to the minimum and put within reach, while both high beam blinker (the Germans call it light-horn, which is logical at these overtaking speeds) and turn indicators as well as the high/dip control response in one wand at your fingertips. The other wand controls the three wiper speeds (!) as well as the washer. Pass a truck and get your screen drenched – you can sort that one without ever taking your stringbacks from the matt black-spoked wood-rim wheel. The washer feeds through four big jets, too.
This is the sort of thinking which makes a Porsche worth its money to about 45 people each production day. I’d rate the two piston-type stays to hold the front lid in any position, or the rubber flap around the fuel filler neck to protect your paint from careless attendants, in the same top-bracket luxury class.
Driving position is ahead of the 356 because there’s so much more glass area relative to the sides – a lower belt line and bigger back window help considerably. You don’t feel so down in a tub, though the rear corners are still a matter for divination when parking. Entry is a little easier, but watch out for that pointed corner of the door.
All extra centimetres aside, the 911 remains a two-seater with occasional rear seats which any true Porsche owner knows are let down for bulky luggage. You can just about get two adults in there, but they’d be damn friendly. The luggage problem itself has been mightily improved – because there was so much room for it. Two reasonable cases could be shoehorned into the nose now, which is very lushly trimmed, but you will still need to stow most things behind the seats.
A small glovebox with magnet-closing lid and lock and two pockets in each door handle take care of small items very neatly, and the standard finish is of course vintage from bumper to bumper.
Admittedly you can still buy Porsche quality for about 60percent of the price of a 911, but for my money this is now the Porsche. At that it relates to the current German (and world) economy in both price and refinement at just about the ratio the first 1100cc coupe did in 1950. I wouldn’t think a decade and a half would be anywhere near the maximum lifespan of a 911. More like the minimum.
FACTS PORSCHE 911
How much? £1990 ex works
How fast? 130mph
Acceleration 0-30mph 3.2sec, 0-40mph 5sec, 0-50mph 6.5sec, 0-60mph 8.7sec, 0-70mph 11.8sec, 0-80mph 17.5sec
How thirsty? 21mpg
How big? 163.9in long, 63.4in wide, 52in high
How heavy? 2381lb
How powerful? Six-cylinder air-cooled single-overhead-camshaft-per-bank opposed engine at rear, driving rear wheels; 1991cc developing 130bhp on 9 to 1 compression; disc brakes; suspension by spring legs, cross links, longitudinal torsion bars (front) and angled trailing wishbones and transverse torsion bars
How often? Oil change every 3000 miles
How roomy? Two/three seat, two-door closed coupe, front boot, rear baggage platform