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Porsche 911 50 Years

It proved to be not so difficult. Both cars shared many of the same parts. He established a production plan of 15,000 to 20,000 911 cars and 20,000 to 25,000 of the Boxsters. He told everyone that the 911 paid the development costs and the investment costs—and the parts costs— while the Boxster paid only for its parts costs. Producing one car in the lineup that shares half its parts with another saves a great deal of money. Marchart has always maintained that this tense period was an exciting time to be at Porsche. For any company, saving 5 percent is admirable. All these ideas saved 30 at the time when the automobile world was rife with rumors that Porsche was about to be acquired by Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, or Toyota. “So the basic idea when I made this proposal was we need 3.5 billion [DM] turnover [revenue] with our cars. And the basic car in Porsche could only be the 911—at that time. Because it was the heart of the company. The possibility was if we went to a higher car, it is expensive. So if you set a production number of, say, 20,000 cars in the year, well, 20,000 cars a year in this existing company means 50 percent of the people we must fire. So you must have in the minimum 35,000 to 40,000 cars to produce that turnover. So I said we must have a car under the 911, cheaper than the 911 to bring up the production numbers. And also we bring in younger people who will look up to the 911. “The next question was then how do we find the way for the second car to give the image that it is a true Porsche. I’m not sure how many Porsche drivers are really sports car drivers. A lot of them are really image drivers.” In many ways, Marchart’s concept had a ruthless economy to it. Even with the 911’s rear engine (and the Boxster’s mid-configuration), more than half the parts and costs in the car exist between the front bumper and the driver’s seat: front impact safety (and the expensive crash tests), fuel tank, heating/air conditioning, steering, suspension, instrument panel, entertainment systems, main operational computers. . . . The list is staggering in its quantity, costs, and complexity. To standardize two cars with one set of these elements saves a fortune. Making two cars with the same front structure and infrastructure alone would have proven economical. But everyone got to weigh in.
The complex one-piece headlight assembly resulted from production demands for faster assembly. The one-piece fixture incorporated five light functions yet mounted in the car in 20 seconds. Porsche Archiv
The complex one-piece headlight assembly resulted from production demands for faster assembly. The one-piece fixture incorporated five light functions yet mounted in the car in 20 seconds. Porsche Archiv
For the second time since the cloth tops Gerhard Schröder and Eugen Kolb devised for the SC Cabrios for 1983, Porsche allowed stylists and engineers to redesign the convertible. This 2003 Cabrio showed the smoother transition line from the cloth to the car body. Porsche Archiv
For the second time since the cloth tops Gerhard Schröder and Eugen Kolb devised for the SC Cabrios for 1983, Porsche allowed stylists and engineers to redesign the convertible. This 2003 Cabrio showed the smoother transition line from the cloth to the car body. Porsche Archiv Production engineers wanted to shorten assembly-line time and decrease the number of processes, procedures, and actions for each assembler. Someone set a goal of no more than 20 seconds for mounting, installing, and connecting the low- and high-beam headlights, fog lamps, parking lights, and turn signal on each side of the car. Not even a robot could accomplish five fixtures in 20 seconds. As a single subassembly, it was possible. But this meant using the same lighting module in two models. If headlights are a significant part of the “face” of the car, making two cars with the same face was a radical product-planning concept as well. For chief designer Harm Lagaay, it presented huge challenges. The least of them was enlarging the studios because Marchart’s concept meant two designers had to work side by side. A flash of inspiration from one designer meant the second car had to change identically. Instead of a 911 studio and a Boxster studio down the hall, there were a series of teams of designers working on each team of cars, all in a competition with each other to create the appearance that will capture the audience. Lagaay knew his staff. Some he inherited from Lapine, some he brought with him from BMW, and some he hired himself. He knew their personalities and he carefully gauged his pairings. He had nearly a half-dozen teams working on concepts for the two cars. As important as knowing his staff, Lagaay had an idea what he wanted. This helped him direct and encourage his teams so each pair of proposals reached the same level of style, sophistication, and Porsche-ness. The design director may never touch a pencil to paper, shave a millimeter of modeling Plasticine, or input a single keystroke into a CAD/CAM terminal anymore. Their job is to direct, to manage the imaginations and ideas of their staff and of each team with a word, a hand gesture, a literary or music reference. Designers and board members had become more polished, with higher expectations. While the board expected to be asked its opinion and for that to carry weight, it also wanted direction. No longer could Erwin Komenda redraw and resize seats in front of the decision makers and then ask, “Which do you take?” That was a time of development not only in design and materials but also in presentation. The process had become more like what F. A. did with his father: “We did these and these. But here: This is it.” The winning design came from Pinky Lai’s concept for the 996 and Grant Larson’s for the Boxster. It is a familiar story: in the midst of the stress of a tight economy and new car development, CEO Arno Bohn asked Lagaay to produce a show car, something to excite audiences and show them Porsche still was around. Lagaay tagged Grant for that assignment even while Larson worked alongside Lai developing the production cars.
The pleasing lines of the 996, as well as its quieter performance, invited many first-time Porsche buyers into a 911. While they were happy, purists felt the car had lost some sportiness. Porsche Archiv
The pleasing lines of the 996, as well as its quieter performance, invited many first-time Porsche buyers into a 911. While they were happy, purists felt the car had lost some sportiness. Porsche Archiv Steve Murkett christened Larson’s sporty Boxer-engined roadster the Boxster during a design staff meeting, and the car’s positive review before the board put it on an airplane to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in 1993. By the time it appeared, Bohn was gone and Wiedeking was in his place. When the chairman pulled away the cloth in Detroit, it had the effect of putting the car in front of the public and saying, “Here, this is it!” The media and enthusiast response energized Lagaay’s exhausted design teams. He reached Lai by telephone in a wind tunnel where he and modeler Eberhard Brose were struggling to make aerodynamics work on a car that could not afford an electric rear spoiler anymore. Yet the company could not afford a new roofline that would solve the conundrum without changing the fundamental—and necessary—silhouette of a 911. Lai went back to work, Lagaay worked on the chairman, and Wiedeking found the funds to electrify a rear wing. PREDEVELOPING THE 911 The development work on the 996 was far from finished and for every few thousand DM that Wiedeking released, there were other ideas, improvements, and upgrades that didn’t make the cut. Soon after Ulrich Bez arrived, he overturned or overruled many of the ideas, goals, techniques, and procedures that Helmuth Bott had kept in place for many years. It was one of several actions that did not endear him to Weissach staff. But one good thing came from the Bez revolution. The company established a predevelopment department. In essence this was a kind of practical and theoretical experimentation group that looked into new or alternate technologies and materials that might be useful to Porsche. Hans-Peter Bäuerle was part of that group. “Because I had still been working in lightweight materials, in aluminum, with space frames,” he said, “they gave us the responsibility to see if aluminum space frames would be suitable for the Boxster and the 996. Eugen Kolb was working in this predevelopment department with me. We worked together on this space frame, using aluminum profiles.” “We had the idea to make the floor of a car without any welding,” Bäuerle continued. “Because if you put heat into aluminum, it is not so good for the durability. I think Kolb has the patent to clamp and glue the entire 996 floor panel. We even built prototypes, not running but hydro-pulse prototypes— I think there were five or six we made. “Then came Mr. Wiedeking and he looked at it. ‘Good looking. Good technology. But too expensive.’ I must admit, it was his job to save the company. I understood the decision to make the Boxster and 996 in steel technology, but where we put our ideas in place, we used not just normal steel but high-strength steel—in a high amount. In those times we had more than 50 percent high-strength steel, which no other manufacturer was doing. “I got a lot of people laughing at me. ‘Wow, warm-formed steel! You are crazy!’ We had a special design of the firewall of ultra high-strength steel so the Boxster and the 996 had a very good ratio between strength and rigidity, nearly double the rate of other cars. Very good crash performance. In the 911 it always has been important to keep the tank from the passengers, also to save intrusion in the leg area. We saw that we could realize a high intrusion protection.” It made for a stiffer pair of cars than Porsche had achieved before, improving road holding and handling as well as passenger protection. The cars, by necessity, grew heavier, if for no other reason than the addition of 20 liters of cooling water, the radiators, pumps, and plumbing. Ironically, as Lai struggled to control aerodynamic lift at the rear of the car, he raised the rear profile. This provided engineers the extra room they needed to accommodate the slightly larger engine. The wheelbase grew 3.2 inches to 92.6 and overall length gained 6.8 inches to reach 174.5. Front and rear track widened nearly 2 inches while the body width grew an inch. The new engine displaced 3,387cc, with bore and stroke of 96 millimeters by 78 millimeters. By eliminating the air-cooling fins, the design engineers had room for four valves in the heads and they returned to a single spark plug ignition. This combination gave them 296 horsepower at 6,800 rpm. While the water cooling muffled engine sounds somewhat, engineers fine tuned intake and exhaust manifolds for the sound they produced as much as for flow efficiency. “The 996,” Bernd Kahnau put in perspective, “was the car for everyone who said they wanted a sports car but didn’t always want to have sports car noise.” Water cooling also greatly improved heating and defrosting. Getrag and Porsche collaborated on a new six-speed transmission that could accommodate much more power than the new engine produced with an eye toward down-line development. The Tiptronic S transmission provided five speeds. Zuffenhausen began series production of the coupes in early fall 1997 as a 1998 model for Europe. Cabrios followed a few months later. Porsche Cars North America launched both models simultaneously in mid-April 1998. However, because all these introduction dates came more than a year after the Boxster had appeared, an unanticipated and unfortunate impression fell on some customers and observers. Everyone recognized that the 996 was the company flagship, yet with the same face on two cars, some people got the sense that it was the overpriced upgrade of the entry-level model. Once they drove the car, however, there was no mistaking its potential.
The 996 GT3 looked great from any angle. Porsche introduced the car to European customers as a 1999 model, discontinued it in 2001, and reintroduced it worldwide in January 2003 with 381 horsepower in a 3,083-pound automobile. Porsche Archiv
The 996 GT3 looked great from any angle. Porsche introduced the car to European customers as a 1999 model, discontinued it in 2001, and reintroduced it worldwide in January 2003 with 381 horsepower in a 3,083-pound automobile. Porsche Archiv
The 996 Turbo appeared in late 2000 as a 2001 model. Weissach engineers tuned the 3.6-liter engine to develop 420 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and mounted it on an all-wheel-drive platform. Porsche Archiv
The 996 Turbo appeared in late 2000 as a 2001 model. Weissach engineers tuned the 3.6-liter engine to develop 420 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and mounted it on an all-wheel-drive platform. Porsche Archiv
The Carrera 4S offered superb handling with its all-wheel drive and its turbo-body wide rear track. Introduced as a late 2001 model, it had a 3,596cc engine that developed 320 horsepower at 6,800 rpm. Porsche Archiv
The Carrera 4S offered superb handling with its all-wheel drive and its turbo-body wide rear track. Introduced as a late 2001 model, it had a 3,596cc engine that developed 320 horsepower at 6,800 rpm. Porsche Archiv Acceleration from 0 to 100 kilometers came in 4.6 seconds, a figure that only a few years earlier had been turbo performance. Porsche quoted the 996 top speed at 174 miles per hour, aided greatly by all of Pinky Lai’s long hours in the wind tunnel that reduced the coefficient of drag (cD) to just 0.30. When the cabriolets appeared, the new cloth top system was a remarkable update from the 993, which itself had changed the long-lived G model’s profile. Together with Lai, Eugen Kolb, in his last assignment before retirement in 1997, fashioned the new kinematics. The 993’s cloth top collapsed on the rear deck and it required a cloth cover to finish its appearance. With both the Boxster and 996 Cabrio, Kolb devised a system that raised a rear body panel that covered the mechanisms to open or collapse the top and a well in which it was stored. It disappeared in the Boxster and in the 996, the rigid front bow and glued-in-place cloth folded back on themselves to appear as the front of the tonneau. Kolb received his final design patent for this system. Generously, Porsche included a removable hardtop in the Cabrio purchase price so those who used the car in winter were better insulated. Dealers offered to store these, a blessing to owners but a burden to the shops that sometimes found themselves holding them for years. In October 1998, Porsche introduced the 996 Carrera 4 Series coupes and cabriolets and U.S. buyers got their cars starting in January 1999. Drivetrain engineers modified the optional Tiptronic S and configured the C4 chassis from the start to mate these technologies. Porsche Stability Management (PSM), a system jointly developed by Bosch and Porsche, also debuted on the C4 Series, recalling a technology from the 959 in which sensors fed information to the ABS system to electronically apply brakes to an individual wheel when excessive understeer or oversteer affected cornering stability.
After some tough challenges with the 993 glassroof Targa, Weissach body engineers reconfigured the entire concept for the 996. This new top system mounted to the car body from the inside and the rear window operated like a hatchback. Porsche Archiv
After some tough challenges with the 993 glassroof Targa, Weissach body engineers reconfigured the entire concept for the 996. This new top system mounted to the car body from the inside and the rear window operated like a hatchback. Porsche Archiv
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