Porsche: the Mid-Engined Legacy
We look at a history of mid-engined Porsches, 21 years after the Boxster added a new chapter to their mid-engined story.
Happy Birthday Boxster. 2017 marks 21 years since the popular Porsche roadster appeared in production form. In the mid-1990s, few may have believed what a successful model it would become, essentially saving the company. The latest in a long line of Porsche mid-engined sports cars, the Boxster actually wasn’t the spawn of a winning racing machine.
The 911 may be the car which most associate with the German sports car manufacturer, but the popular Boxster took Porsche back to its roots, as well as hooking into the retro roadster trend of the time. And what a back catalogue to take inspiration from. Here’s a run-down of mid-engined Porsches which inspired the modern-day roadster model from Stuttgart.
1948 356 ‘Number One’ Roadster
‘Number One’ Roadster is Genesis. The first car to properly bear the Porsche name, this pretty little two-seater prototype from 1948 featured an aluminium body over a lattice tube chassis. Harbouring a desire to build a post-war sports car following his father’s creation of the Volkswagen Beetle, ‘Ferry’ Porsche’s beautiful yet bluff sports car set the company’s roadster template. At 585kg, the car was light, and with 35bhp from its Volkswagen-derived 1,131cc engine, power was up, too. ‘Number One’ also gave birth to the 356: the first production range of Porsche sports cars.
1953 550 Spyder
Most infamously known as the car in which movie legend James Dean lost his life in 1955, the 550 Spyder first appeared in 1953. Porsche’s first car specifically designed to go racing, the car featured a single-shell body over a steel-tube frame. The 550 Spyder clocked numerous class victories in legendary races such as Le Mans, the Mille Miglia, the Carrera Panamerica and the Targa Florio. In 135bhp ‘A’ form, the 550 Spyder gave Porsche its first manufacturer’s world sports car championship. To reference Dean’s car, the 550 Spyder proved to be a successful ’Little Bastard’…
1957-1962 718 RSK / RS 60 / W-RS
A development of the 550A, the 142bhp 718 RSK (‘RennSport Kurz’, race sports, short wheel-base) debuted at Le Mans in 1957. Like its forebear, the 718 went on to dominate motorsport and hillclimb events, especially with the 160bhp 718 RS 60, which arrived to take advantage of FIA regulation changes. In fearsome 240bhp flat-eight-cylinder form, the 718 W-RS finished eighth at Le Mans in 1963. The 718 is such a notable car in the mid-engined Porsche stable, the Boxster now references the historic racer in its latest ‘Boxster 718’ designation.
1964 904 Carrera GTS
The steel-framed and glassfibre reinforced plastic-bodied 904 was the creation of ‘Ferry’ Porsche’s son Ferdinand Alexander ‘Butzi’ Porsche, and the 650kg car was designed to take 180bhp four-, 210bhp six-, and 240bhp eight-cylinder engines. This versatility opened up huge potential on the motorsport scene and only five months after its debut in November 1963 it was enjoying ‘Grand Tourisme’ racing successes. Its winning reputation wasn’t limited to the race track either: in 1965 the curvaceous 904 was runner-up in the Monte-Carlo Rally.
1969 914/4 and 914/6
A 1969 co-operation between Porsche and Volkswagen, four-cylinder versions of the 914 two-seater targa featured 80bhp VW engines from the 411E saloon. A six-cylinder ‘proper Porsche’ 914/6 was available initially, too, with the 110bhp flat six from the 911T. Constantly updated throughout its short life and with a successful motorsport career behind it, the 914 became the first mid-engined car to achieve six-digit sales. Just under 119,000 examples had been sold by its demise in 1976, despite its high price: in 1971 exchange rates decreed that the close-to-MGB-in-size 914 cost almost as much as the graceful Jaguar E-Type.
Since the creation of the Boxster, Porsche hasn’t shied away from the mid-engined layout. The 612bhp Carrera GT and 887bhp 918 Spyder hypercars had monstrous performance when compared to that original 356 ‘Number One’ of 1948, but confidence in the amidships configuration has continually guaranteed both Porsche’s road car and race car success.
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