We Take A Retrospective Stroll Through Porsche Supercar History

Like this newfangled “hypercar” term that’s been floating around, “supercar” is rather an abstract, vacuously-defined nomenclature. What threshold of performance is required of a sportscar to make it a supercar? Or is it a matter of performance and limited production volume?

Yet as difficult a word as it is to define, we feel that gearheads everywhere can almost universally agree; you know one when you see one.

The Porsche supercars we’re about to discuss in this post most certainly fit the bill – again, whatever that “bill” might be. These are, simply put, seven of the fastest, most agile, most capable, most boundary-pushing works of mechanical art of their respective times. Take a look:

Porsche 550 Spyder

Perhaps no member of the Porsche supercar history is as important as the 1953 Porsche 550 Spyder, as it bears the distinction of being the marque’s first true supercar – not to mention the first Porsche developed with motorsport aspirations. It is also, of course, the car from which we get the “Spyder” badge which is revived now and again by the German automaker.

Porsche Supercar History-550 Spyder

The Porsche 550 Spyder was powered by a 110 HP flat-4 with four overhead camshafts. Pretty advanced for its day. The car also achieved a class win in the Carrera Panamericana in 1954, all while remaining legal for street use.

Porsche 904 Carrera GTS

The second of the Porsche supercars came along a decade later in 1964. The 904 Carrera GTS was originally produced with a ladder frame and a 2.0-liter, 200 HP flat-4 engine. Later in 1965, a handful of 904s were produced with some version of the Porsche 911’s flat-6 and a tube frame, and some 904 race cars even had flat-8 powerplants.

Porsche Supercar History-904 Carrera GT

Every Porsche 904 Carrera GTS had a fiberglass body, and the car won the prestigious Targa Florio just 5 months after it was released.

Porsche 911 Turbo

Yes, it’s odd to see a Porsche supercar nameplate that’s still being worn by a contemporary sportscar. However, the 1973 original was quite a bit different from today’s Porsche 911 Turbo; it was the first turbocharged production vehicle offered by the automaker, making a very impressive 260 HP, and the engine was (of course) air-cooled.

Porsche Supercar History-911 Turbo

Of course now, “Porsche” and “turbo” are words seldom not accompanying one another, or so it seems.

Porsche 959

In 1985, the state of the Porsche supercar had evolved to an almost unrecognizable point, exhibited by this: the Porsche 959. The twin-turbo flat-6 in this car made a truly astonishing 450 HP, and not only was it fitted with an active chassis, but an electronically-controlled all-wheel drive system.

Porsche Supercar History-959

The 959 was truly something out of science fiction in its time, and only 292 were ever produced for the market. Some quantity ended up racing in the Group B class.

Porsche 911 GT1

Throughout automotive history, there are plenty of examples of manufacturers building and selling a car simply to meet some production requirement for racing homologation. That’s the story with this Porsche supercar: the 1997 Porsche 911 GT1.

Porsche Supercar History-911 GT1

It’s somewhat odd calling this a 911 at all, not only due to the dramatic departure in looks, but because it was mid-engined. Only 25 of the street-legal cars were built, and they each produced an intoxicating 545 HP from a 3.2-liter twin-turbo flat-6. The 911 GT1 body was made of Kevlar and carbon fiber.

Porsche Carrera GT

In 2003, a new Porsche supercar called the Carrera GT came along, originally produced so that the automaker could compete at Le Mans. It had a 5.7-liter V10 churning out a handy 610 HP, and in 2004, the Porsche Carrera GT set a new world record for road cars on the famous Nürburgring: 7 minutes, 33 seconds.

Porsche Supercar History-Carrera GT

Porsche 918 Spyder

Our most recent Porsche supercar is, of course, the 918 Spyder. The 918 was produced in 2014 with a plug-in hybrid powertrain aimed more squarely at performance than at fuel-economy. A normally-aspirated 4.6-liter V8 sits in the middle of the car, producing an already awe-inspiring 610 HP, which powers the rear wheels.

Porsche Supercar History-918 Spyder

But in addition to the typical petrol engine, the Porsche 918 Spyder also features two electric motors – one at each axle – which provide another 280 HP, and make the 918 a (selective) all-wheel drive vehicle.

All 918 examples of the Porsche 918 Spyder have already sold, but its racing cousin – the Porsche 919 Hybrid – continues to compete in the LMP1 class in the FIA World Endurance Championship.


**Note: All images courtesy of Porsche AG. All power figures are approximate.

Aaron Birch is an automotive enthusiast and writer/filmmaker from Detroit, MI. As a rule, he only buys cars older than himself.

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