The number of vehicles that have made it to the half-century mark can be counted on one hand. Even the venerable Model T lasted barely two decades in production—despite Henry Ford's stubbornness. So it's not surprising that the folks at Porsche are in celebrating this week.
The German maker's iconic 911 sports car made its debut exactly 50 years ago on the stands at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and Porsche is marking the occasion by introducing a special anniversary edition at this year's show, with a limited run of just 1,963 to honor the year the 911 made its debut.
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What's particularly unusual about the sports car's longevity is the fact that, despite all the changes that have been made under the skin and to the interior, today's Porsche 911 maintains the original's basic exterior profile.
When he was asked to create the latest model, designer Michael Mauer was quick to recognize some serious challenges. Though he was charged with coming up with something distinctive for the seventh-generation model, he knew that a radical redesign simply "wouldn't be a 911." That meant maintaining the distinctive silhouette—starting with the long hood, bulging headlamps, "flyline" roof and, of course, rear-engine layout.
That didn't mean standing still. Introduced last year, the Gen-7 model was a bit lower, wider and longer than the previous model. It was more aerodynamic and, defying conventional wisdom, more powerful while being about 16 percent more fuel-efficient.
Not all changes over the years have been uncontroversial, Porsche fanatics raised a fuss in 1998, when the maker abandoned the time-tested air-cooled 911 engine in favor of a more modern water-cooled power train. But the 911's distinctive rear-mounted engine layout has held since Day One.
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Porsche reported that it has sold 820,000 911s.
The original design was sketched out by Ferdinand "Butzi" Porsche in 1959, and the auto was intended to serve as the replacement for the original 356. Delivered to showrooms in early 1964, the car was originally going to be called the Porsche 901, but the manufacturer had to make a quick change when French automaker Peugeot claimed a monopoly on using "0" in the middle of three numbers.
A year after the European launch, the first 911 reached the U.S., incidentally, going for a then-pricey $6,500. The base Porsche 911 Carrera model carries an MSRP of $83,050. Few get out of the showroom at that price, however, as Porsche traditionally makes almost every feature an option that rapidly drives up the price.
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And the 911 is really a family of variants, including models such as the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4S and the top-line turbo, with a base price of $138,450.
The 911 50th Anniversary Edition will be offered in two unique colors: a light-gray metallic and a dark graphite. It will also feature a "two-tone 3-D-effect" badge on the rear marking it a "911 50" edition. The edition will be available in the U.S. for $124,100.
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Might the Porsche 911 make it to 75, or even 100? Considering all the tough new regulations in the auto industry—especially those covering emissions and mileage—it will certainly be tough. But the maker has proved uncanny at adapting to technical hurdles.
Indeed, alongside the 911 50th anniversary model, Porsche is showing off the new 918 Spyder at the Frankfurt Motor Show. It's an $845,000 plug-in hybrid supercar that can launch from 0 to 60 in just 3.1 seconds but is rated at 78 mpg.
There was a time, incidentally, when the 911 was pretty much it for Porsche, but today, the maker offers a wide range of models, including several that also caused quite a kerfuffle among traditionalists, the sport-utility Cayenne and the four-door Panamera.
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But while the 911 is no longer the brand's best-seller, it is the icon and generally rated the most popular of the German maker's offerings. Indeed, in the 1999 international balloting for the Car of the Century, the Porsche 911 came in No. 5, behind the Model T and the Volkswagen Beetle—which just happens to trace its roots to the Porsche family.