Accept No Substitute: The 10 Best Porsches Of All Time
Ask a hardcore Porsche guy what the 10 best Porsches of all time were, and you’ll probably get a list of serial numbers of individual 959 race cars, none of which could be had at auction even for several million dollars. But for the rest of us — those car enthusiasts who would buy a Porsche in a heartbeat, but aren’t quite ready to devote lifelong allegiance to the brand — the 10 best Porsches of all time is a different, and more varied, list. Porsche has made some of the world’s greatest sports cars for almost 70 years now, but some stand out above the rest. And not all of them have air-cooled engines in the rear and bodies like overturned bathtubs.
1. 1960 Porsche Abarth 356B Carrera GTL
The first Porsche, the 356, was barely noticed outside of Germany when it came out in 1948. But winning LeMans in 1951 changed that. Then the 356 took the sports car world by storm. It was as nimble as its mainly British and Italian competition, but far more powerful and reliable. As Porsche sought to improve its racing efforts, it auditioned the finest engineering firms from around Europe before settling on Italy’s Abarth. Lead designer Franco Scaglione reshaped the 356’s body to reduce both drag and weight. The result was a faster, altogether sexier race car. It also marked the first time Porsche used twin-cam technology, something that became standard in its cars after a few years and in the rest of the industry in a few decades. In order to qualify for LeMans and other races, the Porsche Abarth 356B Carrera GTL was put into production and released to a very grateful set of enthusiasts.
2. 1966 Porsche 911
Although the 911 was introduced in 1963, it wasn’t until 1966 that it hits its stride. Not only was it the first year the legendary 356 was absent from Porsche showrooms that it came into its own, but, not coincidentally, the 1966 model 911 also offered a power boost from 128 to 158 horsepower and sleeker styling. The legendary five-spoke Fuchs wheels, which became synonymous with the 911 for years, were also introduced that year and 1966 also marked the beginning of the 911’s utter domination of racing for decades to come. Even today, the 1966 911 is an eye-catching beauty with its bug eyes, chrome accents and a simplicity that is utterly lacking in many later 911s. A year later, Porsche would introduce the Targa — with a removable roof panel and a shiny metal roll bar — to mixed reviews.
3. 1974 Porsche Carrera RS 3.0
Other than the more outrageous models, like the 959, the Porsches collectors prize most are the middle-70s Carreras. And the best of them was the 1974 Carrera RS 3.0. The Carrera series represented the start of the evolution away from the classic 911 towards the models we know today. With more powerful engines, a wider back end and a tougher suspension, the Carreras were much faster and more predictable at high speeds than the models they replaced, while retaining the simplicity and other core values of the original 911s. The RS 3.0 was sold in the same showrooms as the outwardly similar RS 2.7 at a price tag almost 100 percent higher, but it found its fair share of takers. The difference was not only the bigger, more powerful engine and lighter weight, but it also had a suspension lifted (and almost unchanged) from the LeMans-winning RSR. Nothing else, even in the era of American muscle cars and Italian exotics, could come close to matching its performance.
4. 1974 Porsche 930 (911 Turbo)
Although the 911 has been fine tuned and improved since its inception in 1963, no development has been more significant than the addition of a turbocharger. It turned the 911 from sports car to supercar, and made it almost unbeatable on the track. Porsche had been exploring the idea on race cars for years, but in 1973, it introduced the 930, its first turbocharged production car. The result was a power boost from 173 to 260 horsepower. That much gear teeth-pulling torque overwhelmed the 911’s basic structure, so a new transmission, suspension and brakes were added. But, most recognizably, Porsche added the now-famous “whale tail” rear spoiler that not only kept the car’s back end stuck on the ground at high speeds, but also improved the intake process for the air-hungry blower and hot-running engine. After a few years, Porsche dropped the 930 name in favor of 911 Turbo.
5. 1987 Porsche 928 S4
Porsche purists reviled the 928. Planned as the 911’s successor, the 928 came out in 1978 with a front-mounted, water-cooled V8, an automatic transmission, radical styling with pop-up headlights and a usable back seat. The brand’s fans were aghast. Not only was it everything Porsche had never been before, but it followed what other manufacturers had been doing for years. They weren’t being fair — the 928 might have been a huge departure from the 911, but it was an awesome car in its own right. Powerful, comfortable and luxurious, it might not have been as track-ready as the 911s of the era, but it had a different mission. It was a grand tourer; the kind of big, powerful beast you could drive cross-country all day everyday and get out of with a smile on your face and no lower back pain. The best of the breed was the 1987 928 S4 that matched a 316 horsepower powerplant with a manual transmission and some styling tweaks that made it look less like an AMC Pacer that had been squashed and more like the supercar it really was.
6. 1983 Porsche 911SC Cabriolet
Up until the 1980s, the 911 had been a lot of things, but never a true convertible. Sure there were plenty of Targa models with their removable roofs, but it wasn’t the same thing. The advent of stronger materials, combined with better engineering methods allowed Porsche to saw the roof of the 911 and retain its high-performance abilities. The first Cabriolet was a concept car show at auto shows around the world, but it was so popular that it went into production the second it was ready. Porsche marketed it as “the world’s fastest convertible,” and waiting lists at most dealers ran a year or even two. Open-air driving certainly agrees with Porsche buyers, as Cabriolets have continued to be very popular, despite a significant price premium and less cargo space than most bicycles.
7. 1987 Porsche 959
If you weren’t around in the 80s and actually there to witness it, it would be hard to comprehend exactly how thoroughly Porsche 911 variants dominated racing. And none was more successful than the 959. With twin turbos and four-wheel drive, it became the blueprint for every supercar that came after it. In order to make it qualify for a wide range of racing disciplines, Porsche was obliged to produce a few hundred for the public. Not surprisingly, they were snapped up immediately, despite then then-astronomical $225,000 price tag. But those few hundred buyers were treated to a street-legal car like no other. With a claimed — and undoubted — top speed just a hair under 200 mph and handling to match, the 959 could beat anything on the street, no matter how much it cost. Sadly, safety regs kept the 959 out of the U.S. (at least legally) until 1999, and the few that have trickled in are now virtually guaranteed from getting onto the open market, unless you can convince Bill Gates to give up his.
8. 2008 Porsche Boxster RS60 Spyder
As the 911 grew bigger, more complex and more expensive, Porsche introduced the Boxster in 1996 as a lightweight alternative, a throwback to the old days when sports driving wasn’t all about power and grip statistics and an entry-level Porsche did not cost as much as a house in the suburbs. The flingable little roadster found its fans, but disappointed many of the Porsche faithful — who have complained about every new model since Ferry Porsche himself improved on the original 356. They hated it for its innocuous styling and less than overwhelming engines. Throughout its run, the Boxster was steadily improved and might have seen its pinnacle with the RS60 Spyder. Built to celebrate Porsche’s 1960 win at Sebring, only 1960 of them were made with about half coming to North America. Unlike earlier Boxsters, it had a Carrera-like treatment to its front end, and a rambunctious 299 horsepower.
9. 2011 Porsche 911 GT2
As the 911 concept began to show it age, Porsche did something unthinkable but long overdue in 2007 by switching to a liquid-cooled engine. The results were phenomenal — it was smaller, more powerful, more efficient, cleaner and it no longer sounded like a small airplane. There were critics, of course, but more of them beefed about the new models’ indistinct styling than the radical change to the engine. They were, however, largely silenced by the GT2 incarnation. It was ridiculously powerful. With two variable-geometry turbos, the new engine pumped out a ludicrous 620 horsepower, sending it to 60 mph in just about three seconds and allowing it to top out at a remarkable 205 mph, making it the fastest and most powerful Porsche in the company’s storied history.
10. 2014 Porsche Panamera Turbo S
Porsche gave the faithful something else to hate in 2010 with the Panamera luxury four-door sedan. Well aware of the venomous criticism that the 928 and more recent Cayenne SUV received, Porsche went ahead with this anti-911 in a large part because, frankly, the 928 and Cayenne were huge sellers. While it’s true that the Panamera won’t be flung around corners like a quarter horse, and it won’t show up on the track at LeMans, it offers colossal power, a refined suspension and luxurious comfort for four people, even if the back seat passengers are full-sized adults. While all Panameras are at or near the top of their class, the Turbo S, with its 550 horsepower liquid-cooled V8 will silence any critic lucky enough to drive one. Even though they’re an $8,400 option, I’d recommend the carbon-ceramic brakes. When your passenger car can run 190 mph with authority, you need to know you can stop when you have to.