One of the greatest mysteries in the world of motoring is the Porsche 911 range. Throughout the years there have been so many variants and special editions, that the history and line-up of this legendary sports car can seem baffling
at a glance. Fear not, though; after taking you through the equally complicated BMW
line-ups, we've put together another idiot's guide to make sense of the Porsche madness.
The Carrera name - taken from the famous Carrera Panamericana road race - has been used throughout the 911's history, but more recently it's come to refer to the 'standard' 911s. The current 911 Carrera is the base-spec 911, with a 3.4-litre engine.
As with other cars from Porsche (like the Boxster and Cayman), strapping an 'S' to the name means a quicker
version. In the context of the current 911 line-up, the standard Carrera has a 3.4-litre engine making 350bhp, while the Carrera S has a 3.8-litre lump churning out 400bhp.
Put a 4 on the name after Carrera and you get four-wheel drive. Currently, it's also available on S models as the Carrera 4S. Turbo models are also four-wheel drive, but don't get a '4' in the name.
A refreshingly easy one, this: it's a 911 with a folding fabric roof. Currently, it's available as a Carrera, Carrera S, Carrera 4, Carrera 4S, Turbo and Turbo S.
For those that like alfresco motoring but don't want a full-on convertible, there's the Targa. Historically available with a removable roof panel, modern versions
have a clever folding mechanism.
If you want your 911 with a little forced induction, you're in luck: turbo power has been available since 1973. Earlier examples are rear-wheel drive, but more recently, 911 Turbos have all been four-wheel drive. The 991 Turbo produces 514bhp, but if you want extra poke, there's the slightly more powerful Turbo S with 553bhp.
The GT2 is a Porsche for the properly unhinged: it's a stripped back, track-biased, flyweight like the GT3. Unlike the GT3, however, it has the engine from the 911 Turbo, without the four-wheel drive system. For extra crazy, even more hardcore RS versions have been made in the past. The current 911 line-up doesn't yet feature one of these, and it remains unconfirmed for the future.
The GT3 first appeared on the 996 generation 911. It has a more potent flat-six that shares only a few parts with the engines of the 'lesser' 911s. GT3s are heavily track-focused, with lower suspension, beefier brakes, and things like sound deadening and rear seats binned to reduce weight.
Short for RennSport (which translates as racing sport), the RS badge first appeared in 1973 on the 911 Classic as the Carrera RS. This lightweight car had revised suspension and beefier brakes, and has become one of the most collectable 911s ever.
The RS badge appeared on the 996 generation 911 to make the 911 GT3 RS: an even more track-focused version of the GT3. For the 996 version, weight was further reduced through the use of polycarbonate windows (among other things) and the suspension and engine uprated. Ceramic composite brakes were also dropped in at each corner. An RS version of the 997 GT3 arrived, and the current 991 GT3 will soon be given the RS treatment. The name has also been used for extreme versions of the already deranged GT2 (see GT2 section for more info).
The term 'classic' is used to describe all original
911s, which were produced from 1963 all the way up to 1989. A very small number were made early on as the '902,' before Peugeot kicked up a stink about using a '0' in the middle of the name, forcing Porsche to change the name to '911.' All cars had a flat-six; early cars had a 2.0-litre, and the very last Carreras came with a 3.2. 911 Classic Turbos, meanwhile (type 930), had a 3.0-litre flat-six, which was later enlarged to 3.3-litres.
Major revisions to the original 911 led to a new internal designation: 964. The same basic shape was still there, but 85 per cent of the car was new. Its plastic bumpers gave it a very different look, while technology like ABS and power steering was present for the first time in a 911. Another notable 911 first was the electronically raising spoiler, which pops up at 50mph. Engines were still air-escooled, most being 3.6-litre, with a 3.3-litre in the Turbo and 3.75-litre in the RS and RSR.
The last of the air-cooled cars, the 993 is the ultimate 911 generation for many. As with the 964, it still had that recognisable 911 shape, but the new styling was the biggest departure yet for the then 30-year-old sports car. The brakes and suspension were dramatically improved over the 964, while at the rear either a 3.6-litre or 3.8-litre engine was available.
This was the big one. Arriving in 1998, the 996 was all-new
. No major component from the 993 was carried over, and most importantly, the brand-new flat-six engine was now (shock horror) water-cooled. The styling was a radical change, too. Again, the same basic 911 shape is there, but it's a much more curvaceous thing, while the round headlights were dropped in favour of the unpopular 'fried egg' designs. Early 996 Carreras had a 3.4-litre engine, while later models had a 3.6-litre.
After the big changes brought about by the 996, the 997 marked a return to the 'evolution not revolution' way of 911 progress. Other than the unloved 996 headlights being binned in favour of the classic
round design, there's not much going on visually to tell it apart from its predecessor. Everything was tweaked and improved, though, so it's no surprise that the 997 became the most successful car in the Porsche 911's history. Engine displacement ranges from 3.6-litre to 3.8-litres.
It was a case of deja vu when Porsche rolled out the 'new' 991 911: like the 997, it looked scarcely different to its predecessor. Some call it lazy design, while others might argue that Porsche would be daft to fiddle too much with such a successful car. Either way, there are significant changes under the skin, notably the increase in wheelbase, which moves the rear wheels further back in relation to the engine, aiding weight distribution. Despite the increase in size, weight is actually reduced
compared to the 997. At the moment, it's available with either a 3.4-litre or 3.8-litre flat-six.
Which 911 would you choose?
Still not sure which 911 you'd go for if you had a big stack of cash to play with? We've put together this flow chart to guide you through your dream 911 purchase.
Note: chart applies to 991 and 997 generations. The GT3 RS isn't yet available in the current 991 range, and the GT2 and GT2 RS are so far unconfirmed.