Earlier this week I had the chance to stop by the 2021 Porsche Investor Conference in Lisbon and I’m very glad I did because the company put on one hell of a good show. And it would have been so easy to do everything behind closed doors, so I have to congratulate Porsche for choosing the venue that it did and for opening their beautiful traveling exhibit to the general public, instead of keeping it only accessible to the investors themselves. That openness transpired from the concept of the exhibit to the staff who accompanied it. I spent a long time talking to designers and Porsche Museum staff and every – single – person was extremely friendly, patient and helpful; they were kind enough to open up the vehicles for pictures, go into deep dives about the history and design of the cars, share their personal experiences and views…just a five star experience all round, capped by the presence of the accomplished and extremely nice Mark Webber.
Porsche had some stunning Le Mans royalty on display, along with pretty interesting concepts and a couple of noteworthy production models, so in that order, let’s take a look at what put a huge smile on my face.
In the racing department, we start (moving chronologically afterwards) with the 936/81 Spyder. This thing demolished the competition at the 1981 24H of Le Mans, a particularly impressive feat considering that there was no time for testing before the race and that the car wasn’t built from scratch as the latest, greatest thing in racing technology, but instead conceptualized directly on the previous 936 platform which had also won Le Mans in 1976 and 1977. A truly impressive vehicle, pictures cannot do it justice.
The 917K managed to stand out in the middle of a very impressive lineup. And it’s not difficult to see why; a racing legend, the 917 (in any of its iterations) is easily one of the most beautiful race cars ever created. And one of the most successful as well, with this particular example being the 1971 Le Mans winner. The stunning looks, the iconic Martini Racing livery…this thing’s charisma is unbelievable! It absolutely mesmerizes you. In fact, I was so taken with the 917 that I managed to neglect taking a front ¾ shot of the car, the proverbial bread and butter shot of this business…because of that, this first image belongs to our friends at the Caramulo Museum’s Jornal dos Clássicos (Classics Journal).
Another titan present at the exhibit was the 962C. Every bit as impressive as its predecessors, the 962C had the honor of winning Le Mans two years in a row with the same driving team (Stuck, Bell, Holbert). The version presented in Lisbon was the 1987 LM winner and it looks glorious with its battle scars and (modified) Rothmans livery. While the 917 is shorter and curvier, the 962’s ever so slight length increase and bold straight lines at the rear make it more menacing, more imposing. The 962C is, in my humble opinion, the very definition of impressive.
The 911 GT1 is one of my very favorite Porsche race cars. It came in with the CLK GTR/LM, GT-One wave of madness and just the sheer complexity of its shape is a wonder to behold. It went through 3 iterations before culminating with this one, the GT1-98. However, the 911 GT1 wasn’t just a badass looking thing but it also meant business, taking the Le Mans overall victory in 1998. This particular example is not the one which dominated the 24H race, but a clone put together at Weissach after being crashed in the USA by Zakspeed.
On a much more recent page of Porsche’s illustrious Le Mans history we find the 919 Hybrid. Like many of its predecessors, the 919 dominated the competition, taking first and second places 3 years in a row: 2015, 2016 and 2017. The one pictured here is the 2016 winner, driven by Dumas, Jani and Lieb and still wonderfully conserving all the 24H endurance grime. It’s a funny thing because when you see it in context like this, the 919 is simultaneously so alien and so in line with the other Le Mans cars in the exhibit. I know it sounds like a contradiction, but when you go from the 936 to the 917, 962, GT1…they stop being isolated concepts in time, stuff strictly of their own era to, instead, feel like the progression in design and technology that they indeed are.
And speaking of progression (no longer in the endurance racing realm, but certainly at the forefront of one of the branches of racing technology), at the end of the exhibit’s timeline sat the 99X Electric. If you’d like to feel like you’re living in the future, standing next to one of these just might do the trick. Simply put, it’s outrageous. However, despite its fetching sci fi looks, 2 years into Formula E and Porsche’s results aren’t what they hoped, especially after essentially dropping endurance racing to focus on it. The 99X has yet to evoke the winning spirit of its forefathers; will it eventually earn its place in the sun? We’ll see. Porsche’s history in Formula 1 isn’t the pride and joy of the company and Formula E could be the chance for some degree of atonement, so we’ll find out in time.
As far as concepts, there were a few I’d like to underline; the 919 Street is such an interesting proposition. Essentially a street version of the 919 Hybrid we just saw, it’s difficult to imagine if Porsche will ever come out with something along these lines ever again – I don’t mean a road going version of the 919 in particular, but just a Straßenversion of a road going LMP1. Unlikely in any foreseeable future, but we can hope.
The Vision Turismo was also quite a sight. Not only does it look really good, but it’s also so…”finished”, so refined that it hardly looks like a concept car; it feels like something which might have rolled out of a dealership a moment ago. Obviously inspired on the 918’s design language, it makes for a more tempting proposition (again, in my personal view) than a Taycan; certainly more so than the Panamera. Wish Porsche would have run with this, I really do.
Another cool “what if”: the 904 Living Legend, an homage to the 904 GTS. Put together in 2013, the Living Legend has a wild choice of hypothetical motorization: the VW XL1 V2 engine. Bonkers, but a fun possibility. Would it work out? Probably not, but in any case, the Living Legend makes for a quite satisfying design exercise.
What if the 550 Spyder was made today? Porsche’s answer to that possibility is this, the Vision Spyder. With a bare bones interior, nicely integrated rollbar and tiny windscreen, it does show the traits necessary to be a worthy spiritual successor to the 550. This concept has the added interest of featuring several homages to the most famous of the 550 Spyders: James Dean’s “Little Bastard”. It’s a shame Porsche hasn’t seriously followed through with the notion of a small, focused, minimalist spyder. It would be strictly an enthusiast’s proposition for sure, but worth taking a chance on; Porsche’s lineup would certainly be richer for it.
Also noteworthy were the 2018 EV Vision Renndienst which had folks ticked for some reason, despite looking very neat for what it is and being a cool tribute to the beloved T1 Porsche Rennsport van and the Boxster Bergspyder, a 909 callback exploring the possibilities of putting a 981 Boxster on an extreme diet.
As far as production models go, the exhibit featured a curios collab between Porsche and private jet manufacturer Embraer, making it possible for you to get a matching 911 with your new jet…Yay(?). Regardless of how you feel about it, in all fairness there were some nice options taken with this limited run of 10 cars and I found myself wishing that a couple of details would make their way to the production Turbo S. Plus, the paint. It takes seeing a really, really good high-end paintjob to appreciate the difference it makes in a car when compared to the standard factory stuff.
A 2009 Cayenne showed off the Porsche Classic Performance Parts program, a neat idea (although the “performance” bit would be better substituted with “heritage” or something like that) which lets you customize your car with decals and such, essentially callbacks to Porsche’s racing history. Gimmicky for sure, but I’m a sucker for this type of stuff and would be a client. Don’t judge me…
Also on the grounds (among other models) were a Taycan Turbo S Cross Turismo, the special 25th Anniversary Edition Boxster and a GT3 Touring. The jury is still out on the Taycan, although (performance aside and strictly speaking about looks) I feel that the Panamera Sport Turismo pulled off the wagonesque look more successfully…something about the proportions. The Boxster is nice enough, but I’ll admit I was let down by the GT3 as it was the first time I saw a 992 GT3 in person and, aesthetically, it just falls so far behind the 991. I distinctly recall being completely blown away by my first walk around a 991 GT3, but the 992… quite a letdown, what a shame.
But I didn’t want to end this piece on a low note tied to strictly subjective views on design, so I’ll instead underline how much I enjoyed my experience at the Porsche Conference, how much of a privilege it was to get to know these models up and close out of a museum setting and again, I cannot stress enough the difference that the Museum staff and design team made, not forgetting how privileged I felt by being able to hear Mark Webber talk about his racing career and his experience with the 919 in particular.
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