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Porsche 911: Evolution of an Icon at Crawford Auto Aviation Museum

Cleveland Rocks with Porsche 911 Exhibit

A white 1991 Carrera Cup on display still races in Porsche Club of America competition and is one of only 120 built. Nearby, a 2002 Supercup GT3 race car stands for the single-marque sprint series designed exclusively as a support event on Formula One weekends. This particular car raced at Indianapolis in 2002.  

By Kevin Ehrlich

Almost Extinct:

The Porsche 911 came very close to extinction. American Peter Schutz began his tenure as CEO at Porsche on January 1, 1981. He didn’t take the job to save the 911 but when he arrived, he found a company that had decided to abandon the 911 in favor of the 928 and 944. The 911 was “outmoded,” expensive and difficult to drive. Porsche employees mourned the decision. Sales may have slowed but there was nothing else like a 911. Schutz grasped the importance of the 911, and in a well-known Porsche history moment, informed lead engineer Professor Helmut Bott that the 911 lifeline would continue rather than conclude. That single decision and Schutz’s leadership injected raw fuel into the relatively small company. It wasn’t all smooth seas and easy sailing from there, but Porsche’s imprint on motoring and motorsports history is larger today than it likely would have been otherwise.

To celebrate the pivotal moment and the related sprouts on the Porsche family tree, the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, worked with local owners and enthusiasts to assemble a group of sixteen Porsches for a temporary exhibition titled “Porsche 911: The Evolution of an Icon.”
The limited production 959 still captures the imagination over three decades later.Keeping with the turbo theme, a 1978 930 with its hallmark fender flares and rear wing sits nearby. The lowercase “turbo” script on the rear quarter panels is a styling cue unique to the period.

911 Timeline:

How else to tell the near-death Porsche 911 story than to highlight key cars in the 911 timeline?  For starters, a black 1988 959 Komfort greets guests as they enter the gallery.  While Porsche lost money on every 959 it built, the halo supercar was the fullest expression at the time of the 911 concept.  Twin-turbos, all wheel drive, and performance that claimed the cover of every magazine at the time.  The limited production 959 still captures the imagination over three decades later.

Keeping with the turbo theme, a 1978 930 with its hallmark fender flares and rear wing sits nearby. The lowercase “turbo” script on the rear quarter panels is a styling cue unique to the period.
A blue 911SC targa is positioned alongside a yellow 1978 928. If the original plan had carried through, the 911SC would have been the end of the line and the 928 would have been the top of line standard bearer for Porsche.
A black 1975 911 turbo with period-correct black and white checkered seats signifies the launch of the 911 turbo production car. Porsche motorsport did the research and development labor for turbocharging with the 917 and Carerra RSR, leading to the incorporation of turbo charging technology on a road car.
The exhibition included a 1987 turbo look cabriolet (“everything but the turbo”). The M491 option package specified the cabriolet with turbo fender flares and rear spoiler but with the standard 3.2-liter 911 engine.

1980s and 1990s:

The 1980s were kind to 911 development. The base 1984 3.2 liter was the first of the next generation after the 911 received its reprieve. The exhibition showed this milestone with a black coupe (complete with whale tail) and a 1987 turbo look cabriolet (“everything but the turbo”). The M491 option package specified the cabriolet with turbo fender flares and rear spoiler but with the standard 3.2-liter 911 engine.

Development continued into the 1990s. A black 1990 Carrera 4 cabriolet and a silver 1996 993 coupe marked the next generations. The Carrera 4, more commonly known by the type 964, extended all-wheel drive technology to the showroom after the 959 proved the concept. Continuing the turbo theme, a silver 1996 993 turbo with all-wheel drive is on hand. Supercar performance, an air-cooled engine, and the 959 heritage makes the 993 turbo a classic. The 993 turbo also inspired the famous “Kills Bugs Fast” Porsche advertising poster. A silver 1996 turbo shows the leap for the 911 into the water-cooled age.

A red Boxter sits amidst the gallery, a reminder that Porsche had both great cars and business challenges in the 1990s. The Boxter made its debut in 1996 as a 1997 model, sharing many components with the 911. The shared fried-egg headlight cluster helped make both economically viable.

Racing Improves the Brand:

While the 911 remains the flagship for Porsche showrooms across the globe, the wizards at Weissach also transformed the 911 into the most competitive and common of customer racing cars. Spanning the range of weekend racers or top-tier professional motorsport and from sprint races to enduros, Porsche figured out the formula. Racing improves the breed, makes better production cars and creates marketing energy. Racing also gives Porsche a profitable business line beyond production car sales. Spanning the range of weekend racers or top-tier professional motorsport and from sprint races to enduros, Porsche figured out the formula. Racing improves the breed, makes better production cars and creates marketing energy. Racing also gives Porsche a profitable business line beyond production car sales.

A trio of Porsches with racing flavor is tucked near a pair of airplanes and a wall full of Cleveland Air Racing history.  Single marque racing has been a key part of Porsche’s racing strategy racing since 1986. Cars with standard specifications in sprint races improve the odds that driver skill makes the difference rather than better equipment. The Carerra Cup concept started in 1991 with the 964, following a successful program to race the 944 turbo.
A ruby stone 1992 Carrera RS shows how Porsche built production cars to make the model eligible for race series requiring a direct link to a road car. Customers often clamor for these types of cars, as they are as close as road cars get to the track without making them pure race cars. These cars also demonstrate the tradition of adding performance by removing features. Stripping down a regular Carrera 2 of power windows, back seat, air conditioning, or sound deadening. production cars to make the model eligible for race series requiring a direct link to a road car.
Ohio was a vibrant epicenter in the early days of aviation. The Wright Brothers came from Dayton and Akron-based Goodyear is well known for its airship history. Mr. Crawford was a big promoter of the Cleveland Air Races in the 1920s and 1930s. More relevant to Porsche’s history, Chuck Stoddard opened a business to sell and service imported cars in 1957 in Willoughby, Ohio, about 20 miles northeast of Cleveland. Stoddard not only introduced Porsche to Ohio, he developed an unrivaled 356 parts business and accumulated an incredible collection.

As many have noted in various ways, you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been. For Porsche, a significant single change, of course, four decades ago is worth remembering.

INFO:

“Porsche 911: Evolution of an Icon” runs at Crawford Auto Aviation Museum until April 2, 2023. Click here for more information.

Additional photos courtesy Mary Fischer and the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum.

GALLERY:

 

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