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The Porsche story starts in the late 1940's, as automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche builds the 356/1 Roadster. The sports car was in part spawned from his Volkswagen Beetle project, thus sharing the familiar 'bug-eyes', rear engine, horizontally opposed cylinder configuration, and air cooling. The early 356's began production with the 356 Gmund, in, well, the town of Gmund, Austria. After those first 52 cars, full production began and the model was known simply as the 356. Incidentally, the name came from the project number - Ferdinand Porsche's company had carried out 355 previous engineering projects.
The 356 with its 911 Successor Porsche began one of its many traditions with the 356, namely keeping a fundamental model and subtly changing it, while also offering many choices. The 356 came as a Coupe, Cabriolet, Roadster, Roadster Hardtop, and Speedster, as well as having numerous engine choices. The car evolved into the 356 A, then 356 B, and finally 356 C. After almost 20 years of only 356 production (aside from race cars such as the legendary 550 Spyder) Porsche introduced what was to be its defining car, the 911. The 911 was a clear evolution of the 356, sporting the same rear engine / rear wheel drive configuration, air cooled horizontally opposed engine, but sported 6 cylinders instead of 4. The 911's engine grew from 2.0 to 2.2 to 2.4 to 2.7 liters of displacement within 10 years. Variations grew on the 911 as well, with the basic 911 and later 911 T, the intermediate 911 E, and the top of the range 911 S, with special models such as the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 sometimes offered as well. A 356-like replacement was also crafted, the 912, which was basically a 911 with a 356's 4-cylinder engine.
The 924, 914, 944 and 928 In the early 70's, the 914 was introduced, a small open top sports car, which was developed in partnership with VW (Volkswagen). The car was successful commercially, yet the 911 was still the company's main seller, which was then known as the 911 SC. Porsche was worried that the 911 might not be able to sustain the company, so they introduced the 928 as its eventual replacement, a V8 'grand tourer,' with more luxury and less sport. Although the 928 was long lived and went through its evolutions, it never did replace the 911. At around that time, the 924 also appeared, a 4-cylinder car built in conjunction with VW (as with the 914 a few years earlier). The 924 grew into the 944, another front engined 4-cylinder car, which itself eventually evolved in the 968. The 924 and 944 has Turbo versions, internally known as the 931 and 951, respectively, while the 944 and 968 offered Convertible versions as well.
The 911 Evolution: 911 SC, 964, 993, 996, 997 Back to the 911: in the late 70's, the 911 Turbo Carrera was introduced, known internally as the type 930. After a few years, it became known simply as the 911 Turbo, a model that's still with us. By now, the 911 also had a 911 Targa, half-coupe, half-convertible featuring removable roof panels and extended use of glass. By the 1980's, the 911 would also spawn a 911 Cabriolet (or Convertible). At the time, the 911 could be identified as the 911 3.2, again based on its engine displacement. At the end of the 1980's, a new 911 was introduced, the 964 (the internal type, such as 964, is often used by enthusiasts to identify 911's? unfortunately, before the 964, no such naming system was in place, so engine displacement is used). The 964 introduced an innovation from Porsche's 959 supercar, namely all-wheel-drive, in the Carrera 4 (that is, driving all 4 wheels). Again, the Carrera's base Coupe offering was accompanied by a Targa, Convertible, and Turbo.
The 911 would then develop into the 993 in the mid-90's, which many regard as the epitome of the 911: timeless styling, small size, and the last of the air cooled engines. This generation's 911 Turbo sported all-wheel-drive for the first time in a Turbo, harnessing the ever-growing power. The 993 gave way to the 996 in the late 90's, which brought many changes, introducing non-'bug-eye' headlights, water cooling, and a larger overall size - changes which many Porsche enthusiasts did not take well to. The fact that the newly introduced mid-engined Boxster roadster, a lower-priced model, shared the 996's looks also did the new 911 no favors. Regardless, the 996 overcame, with brilliant models such as the practical-supercar 911 Turbo, the outrageous 911 GT2 and the purist 911 GT3.
The Cayenne SUV and the Carrera GT exotic supercar And thus we come to the present day and see the Porsche lineup revitalized in 2004 with the 997, which has been introduced in 911 Carrera and 911 Carrera S forms. Porsche (in another Porsche-VW project) also hopped on the SUV bandwagon with the technically impressive Cayennes (V6 Cayenne, V8 Cayenne S, and V8 Twin-Turbo Cayenne Turbo)? and, perhaps in penance for this bleak act, unleashed the astonishing Carrera GT supercar.
While that covers the production models, a large part of the Porsche allure is built on its racing exploits. Along the way, Porsche has developed some remarkably successful racing cars, notably the 550 Spyder in the 50's, the 917 and 935 in the 70's, the 956 and 962 in the 80's, and the 911 GT1 in the 90's. Naturally, the 356 and 911 - along with most other production models - were also involved in motorsport all along, with practically every model having some type of racing derivative.