Porsche famously changed the name of its 901 to 911 shortly before the 356 successor premiered at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt 50 years ago this autumn. Peugeot had already laid claim to triple-digit model designations with a zero in the middle, and you don’t want consumers to confuse a Porsche with a Pug.
Through potential replacements like the 924/944 and 928/968, the 911 name stuck to successively more modern iterations of the classic rear-engine Porsche. Air-cooled flat sixes survived for a long time, with emissions regulations finally prompting Porsche to water-cool the six after the last 993-model 911 in 1998.
Three generations later, modern engineering and electronic handling aids have virtually exorcised the rear-engine car’s inherent propensity to wildly slide its tail out at the mere hint of an injudicious lift of your foot from the throttle pedal. With the new 991-model 911, Porsche has stretched the wheelbase to 96.5 inches by pushing the rear wheels further back, thus moving the engine a few inches closer to the mid-engine ideal.
In case the technological reassurances aren’t enough, Porsche has offered the all-wheel-drive 911 Carrera 4 since the 964 model of 1989.
The original Porsche 911 parked next to the new 991 Carrera 4S in these photos illustrates how much larger and more sophisticated the 911 has grown over five decades while managing to maintain its core Bauhaus-like design. The flat six has grown, too, from 1991 cubic centimeters in original air-cooled form – rated at 128 hp and with a top speed of 130 mph – to 3800 water-cooled cubic centimeters rated at 400 hp and with a top speed of 180 mph. Ah, progress.