‘Porsche 911: 50 Years’ by Randy Leffingwell

The 911 anniversary has spawned another crop of books and among the best is Randy Leffingwell’s ‘Porsche 911/ 50 Years’. Seasoned automotive writer, Leffingwell has been here before with his ‘911: Perfection by Design’ published in 2005.

Thankfully he has commendably resisted the temptation simply to add another chapter and instead revisited the entire story. The result is much new material, especially on the early years of the iconic Porsche.

Particularly interesting is his unearthing of the “forgotten man” of Porsche design, modeller Heinrich Klie, he of the 914 and the Fuchs wheel designs, who Leffingwell describes also played a major part in the final shape of the 901.

Appropriately in a book written with extensive cooperation from Porsche, the author deftly sidesteps the controversy surrounding Butzi Porsche’s actual involvement, preferring to imply that the Porsche design tradition has always comprised an inspired leader directing a diverse, but extraordinarily talented group of individuals.

The middle part of the 911 story is relatively well known to enthusiasts, yet the author still uncovers new detail: in the late eighties most of the attention inside the company was directed at the four door 989 which was also intended to have rear wheel steering.

The 993 was developed very much in the 989’s shadow, giving its engineers and designers a relatively free run. It should have inherited the 989’s rear steering, but the abandonment of the four door meant the engineers had to look elsewhere and the 993 gained the multi-link rear suspension that continues to underpin the 991 today.

Porsche 911 50 Years book

A third chapter provides an illuminating commentary on the evolution of that 991, supported by extensive interviews with chief engineer August Achleitner and design boss Michaël Mauer; a fourth chapter details the 911’s sporting history.

‘Porsche 911: 50 years’ is more the development of a style than an engineering account: don’t look for any acknowledgement by Porsche of the early 986 and 996 quality and build problems.

This, like the huge challenge the company faced in switching from air to water cooling and the desperate need to be successful from the very outset is perhaps too near the present, a subject for future historians.

‘Porsche 911: 50 Years’ is above all a celebration of a peculiarly individual car which in a rational world would never have existed and yet survived and prospered through a half century, evolving and adapting but never losing its highly distinct character.

No other brand has ever managed this and Leffingwell’s achievement is the focus he brings to this compelling story. Some of the face-to-face discussions the author was able to hold with current Porsche movers and shakers would have been impossible only a few years ago and this greater openness has extended to the company’s image collection: the book is illustrated by a superb selection of previously unseen Archive photography.

Leffingwell has created a splendid monument to the Porsche 911, which more than just the definitive sports car, has defied conformist pressures to become a symbol of endeavour and excellence.

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