Suddenly keen to relive a guilt-free decade? Here's the perfect time machine…
By John Howell / Wednesday, 21 December 2022 / Loading comments
A Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet, and it’s red. Crikey, it’s so ‘80s that it’s almost comical. This one’s Guards Red, with red wheels, red carpets, red piping and contrasting black hood and black seats. Nothing that special there; by 1989, when this car rolled off the line at Zuffenhausen, I dare say they’d made a few examples barely indistinguishable from this one. But I dare say you’d struggle to find many in such splendid condition as the one we have here. Three decades may have slipped by in a blur of ever-more miniature mobile phones, but the years have been kind to this example.
Speaking of mobiles, I can’t help but look at this car and see a pinstriped, red-braced yuppie racing through the city, hood down and rah-rahing loudly into a ‘brick’, perhaps ordering a table at some swanky wine bar with a bottle of Bolly on ice. And if that all seems a bit obvious, just look again at the car. It’s a cliché on wheels. The 1980s was a giant shoulder pad of ‘F-You’ excess bridging the ‘70s and ’90s, and a red 911 was the keystone in the middle.
That said, it’s adorable. Sure, the period it came from may have been crass and well short of humanity’s highpoint, but that wasn’t the car’s fault. We’ve since learned to love the Ford Capri all over again, and a 3.2 Carrera is rightly even more sought after these days. Between 1984 and 1989 Porsche sold more than 70,000 examples of the 3.2 Carrera, reputedly making it the most successful 911 in history by sales volume. That was a mix of buyers’ enduring love for Porsche’s classic but also just finding itself in the right place at the right time: to piggyback on the huge economic boom in Porsche’s key markets.
It very nearly didn’t happen, of course. In 1979 the company had famously made a plans to kill off its most iconic model and replace it with the 928 – yet the 911 refused to die. The story goes that Peter Schutz, who was Porsche CEO from 1981 to 1989, walked into the office of Dr Helmuth Bott, who was the board member for engineering and development, and noticed a chart on his wall. It represented the product development of the company’s three principal models. The 944 and 928 lines stretched well into the future, but the 911 stopped dead in 1981. So Schutz picked up a black marker, walked over to the wall and extended the 911’s line clean off the chart. Apparently, this raised a cheer from Bott.
It was a risky move, when you bear in mind that the 911 was pensionable. But the Cabriolet was introduced in 1982 and sold very well, despite costing a good chunk more than the coupe, and 911 sales in general remained very strong. It was when the 3.2 Carrera was launched that things went completely off the scale, and in doing, so sealed the 911’s future and, some would say, the company’s, too.
All this is strange when you think about it. There was nothing retrospective about ‘80s; it was all about the future and new technology, yet here, centre stage, was a little, air-cooled Porsche from the ‘60s with pedals sprouting from the floor. The 3.2 Carrera had been updated, of course. Porsche claimed the engine was 80 per cent new and included Bosch electronic injection and ignition, and eventually the old 915 gearbox was replaced by the extra precision of the G50, yet the classic styling and haphazard interior remained. I’m not sure what drew people to the 911? They could quite easily wound up parked next to a Ferrari Testarossa looking every bit the ‘60s throwback. But I’m very pleased that people were.
The world would be a sadder place without a car that continues as an outlier. It’s no longer air-cooled, the pedals may be top-hinged, and the interior doesn’t look like the product of an explosion in a switch factory, but its easily identifiable shape and funny engine configuration remain. And for a period-perfect, prime example of what kept the line going, look no further than the car you see here.
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