Porsche now wants to be loved for more than just lap times after 70 years as a manufacturer of exclusive sports cars like the famous 911 Carrera RS 2.7.
Not content with competing on the Nürburgring Nordschleife for records or holding the most overall victories at Le Mans, CEO Oliver Blume wants to expand the brand’s appeal beyond the racetrack.
In addition to his line of GT and Cup cars such as the new 718 Spyder, the Porsche boss gave carte blanche to his designers to create a range of heritage design models starting with a quartet specifically aimed at rare-car enthusiasts.
“Many of our customers are collectors and knowledgeable people who go to the extremes to customize even the smallest details of their Porsche,” said Boris Apenbrink, director of special vehicles, during a rare briefing at the carmaker’s heavily restricted Weissach development
“This is the first time we want to construct our limited series as a collection where, if we do our job properly, a customer would ideally like to have all four in their garage, one next to the other.”
Instead of impressing with lateral acceleration rates, the new models aim to re-create the feeling of driving a Porsche 911 in past decades by playing with exclusive color schemes, patterns, materials and sundry other subtle detail work a owner may not discover until months later.
It sounds straightforward, but for durability, Apenbrink says that every new material or paint must undergo a rigorous development period.
“For example, all new materials need to be tested for flammability. Colors are exposed to specific light conditions to see how long they retain their luster, and safety aspects are relevant,” he said. “In the event of a crash, a body may slide under the safety belt, a term known as a submarine, and that movement may vary depending on whether the seat is made of fabric or leather.”
The idea is a 10-year culmination of work, gradually introducing limited-series cars built by Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur, Apenbrink’s in-house car customization cottage shop.
Apenbrink unveiled plans for a line of four 911s with chief interior designer Ivo van Hulten, each sponsoring a flair up to the 1980s for a certain decade and limited to approximately 1,000 units.
The first, a 1950s car with an exclusive Cherry Metallic color and beige interior, is due next year at some point.
“We asked ourselves which generations had common memories like watching the moon landing. When they first got their driver’s license, what kind of music did they listen to in the car?” van Hulten said.
In Apenbrink’s Rösslebau workshop, the heritage 911s would be series production vehicles finished by hand. Approximately 40% of all 911s end up here at Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur’s home for decals, racing stripes or other craft jobs at some point. But instead of the average of two hours for a standard customization job, the new model quartet could involve four or five times as much work, applying finishing touches and other unique detailing work.
Apenbrink plans to offer a matching numbered timepiece from the company’s Porsche Design studio, a wholly-owned subsidiary since last year, to further increase the appeal for collectors.
“Wristwatches are one of the most emotional things that a man wears throughout the day as we don’t really own jewelry,” he said. “You create a special connection to it when you have one that perfectly matches the car’s design elements.”
Porsche expects to go to U.S. enthusiasts with a large number of vehicles. Executives from Porsche say American drivers have a “love affair” with the 911 in particular. Each third model built in Stuttgart is intended for the United States, making it the luxury coupe’s largest single market.
But in China, where the car has struggled heavily, the company could also boost 911 sales. This potential market for growth, which is characterized by traffic congestion, tends to value design, refined materials and interior craftsmanship over torque and horsepower.
The new models will ultimately give birth to a wider Heritage Design Package trim line that will be rolled out to series production models to enrich the brand beyond performance benchmarks.
“If a customer wants high performance, they can select GTS in the configurator,” van Hulten said. “But we don’t really have a permanent product offer when it comes to lifestyle.”
As the carmaker shifts more and more towards electric drivetrains over the next decade, executives recognize the need to expand Porsche’s appeal. That’s because the 911’s long-term future is in doubt, with Blume saying that only as long as it is allowed will Porsche continue to build its big-revving sports car.
It is not really a credible option to simply replace the powertrain with an electric battery to meet market emission requirements. The 911 has been built around its rear-mounted six-cylinder boxer engine since its inception, which, say enthusiasts, gives it a unique and unmistakable feeling on the road.
Highlighting its historical roots gives Porsche a unique edge over newcomers like Tesla in the United States or Nio in China.
The company believes that it can be successful to re-create elements of its storied past thanks to a thriving fan community. Apenbrink points to color as an example.
He said customer demand for green hues had gone out of style until his Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur team built the 1 millionth 911 in the first ever Irish green.
Events like Rare Shades in the U.S., where fans of Porsche meet to show off shrill paint jobs, prove that designers are free to experiment. For the heritage model of the 1970s, Van Hulten promises extreme colors that will completely polarize opinions.
“When someone stops in front of the car, it’s better for us because they either don’t like it or the first time around they can’t understand it,” explained Apenbrink. “This way they remember it better; perhaps they will come later to appreciate it. And if not, they will always have the option for a different color.”
Porsche harked back to one of the most sought-after brand classics around, the 911 Carrera RS 2.7, by creating the 997 Sport Classic, which is not sold in the U.S. That classic offering, with decades-old design trim, was sold out quickly.
“Fuchs wheels and ducktail spoilers have not been spoken by anyone for ages, but everyone still had it in their minds,” Apenbrink said. “After it was offered, everybody told us that they had been waiting for such a car for years, asking us where it was all this time.”
But when it comes to the new heritage models, Apenbrink has one small request, given his team’s attention to detail and effort to ensure that elements are as historically accurate as possible: “Don’t just call them retro,” he said.