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Gone in a flash: How good — or not — were these short-lived Porsches?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Article by Rob Sass
Photos courtesy Porsche unless noted

Porsche has been known for model runs that go on seemingly forever. The 356 lasted from 1948 to 1965. The 911, while adding considerable refinements, went fundamentally unaltered from 1964 until 1989. The 928 nearly hit 20 years, running from 1978 until 1995. But occasionally, there were some one-hit-wonder sub-models that came and went in what was an instant for Porsche. Sometimes they were placeholders or interim cars, and in most cases, they’ve been overlooked. Here are five interesting Porsches with fruit fly lifespans:

1959 356A Convertible D

Photo by Darin Schnabel ©2013 / Courtesy RM Auctions

The beloved 356A Speedster, the $2,995 brainchild of importer Max Hoffman, sold fairly well in the US. But much like the original Beetle was regarded as a symbol of hard times and compromise in Germany, the Speedster wasn’t loved around the world. The Convertible D was built for just 13 months as a sort of transitional car from the Speedster to the 356B Roadster. It essentially looked like a Speedster but had much more standard equipment, a taller windshield, a less makeshift top, and roll-up windows. It was actually an excellent car, if a more comfortable Speedster was what you were looking for. It’s one of the rarest production 356 models, but oddly enough, they’re worth less than the more charismatic Speedster. Incidentally, the “D” stands for the coachbuilder Drauz.

1968 911L

Photo courtesy RM Auctions

The new US emissions standards that came into effect in 1968 were a bear, particularly for smaller foreign manufacturers. Some, like Alfa Romeo, skipped the 1968 model year altogether in the US. Porsche didn’t have that luxury. The automaker decided not to bring the Weber-carbed 2.0-liter 911S to our shores, thinking it would not pass the tailpipe sniffer test. The base 911 engine and the 912 squeaked by in 1968, but only with the addition of an air-pump that caused all sorts of lean-running/backfiring issues. In place of the 911S, we got the 911L, a base 130-horsepower car that got most of the additional features that came with the 911S — minus, of course, the extra horsepower. (The European 911L was not the same as the US version.) It wasn’t a bad car per se, but the emission control issues gave 1968 Porsches a black eye back in the day. The 911S of course came back the following year with more emissions-friendly mechanical fuel injection (the same solution incidentally that allowed Alfa Romeo to sell cars here again).

1976 912E

Photo by Rob Sass

Porsche was faced with a gap between the expiration of the 914 and the introduction of the 924, in which they would have no entry-level model to sell in the US. The solution was a clever one — while there were no more 914 bodies left to be had, there was an endless supply of the 2.0-liter Type IV Volkswagen engines that powered them. Mating those engines with the current impact-bumper 911 body allowed Porsche to reprise the four-cylinder 911 otherwise known as the 912. The “E” stood for “Einspritzung,” German for injection. Just under 2,100 cars (all coupes) were built in a production run that lasted slightly over a year.  With about the same horsepower, but a bit more weight than a 1969 912, the 912E was a little slower than the earlier car (but what wasn’t in 1976?). The 912E is a pleasant, low-maintenance touring car capable almost 700 miles on a single tank of fuel.

1987-88 924S

The original Audi-engined 924 left the US market in 1983 with the introduction of the 944. Inflation and the value of the Deutschmark, however, kept pushing the price of the 944 ever-upwards at a time when Porsche still felt the need to offer something in the $20,000 range. Like the 912E a decade earlier, the decision was made to re-introduce an old model with a new twist. The surprise here was considerably better than the VW engine in the 912E — the 924S got the 8-valve 2.5 liter Porsche engine of the base 944, in a body that was narrower and somewhat lighter than the 944. The old, 1985.5 pre-facelift dash remained as well. The 924S to own? In 1988, the 924S got the base 944’s new 160-hp higher-compression engine. The rare 924S Special Edition (or SE) deleted power steering, air-conditioning, power windows, power door locks, and more, while lowering the car with sport suspension. Of course, some of buyers of the 500 produced added back in the deleted equipment. It’s maybe the most underrated of all transaxle Porsches.

2004 996 GT3

Yeah, we know that the 996 GT3 was sold in the rest of the world for more than just one model year, but in the US, sadly, that’s all we got. For one year, 911 fans could buy a 996 that was a genuine homologation special — a naturally aspirated rear-wheel-drive Hans Mezger flat-six-powered lightweight that came in at around 2,900 pounds, inconceivably light for most high-performance sports car today. The only driver’s aid that came with it was ABS. With great brakes, a fine chassis, and sharp handling, it’s perhaps one of the all-time great 911s and criminally underrated and undervalued at the moment. Don’t say we didn’t tell you.

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