The car that started it all off back in 1964 (when production started; a prototype appeared in 1963) may seem dated today, but it set the style for all 911s to follow. Developed eventually to replace the 356, the 911 was an all-new design that was better all round than its predecessor.
At the heart of the 911 was a brand-new 1991cc engine with six horizontally opposed cylinders (the 356 had only four), an all-alloy construction and single chain-driven overhead camshaft per cylinder bank. Like the 356 unit, it was primarily air-cooled.
Each cylinder head was an individual assembly with hollow, sodium-filled exhaust valves to aid cooling. The cylinder barrels themselves were made of cast-iron but with aluminium fins sleeved over.
Cooling was aided by a huge single fan which blew air into a large plastic cowling atop the engine. The fan was belt-driven from the crankshaft, and this also drove the alternator, which was neatly housed inside the fan.
The first cars had an array of Solex carburettors which, in theory, were efficient because there was one choke per cylinder. In reality, though, it was hard to keep them all in tune, so Porsche replaced them with a pair of Weber 40 IDA triple-choke units from February 1966.
These first engines produced a respectable (for the time) 130bhp at a heady 6100rpm. This power went through a new Type 901 five-speed, all-synchromesh gearbox located in front of the engine between the rear seats.
The bodyshell, too, was new. It was designed to be a two-plus-two with rear seats for children, plus space for luggage. In other words, it was to be a practical sports car. It looked good, too, with the timeless lines penned by Ferdinand Butzi Porsche. It was a modern design incorporating a monocoque bodyshell that was, for its day, considered very aerodynamic.
The windows had chromed brass frames and the front and rear quarter lights could be opened to improve ventilation.
The interior was also to set the style for 911s to follow. The dash featured five dials, with the all-important tachometer right in front of the driver, with two smaller dials on each side. The simple low-backed front seats were simple affairs (although separate headrests could be added), while in the rear were a pair of small seats which could be folded down to create a luggage shelf a feature that continued throughout the 911s development.
Today, these very early 911s are rare, but remain a desirable classic car. However, unless you have a particular desire to get one of the first, there is a lot to be said for choosing a slightly younger model a lot of development went on in those early years.
Everything about this 1965 911 smacks of the early sixties. From the non-metallic Slate Grey paintwork and chrome trim, to those red Leatherette seats which you sit on rather than in. Not to mention that wonderful classic-car aroma.
The huge steering wheel with its thin rim, you don’t so much grip as cradle it in your palms. Its 400mm diameterwooden rim gives the whole experience a loosely nautical feel, helped no doubt by the vagueness of the steering. You swing the wheel rhythmically from side to side to correct for the cars distinct wandering tendencies.
But that’s part of the appeal and it’s an absolute hoot driving this old 911. And drive is the operative word here. This is a car that really demands the drivers input.
Seeing a bend coming up, you slow down (but not too much), aim the prominent front wings (which will be familiar to anyone with a pre-1996 911) at the start of the curve, lean yourself and the colossal steering wheel into the bend and accelerate smartly as the car follows through. Get it right and it’s an immensely satisfying experience; the dainty 165mm-wide tyres struggling to maintain their relationship with the Tarmac. Get it wrong and, at best, you have to wrestle with the wheel to coax the car through the bend. At worst as some of the first 911 owners found out to their expense the weight of that flat-six behind the back wheels will pirouette the car gracefully into the kerb.
To be fair, though, you’d have to pushing it some to lose control on a dry road. To drivers used to the cart-sprung suspension that was typical in cars of the early 1960s, the surefooted if rather challenging handling of this independently sprung 911 must have been a revelation.
And back in those days, good handling wasn’t at the expense of ride. The tyres are what can only be called high-profile, and no doubt contribute some way to the car’s almost limousine-like comfort. The tyres and torsion-bar suspension just soak up the bumps on these country roads in a way that would be the envy of today’s sports car chassis engineers.
This is not a fast car by today’s standards. Back in 1965, however, it was considered quite nippy. Claimed performance figures showed a 0-60mph time of 8.5 seconds and a top speed of 131mph. Not bad from a mere two litres. You do, though, have to keep the revs up (max power hits at a heady 6100rpm) otherwise the engine feels positively gutless.
Keeping within what is obviously a narrow power band forces you to master that somewhat vague type-901 gearbox. It’s a dogleg layout (which was de rigueur for serious sports cars) with first gear back and to the left. Which in itself is fine, but the other ratios are positioned rather too close to each other and it’s embarrassingly easy to select the wrong gear. Second and reverse, in particular, are worryingly intimate with each other. On the plus side, five forward gears all with synchromesh would have been quite a novelty in 1965.
What you don’t get, however, is that trademark 911 wail at high revs. That didn’t come along until the larger 2.2-litre engine with revised intake and exhaust manifolding arrived in 1970. Shame without it the 911 experience seems incomplete. To be frank, the engine note is quite unremarkable.
What is undeniably 911 is the dash, with its trademark five dials. The tachometer is in the centre, of course, while the speedometer reads up to an optimistic 150mph. The oil level, oil pressure, oil temperature and fuel gauges are just where any air-cooled 911 owner would expect them, as is the clock. There’s a wonderfully period Blaupunkt Breman radio set offering medium and long wave, the sound coming from a single speaker on the dash top.
Those Porsche aficionados who say that there’s no place for wood in a 911 will have to think again. Not only is the steering wheel wood-rimmed, there’s also a long strip of tree across the full width of the dash. And it looks just right for the period, especially with the chromed 911 badge on the glovebox lid.
The heating system is crude even by the standards of the day. An unmarked lever in front of the gear-stick controls the heat, which is piped in through closable vents in the inner sills. And because the amount of heat from an air-cooled engine is somewhat dependent on engine speed, these early 911s came with an auxiliary petrol-fired EberspÃ¤cher heater located in the luggage compartment. This device later become optional before being quietly dropped in 1973.
The outside, too, is pure 911, just as the 28-year-old Ferdinand Butzi Porsche had penned it. Devoid of the chunky bumpers, arches and spoilers which adorned later cars, this Porsche looks surprising petite on its narrow 4.5-inch wheels. It’s a pretty car with none of the machismo of later 911s.
What is does have is that indefinable quality called character. Something which classic-car enthusiasts enthuse about but is often nothing more than an excuse for, well, an old car. But this 911 really does ooze character. Getting in it and driving off feels comfortable, reassuring and intimate. It’s a friendly car with no pretensions.
How to spot
- Simple door handles with protruding push-buttons
- Chromed front-quarter grilles with four retaining screws (two from 1967)
- Chromed over-riders without rubber strips
- Steel wheels with chromed hubcaps
Targa Introduced in September 1965, the Targa offered open-top motoring by way of a removable folding roof panel that could be stored in the luggage compartment. A fixed stainless-steel-clad roll hoop gave the Targa a distinctive appearance and added rigidity to the bodyshell. Behind this was a plastic rear window which could be unzipped and folded down to enhance the feeling of openness.
Compression ratio: 9.0:1
Maximum Power: 130bhp @ 6100 rpm
Maximum Torque: 173 Nm @ 4200 rpm
Brakes: Front: 282mm discs; rear: 290mm discs
Suspension: MacPherson struts with telescopic dampers and 19mm torsion bar springs; Trailing wishbones with telescopic dampers and transverse 23mm torsion bar
Wheels & Tyres: Front: 15×4.5J with 165HR tyres. Rear: 15×4.5J with 165HR tyres
Did you Know?
The car Porsche unveiled at the Frankfurt motorshow on 12th September 1963 was badged 901. However, Peugeot laid claim to all three-digit model numbers with a zero in the middle, so the moniker was quickly changed to 911.