Musings on the Motoring World

Remembering the 991-generation 911

Considering that we have walked on the moon, overcame the consumption, and synthesize materials that will outlast our own collective existence, it is rather galling that we as a species are often given to the side of pessimism. A remnant of our Cro-magnon survival mechanism it may be, pessimism has not only ensured that our ancestors didn’t headbutt a rhino in a contest for dominance early on, but provided the tinder for Hollywood’s billion-dollar disaster porn industry. 

People’s fascination with the wanton destruction of civilised existence is made all the more cathartic by just how profitable it is. Take the 2012 movie for example, which rode on the general hysteria generated from an overreading of an astral calendar made by a people who had yet to discover the utilitarian purposes of the wheel but somehow foresaw the end of the world coinciding with the reign of America’s first black president. The movie raked in $750 million. Convincing stuff. 

Whilst doomsayers were bracing themselves for the end of the world, around the same time as the movie’s release, Porschephiles the world over were mourning the end of the 997-generation 911 as news that Weissach was readying the third all-new iteration of their beloved icon with several notable changes. 

Not only will the new 911 grow in wheelbase, but the famous “Mezger” flat-six engine would also be retired, depriving future 911 GT iterations of the famed 911 GT1 Le Mans engine. Though most concerning to all fans of the arse-engined icon was the adoption of electrically assisted power steering upfront.

The switch from a hydraulic system to an electric motor might not sound like much in the current year, but back around the time of America’s first black president, that move was as controversial as the idea of a former reality TV star and business bro succeeding him. 

Electric power steering systems might have been around since the 1990s, but the widespread adoption of the technology came to light in the late-2000s with manufacturers scrambling to find ways to trim emission figures just as the world started getting 70’s oil crisis flashbacks from the infamous commodities boom of the period. 

The growing adoption of electric power steering systems quickly became a point of contention for car aficionados, as it traded that “all-important” steering feel for a minor bump in fuel efficiency. And it wasn’t some 2012-grade overreaction to strange new things as was demonstrated by the fourth-generation M5.

Rather than modify the garden-variety 5 Series’ motor-assisted unit, BMW’s M Division developed a separate hydraulic-powered item. An exception of particular noteworthiness from the same M5 generation that capitulated to the trends of turbocharging and dual-clutch automatics.

By comparison, messages from Weissach indicated that Porsche was ready to trade the 911’s hallowed steering feel to please a shuffle of faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. Nevermind accidentally throwing the baby out with the bathwater, this was fixing a louse infestation with napalm. Sure you would have solved a relatively minor problem, but you would have lost the house. Sure the 911 would be more efficient for efficiency sake, but what is a 911 if not for its vaunted steering feel? A glorified KdF-Wagen?

Behind the brewing controversy and closed doors, Porsche made sure they got the right guy for the job, August “Mister 911” Achleitner, the man responsible for the 997-generation, which many have come to regard as the greatest 911 generation of them all.

Achleitner certainly knew what he was doing. When the all-new 991-generation 911 hit the market at the tail end of 2011, the initial trepidation quickly gave way to immediate praise. Porsche had created a 911 that preserved all the classic 911 aesthetics for the faithful while making it more accessible to the uninitiated. And the switch to electric steering? According to Achleitner, it was for “packaging reasons”, but he demonstrated that anything is achievable if engineered properly. 

Not only that, if it wasn’t varied enough already, Achleitner grew the 911 range tremendously. He continued the sportier GTS, introduced simpler T variants, returned the Targa back to its iconic shape, and revived the 911 R. Concerns about Porsche messing up the 911 formula quickly faded into the ether, as Achleitner continued modernising the 911, bringing it into the age of downsizing and turbocharging and elevated the GT-model’s game despite adding more and more technical complications to its repertoire.

Sure there will be the odd handful of ardent fans who would still turn their noses up against anything that isn’t air-cooled. It is understandable, the greatest era is always the time you happen to live through after all. Even so, Achleitner’s achievement is deserving of its place in the history books. While Peter Schutz and Helmuth Bott saved the 911 by sheer force of will, Achleitner fortified the 911-mythos with the 991’s merits.

Ever since the introduction of the Cayman, Porsche fans have always speculated that its power deficits were intentional, carefully tuned to keep the junior league Porsche at arm’s length from the beloved 911. The 991-generation, more than any 911 model before had consecrated the icon in Porsche’s pantheon to such a degree that even the 911-engined Cayman GT4 couldn’t knock the 911 off its exalted podium. Not only had the 991 pleased its fans but in continuing the consistency of the 911, it confirmed the 911’s status as one of the best in the business, divorcing it from, and elevating it beyond the histrionics often touted by its acolytes.

With his work done on the 991’s successor, the 992-generation, Achleitner called it day and ended his remarkable 36-year career at Porsche last April, with the last of the 991-generation leaving the factory floor less than nine months later. Despite being engineered to accommodate future and present technological and safety advancements, the 992’s impending introduction was met with a strange wave of tantalising optimism of what the future holds. That is the way of human nature, we may be given into pessimism, but we are no strangers to optimism once the way forward shows itself. For Porsche and car fans around the world, that was the 991.

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