Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why is Porsche car design so unbalanced?

Looking at Porsche sportscars from the fifties to today it's interesting to see what worked from a design point of view and what didn't. Let's take it car by car.
The Porsche 356 was a very modern car with an aerodynamic shape and lots of innovative engineering. A master piece. Also from a design point of view. We may dislike the narrow wheels today and where they are placed at the body, but it's certainly the work of a genius.
The Porsche 911 tried to continue the basic concepts of the 356, but to modernize everything. And succeeded. Again, a design that worked over many years (until today) and looked great.
Then in the late sixties the first design failure. The Porsche 914 clearly was a modern car, but many people disliked its shape and the fact that the front and back almost look the same.
With the Porsche 924 Porsche tried again to do a low cost model and diverged from the old style engine in the back approach. The car was fairly successful and the design seemed to work. The design was improved with the Carrera GT and the 944, but finally was almost destroyed with the late facelifts (Porsche 968) that tried to bring the car closer to 911 and 928.
The Porsche 928 was a trial to finally replace the 911. Not successful. The design was very brave, very different from anything else done before by Porsche and even other manufacturers. The old Porsche fans didn't like the car and it didn't help that it was heavy and thirsty and more a GT than a sportscar. Still, the car is a design icon today.
The Porsche 959 was another attempt to create a modern variant of the 911 theme. An impressive car. And it brought some design elements coming much later with the other cars. But basically, the car was a 911 derivate.
With the Porsche 964 they tried to make the 911 ready for the 80ies but failed. It looked too fat and not slick enough. This was corrected very successfully with the Porsche 993 that brought back the old lines and inserted many modern design attributes. It's a classic already today, and being the last aircooled model probably fetching high prices for the foreseeable future.
The Porsche 996 was a bigger step, bring water cooled engines and enlarging the car along all dimensions. Many people disliked the design of the front lights and all in all it certainly wasn't the best car Porsche ever produced. It sold well however and inspired the other models of the marque, for the good and the bad.
The Porsche Boxter, showed as a prototype 1993 in Detroit, was the next attempt after the 914 and the 924 to add a line of cars below the 911. With its mid-engine layout it clearly was different than the 996, but the final design brought it closer to the 911 derivates and maybe helped to sell it. But design wise it was a big step back from the initial prototype. The Cayman shared all of the design elements.
The Porsche Carrera GT with its formula 1 style ten cylinder engine represented everything that was good about Porsche, also design wise. That's how the Boxter should have looked like. That's what could have replaced the 911 if Porsche had wanted. Not with a 10 cylinder but with modernized six cylinders.
And then came the Porsche Cayenne. Horrible. An absolute design failure. Even its twin sister Volkswagen Touareg looked so much better. The combination of typical Porsche design elements such as lights and bumpers with an SUV is difficult to digest. But from a sales point of view it worked. Interestingly enough.
With the Porsche 997 another continuation of the now more than 30 years old theme was introduced and it looked so much sharper and slicker than its predecessor. Good work for a facelift. Actually it was more than this and besides still being rear engine driven everything has changed over the last 30 years. But the customers continue to buy.
Finally with the need to increase production numbers even more the Porsche Panamera was presented. A four seat for door limousine in the shape of a stretched 911. Again, the design doesn't work really and the back is really a big mistake. But it sells, as many people like the advantage of four doors. How much better however the addition of a four door limousine can be done to an existing sportscar range is shown by Maserati with the current Quattroporte and Aston-Martin with the Rapide.

So what's the take away here?
Porsche designed and built some really ground breaking cars, but they also introduced designs that didn't work and were probably the work of the marketing department, not created by people with passion and love for aesthetics. The need to produce bigger and bigger numbers of cars created dependencies that make the result suffer.
Here are my all time best of Porsche:
356, 356 Abarth, RSK, 550 Spider, 904 GTS, Carrera 6, 911 Carrera RS. And with a bit more distance 924 Carrera GT and 993.


John L said...

I like the 944 but it is something to do with where the engine sits. I've always been a bit edgy about engines hanging so far out the back, waiting to throw you off the track if you don't have your wits about you.

lupoch said...

I was at a Porsche Panamera launch event, and they are obsessed in showing you how many 911 design DNA elements have been transported to the 4-door-limo...