The cute-car hotline is now open.
Editor’s note: This article, originally part of DTW’s Cute Theme, was first published in April 2014.
There are a great many conflicting facts and inconsistencies that surround both Porsche’s successor to the 356, and what it has turned into over the course of several decades. Above all, there is the incontestable fact that its basic layout, the core of its engineering, is now of the most idiosyncratic kind. That in itself would not raise many eyebrows, but such eccentricity – despite oftentimes inviting critical acclaim, at least initially – usually excludes lasting success. That the Porsche 911 overcomes the usual reservations towards alien solutions may be due to two facts.
First, that it is a linear descendant of the Volkswagen Beetle, a car that despite having since been proven to be antediluvian, is still very much present in motorists’ consciousness. Second, that it has been constantly updated, employing the most conservative of treatments. These two factors, in conjunction with a great many less significant others, are among the main contributors to the 911’s sustained success.
They also highlight why the Porsche has not gone the way of other automotive anomalies – its familiarity has turned its eccentricities into beloved quirks, rather than strange peculiarities to be viewed with unease. Maybe Citroën should have just called the CX the DS Avancé and offered a contrasting roof colour option.
With this in mind, it comes as little shock that the 911 also benefits from another inconsistency – or, it could be argued, an outright oxymoronic characteristic. Unlike pretty much all its competitors, the 911 has maintained a visual aura that is, yes, rather cute. Butzi Porsche’s Ur-911 certainly wouldn’t have been described thus in 1963, but thanks to its reluctance to go with the times, the modern 911 has inherited the almost child-like facial expression of its forebears, which the competition had considered to be obsolete by the time pop-up headlamps had become de rigeur.
Without this evolutionary origin, the 911’s front end would be considered merely outdated, if not downright silly – one only needs to imagine a Jaguar F-Type with an E-Type-aping frontal aspect even more referential (or should that be reverential?) than the brand’s latter day XK models, to see how inappropriate these kinds of shapes can appear in a modern context. Unless of course one is already/ still accustomed to them.
So, what we have in the 911 is, in some ways, a high performance counterpart of BMW’s New Mini – just with the added benefit of an uninterrupted bloodline (despite Prof. Fuhrmann’s best efforts). And like BMW’s retro smash hit, the Nunelfer is considered classless in quarters that pay close attention to such matters.
The quintessential respectable German businessman, to name but one case, would not have too much trouble showing his face in either car. Behind the wheel of the Mini, he would be congratulated for his cheek. At the Porsche’s helm, he might be confronted with a few raised eyebrows, but not much more – and certainly not with the kind of indignation his peers would level at him if he dared to parade around in some showy foreign piece of exotica.
And don’t for a minute believe this is a matter of cost – for back in the days when a 911 Turbo and Ferrari’s least immodest offerings were not in totally different leagues, pricewise, the situation was the same. The squashed Beetle of Zuffenhausen always exuded an air of respectability the competition couldn’t – or wouldn’t – match.
This respectability obviously does not rest on any single factor. But there is no denying that the Porsche’s sense of reliability is among its pillars. And nowhere is this reliability more clearly evident in its aesthetics than the 911’s consistently friendly frontal aspect.
Modern LED strips might add some faint menace, but that does nothing to distract from the fact that the 911 remains a trustworthy, steadfast companion, while the competition indulges in trendy self-reinvention. A Ferrari 458 may be the far more challenging, exciting car in almost every respect, yet its aggressive snout not only flips the bird at the 911’s friendly wink, but also at its own ancestor, the 246 Dino, whom it refuses to pay unmistakeable tribute to.
In sharp contrast, the Porsche proudly exhibits its origins. And such reverence pays off, as illustrated by the thousands of devout 911 believers, who happily reciprocate.