Nobody loved the early "modern" sports cars from Zuffenhausen, Germany. The first 911, the 901-series, was a thoroughly reengineered 356, which itself was a Volkswagen Beetle on steroids. Then came the turtle-slow 912, the neither-fish-nor-fowl 911T, the E with its capricious fuel injection, the Targa with the zippered plastic rear window that went blind after two summers, and the awful semiautomatic Sportomatics. The serious part of the 911 saga began in 1967 with the lean and quick 160-hp 911S. From day one, base-model 911s were never that special, the exception being the 1981-1989 cars and the particularly desirable, last-of-the-air-cooled 993-series. What made the ultimate metamorphosis of Ferdinand Porsche's Volkswagen such an icon over time were the sharper-edged variants. Charismatic suffixes like Turbo, SC, Clubsport, GT, RS, Carrera, Touring, and Speedster invariably make the hearts of 911 aficionados beat faster. Extra adrenaline is freed by such specials as the wide-body Turbo-look versions, the slant-nose cars that were available between 1983 and 1994, and the often substantially more potent factory high-performance kits (generally not available in the States) dubbed WLS, for Werks-Leistungs-Steigerung (Factory-Power-Increase).
Common to all variations of the breed is an unmistakable sound that didn't change dramatically when the air-cooled boxer was replaced by the water-cooled engine in late 1997; a less-than-ideal weight distribution combined with a high polar moment of inertia; compromised packaging with little room for luggage; and a driving experience dominated by phenomenal grip and traction - while it lasted. Beyond the limit of adhesion, however, 911s of all vintages have frightened us with fickle straight-line stability, a heart-stopping blend of power-on and lift-off oversteer, and the infamously terminal counterswing that punished those who applied too much or too little opposite lock too early or too late with a guaranteed visit to the ditch. Since the low-mounted engine is positioned aft of the rear axle in nearly every 911, this car practically owns the term tail-happy. Even the four-wheel-drive versions channel so little torque to the front wheels that there's never any doubt about which end of the vehicle will come unstuck first. Despite all these peculiarities, the Porsche 911 has become one of the most coveted cult cars in history. Why? Because it is such an involving and intuitive driving machine, and because mastering the monster is so rewarding.