Special Speed: A Brief History of the Porsche Speedster

A historical look behind Porsche's most special badge.

While coupes and conventional cabriolets/convertibles are mainstays of the Porsche product lineup, the company hasn't built many Speedster variants, bestowing the special treatment and badge to just five production models over the past seven decades. Here's a quick look at the history of Porsche's most alluring roofless models.

1952 356 America Roadster
Okay, this technically isn't a Speedster, but the Type 540—known more commonly as the America Roadster—started the idea. U.S. importer extraordinaire Max Hoffman convinced Porsche it needed a lightweight convertible to compete with the best from Jaguar and Austin-Healey. But production methods used to create the America Roadster's aluminum body proved too expensive, and Porsche made only a handful of examples before its discontinuation in 1953. There's disagreement on the exact total, but most experts believe only around 20 escaped into the wild.

1954 356 Speedster
Porsche later decided to run with Hoffman's idea by applying the formula to an existing production car. Starting with the steel-bodied 356 Cabriolet, the factory stripped trimmings and any luxury features found in the already bare-bones interior. The windshield header is lower than the Cab's, and the entire thing is easily removable for racing. Weather protection was downgraded, with occupants making do with just a lightweight top for use only in emergencies. It was a stunning success, with very nearly 4,500 sold over its four-year production run.

1989 911 Speedster
Three decades passed before the Speedster made a comeback. It was launched for the 1989 model year carrying direct aesthetic callbacks to the popular 356 model, including a raked windshield, two-seat configuration, and roll-away roof for "weather protection only" that stowed neatly under the double-bubble rear tonneau cover. The available bodies included a narrow look or a Turbo-style widebody, with the latter outselling the former by a huge margin. The car proved popular, with 2,104 sold—just 171 of them with the narrower body.

1992 964 911 Carrera 2 Speedster
Whereas the 1989 Speedster was primarily an aesthetic package, the 964 version sought to cut a happy medium between the regular Carrera 2 and the hard-core Carrera RS. It had the same engine as the base Carrera and didn't have the same suspension as the RS, but thanks to an interior stripped of all niceties and a removable windshield, it fit the role of driver's car rather neatly. This model never gained a full widebody option like the previous generation, but Porsche Exclusive did make 20 Turbo-look cars for discerning buyers.

1995 Porsche 993 911 Speedster
The Porsche faithful are probably shaking their heads right about now, as the company never officially made a production 993 Speedster, much to many wealthy collectors' disappointment. Notice we said "production," because in 1995, the company created a dark green 993 Speedster for Ferdinand "Butzi" Porsche's 60th birthday. Jerry Seinfeld apparently felt left out, so he commissioned a silver 993 Speedster in 1998, although it seemed to begin life as either a Targa or Cabriolet before being sent to Porsche Exclusive. So, only two 993 Speedsters were ever made; if you see one that's not silver or dark green, chances are it's a phony. In fact, if you see one at all outside of a Porsche event of some kind, chances are it's a phony.

2010 997 911 Speedster
Created as one of a handful of special variants to send off the 997-generation 911, the 2010 edition is by far the most well-equipped of all the Speedsters. In addition to its unique rear tonneau cover, it checked every available option box on the order form, ranging from interior trim pieces to the special gloss-black neo-Fuchs wheels. It's quite the performer, too, thanks to its Carrera GTS bones. Since this was a "heritage" special edition, Porsche built 356 examples as a callback to the original.

2019 991.2 911 Speedster
Presaged by two concept versions, the latest Speedster is once again the swan-song model for a generation of 911s, in this case the 991.2. It packs a 502-hp GT3 engine with individual throttle bodies, a GT3-esque suspension setup, and many of the hallmarks of Speedsters that have gone before, namely the chopped windshield, faired tonneau, and limited build number. We've driven it, and it's fantastic.

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