Why the Porsche 911 has enthralled petrolheads for over 55 years

Here's the secret to this German sportster's enduring appeal

13 December 2020 - 00:02
A Porsche 911.
A Porsche 911.
Image: Supplied

What makes a car sexy? It is a question that traffics a fair amount of debate - not to mention argument. It's also one with no correct answer.

Unsurprising, really, as looks are totally subjective. Case in point: the greater motoring fraternity frequently cites the classic Jaguar E-Type as the world's most pornographic automobile, yet I find it unappealing and overrated. Crush one now and I wouldn't flinch. I've expressed this sentiment to people many times and many times I've been shot down. Especially when I counter with the car that sends my internal temperature gauge rising, the Porsche 911.

The 911 may not ooze the obvious sex appeal of something like a Ferrari 250 GTO, nor match the blatant operatic drama of a Lamborghini Miura, but there's a lovely purity and honesty to its shape that just does it for me.

It's a textbook example of form following function. Run your eyes over its metalwork and you will find it pleasingly free from unnecessary cosmetic tinsel or indulgent design details: it either serves a purpose or it simply isn't there.

The 911 is also one of the few cars left on the planet that has remained ostensibly the same since it was first revealed to the world back in 1963: a rear-engined oddity that managed to get better and sharper and more competitive with each subsequent generation.

Many people - Jeremy Clarkson for one - despise this evolutionary approach and palm it off as lazy and uninspired. Yet in my eyes it makes perfect sense, a bit like choosing to make chicken stir-fry every night for the rest of your life: it may be repetitive but, goddam it, by the time you hit 40 not even Gordon Ramsay will be able to out cook you.

Seriously though, silly cooking analogy aside, there's something about a company sticking with and finessing a single product for close on 60 years that I find deeply enduring - especially in this throwaway modern society of ours where consumer goods chop and change more frequently than Uncle Cyril's lockdown restrictions.

Like the classic Zippo lighter or Fender Stratocaster, it's comforting to know that the 911 still carries on trucking. Different, yes, but still instantly recognisable for what it is and what it can represent to people - which is a nice little segue into the next part of this conversation.

You see, a unique aspect of this long-lived Porsche that I like so much is the fact that you can truly make it your own. Unlike most high-end sports cars, the 911 is happy to accommodate the aesthetic preferences of most personalities. This is especially true of the earlier air-cooled models that share a healthy basket of interchangeable parts that allow for extensive customisation.

Unlike most high-end sports cars, the 911 is happy to accommodate the aesthetic preferences of most personalities

Whether restored to factory specification, souped-up in the spirit of an old-school Californian hot rod or left to wear a ratty patina pitted with rock chips and scabs of surface rust, there are very few looks that this German sportster cannot successfully pull off. Ditto the nut behind the wheel.

While it takes a certain breed of character to convincingly command a Maserati, Ferrari or Lamborghini, the classic 911 can be steered by pretty much anybody. Male or female. Black or white. Long locks or short hipster fade. Bespoke threads or raggedy old Levi's. Basically this is a car where right of admission is never reserved and anything goes.

And that's the cool thing about this Porsche. Despite carrying a pedigreed reputation as a deadly race-day weapon (it has won and continues to win everything from sprints and rallies to hill climbs and 24-hour endurance marathons) the 911 still manages to be this unlikely blank canvas of automotive expression that rewards those with imagination and daring.

Seemingly at odds with its strait-laced Teutonic origins, it can be whatever you want it to be. And that's what makes it sexy to me.


Silver-screen stars and sexy cars go together. Some movies wouldn't have been the same without these babies:

Aston Martin DB5

Goldfinger and Thunderball (1964)

James Bond and the DB5 are the perfect match: understated, stylish and powerful. Plus they always have a trick up their sleeves.

Modena GT Spyder California

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1985)

Remember the scene? Well, 30 years ago, a classic Ferrari was too rare and expensive to destroy in a movie.

Ford Thunderbird

Thelma & Louise (1966)

Like the classic outlaws they became, these two ladies rode in style right until the very end.

Chevrolet 2500 Silverado Fleetside

Kill Bill: Vol 1 (1997)

This canary-yellow truck is The Bride's mode of transportation as she sets out on her journey. It was also Lady Gaga and Beyoncé's getaway car in Gaga's video for Telephone.

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