You’ve heard this story before. Porsche is a brand wrapped up in so much preconception and history that it might as well be the Clinton family. I’ve whinged on about the topic far too much here before, but this time it’s going to be different. First, because there is a deep, withdrawn and not often seen part of me that really does like this funny company. And second, and perhaps more importantly, today is not a day for hate or negativity. This is a 1969 Porsche 911E, and this is our last car from Europe.
We’re again relying on the Icelandic Saga Rally for this week’s car, which, shockingly, means that we are still in the country of Iceland. It was actually a 911 that won the rally in the end, but it wasn’t this particular one. The 911’s story begins in the early 1960s, when Porsche was hankering for a replacement for their popular but aging 356 (effectively a lower, sportier Beetle. A sport-Beetle, if you will. There’s an insect joke in there somewhere that I’m just not seeing). Their answer was this, a bigger, four seat, but still stubbornly rear-engined coupe for grand touring. Like, touring for normal people, but grander. Porsche likes to imagine the Scrooge McDuck owners of the 911 collecting their Audrey Hepburn-style wives from their coastline villas and then driving to San Tropez, Monaco or Nice, the wind in their silver hair, the oranges of the setting sun spilling out into the darkening, purple sky. It’s a nice image, isn’t it? And for many, it was true.
But not for all. The Porsche 911, in spite of its primary directive as a luxury cruiser, enjoyed quite the successful career in the dirtiest and corrupting of all professions: politics. No, I’m kidding. Motorsport- it was motorsport. Whether it be the dusty paths of rural Africa, roads carved out of a frozen lake in Sweden, or racetracks in Italy, it is a fairly forgone conclusion that someone has taken one of these backwards cars racing. Which is odd, not just because of its comfortable, upper class sensibilities, but also because the 911, or at least early ones such as this one, were weird handling-wise. Really weird. Like, Shia LeBeouf level weirdness. See, because Porsche decided to keep the engine in the back of the car, all the weight was over the back wheels, which meant that, when going around the corner, the rear wheels occasionally wanted to outrun the front ones. Which made the 911, um, interesting to drive fast. Lots of soiled lederhosen, if you catch my drift.
This particular car is the first generation of the 911, also known as the 911 “classic.” This is also a 911E, which was effectively a designation that placed this car between the base 911T and the sporty 911S. The engine is an air-cooled boxer configuration, which is pretty nifty, and contributes to a slightly lower center of gravity. It produced about 140 horsepower (though Car and Driver tested one with 158) when it was new, which was routed through a five speed manual transmission. Disc brakes were standard, which was good in the event of the aforementioned lederhosen-soiling. Mechanical Fuel Injection, or MFI, also featured on E and S cars, which is effectively a fancy way of saying the 911 had a more sophisticated way of regulating the air/fuel mixture that entered the engine. MFI also helped with emissions. Okay, one more technical thing to geek out on, and then we’ll move on, I promise. The front suspension was hydropneumatic and self-adjusting, meaning that it compensated for any extra weight that was placed over the front wheels (because of course that was where the storage compartment was). Apparently that feature didn’t work so well though, because most 911E owners have since switched that setup out for something more conventional. Still kind of interesting though.
So where does that leave us? This is a car that has its engine in the trunk. It’s handling is, to be nice about it, wayward, but people race it anyway. It’s a luxury car, but it looks like a sports car. It’s a car as full of contradictions as Iceland is of volcanic activity. And methane gas. Honestly, this place stinks. It’s great, one of my favorite places, but man, the whole island smells like farts. Anyway, the car. Contradictions, which means that I should be totally into it. I mean, I like this thing, and I don’t even know why. But do I like the 911? No. And I struggled with that. I wouldn’t own one. I don’t want a 911 like I do other cars. And this is totally a me thing as well, the car is absolutely deserving of the praise it gets. But for some reason or another, I just can’t get behind it. I do respect it, though, and I suppose that counts for something. It’s a challenging vehicle, the 911, which is why it’s fitting that it is the car that concludes our grand European adventure. Travel is a challenging thing, a stressful thing, in many ways. But for those who persist, who really have a passion for seeing the world and learning from it, it’s the most fulfilling thing you’ll ever do. See? Travelling, Porsche 911’s- it all got tied together in the end. See you stateside, everyone.
- The ignition in the 911, and this is a thing that’s still around today, is on the left of the steering column, which is the opposite of where it normally is. This was so as to make the famed “LeMans start” easier for drivers.
- The E was kind of the luxury model of the 911 lineup, so it featured, velour carpeting, chrome trim, a leather wrapped steering wheel and gold script on the rear deck. You can’t see the gold script on this car though, because it has Porsche’s groovy “Ducktail” spoiler.
- Oh, I might have mentioned this already but deal with it- the waterfall that’s in the background of these past two posts is Skogáfoss, the termination point of the Skogá River. Come on, I couldn’t let the last Europe post go without some Rick Steves creeping in.
- My travel buddy Nicole wanted a shoutout, so here it is. Hi Nicole! You’re on the internet!