A couple of years ago, Porsche released an official coffee table book called Porsche Unseen. It contained fifteen or so studio concepts that as the title suggests, had never been revealed publicly. More than just a way to lighten the wallets of Porsche bores who find branded polo shirts a bit flyover-state-dentist-done-good, it showed just how rich and varied their back catalog of greatest hits was. They even did a concept Race Service van, inspired by the old VW Type 2 split window race support vehicle in a nod to the link between the two companies.
OEMs create concepts never intended for public consumption all the time. It lets the designers get really wild and allows them to experiment without fear of fucking up the brand image. So why didn’t Porsche show any of these concepts at the time? Because their brand is all about the 911, and they are not about to put sand in that pot of Vaseline.
Overnight Porsche revealed its 75th birthday present to itself, the Vision 357 Concept. And my whelm is truly under. It’s meant to be both homage and update of the very first Porsche, the 356, but what I’m seeing is a generically futuristic blob with little innovation and a schizophrenic personality.
The virtues of the 356 were it’s build quality, light weight and aerodynamic shape; a taut teardrop pulled tight over a chassis distantly [Editor’s Note: Not that distant, really! – JT] related to the Beetle. Ferry Porsche himself stated his idea was to have a smaller car that wasn’t overpowered, but the 357 is based on the platform of the 718 Cayman GT4. In other words it’s the shape of a rear engine car placed on the skeleton of a mid-engined one. It has a superfluous hunched back, something that’s really jarring in the side and rear three quarter views. There’s a vertical graphic that references the air vents on the engine cover of the 356, so I’m wondering if they’ve moved the radiators from the nose to above the engine, which doesn’t sound optimal.
Not helping is the thickness of the cant rail as it sweeps forwards over the side windows. Seamless wrap around glazing is hard to do. What happens is you massage the line of the top of the windshield where it meets the header rail so it looks right, then as you wrap it around the A pillar it goes wrong as the line is traveling in the wrong direction. So you fudge and tweak, keeping an eye on the front three quarter view so it looks consistent and doesn’t have a horrible bend on the way around. Dropping the upper line of the Day Light Opening quicker towards the rear alleviates some of this issue, but that’s how you end up with a cant rail that is too thick. A fellow sufferer of this Quasimodo affliction is the Mazda 3 hatch.
Older Porsches have always had a spartan solidity to them. Not overbuilt like an old Benz, but an industrial feeling that comes from using high quality materials and sensible engineering. Like a killer Kraftwerk track the joy is in the melody despite the coldness of the notes. They were all about clarity and purpose. Is this 357 a road car or a racer? Fucked if I can tell. It has track ready detailing like quick release catches for the frunk and tow hooks, but appears to have a full interior.
The lighting is hidden behind a perforated pattern in the bodywork that gives this thing both a fat butt and a face that looks like those nightmare fuel fish that have evolved without eyes. This is why the overall feeling is blobbiness – there are no graphics where they are needed to break up the curved surfaces.
What has any of this got to do with the 911? The 911, and by extension all the other six cylinder special models that are not available to regular people, are what Porsche cares about: Those whose Instagram feeds consist solely of sun-bleached six-cylinder six-figure wank material. That’s why the 957 has a Cayman GT4 underneath it. You didn’t think we would use one of those 4 cylinder models that sound like a dryer full of spanners did you? No, no, those are for the poor. Don’t worry, you and your watch collection are in a safe place here. And by the way, there’s another 911 variant being released next week.
I’m not a massive Porsche wiener, but I do like them. 15 years ago I bought a facelift 986 Boxster. Five minutes into the test drive I understood. The howl of the flat six. Weighty controls with no slop. Impeccable build quality. Even today one of my money no object dream cars is a manual 987 Spyder, in black. The one with the crap roof. Before I blew five figures on the Ferrari I was considering was an air-cooled 911. It would have been a Targa or convertible at my budget but I wasn’t bothered as that Boxster turned me onto the joy of open roof driving. At the time I even test drove a 968 convertible on cup wheels (which I didn’t buy, but was freaked the fuck out by, when I saw it parked outside my Docklands flat a few weeks later).
Porsche’s heritage warehouse is bulging at the seams with really cool non six cylinder cars to draw inspiration from. The original 356 retailed at $3,750, about $45k today. Where’s the reimagined 944 concept? Or how about a modern take on the 914 – something lightweight and simple with cutting edge sustainable materials and a $50k target price? Show us what you can really do when you push yourselves instead of doing something that might frighten off the tedious 911 sheep. You’re much more than one car.
Well, it might end up having four cylinders, and isn’t that what vans have?