Convertible Prototypes / #Porsche-911-Carrera-3.2-Speedster-Studie
We reunite three forgotten 1980s Porsche prototypes. Their story shows that the development from concept car to production can be a rocky road… Story: Matt Zuchowski. Photography: Konrad Skura.
The role of convertibles in Porsche’s history is regularly underestimated, often overshadowed by the mighty 911 coupé and some tin-top racing heroes of the past. For these three special roofless models, that role is further diminished for despite their decisive functions, they didn’t go down in history at all. The little known sad truth is that for every car which makes it to market there are countless others left by the wayside, at best ending up merely as sources of inspiration for certain future design solutions. There are even those that were virtually finished projects, ready to be put on the production line, yet for some reason they never left the guarded gates of their developer’s sanctum. In the case of Porsche, that’s its Development Centre in Weissach.
Contrary to most other carmakers that choose to destroy their pre-production prototypes, or to at least keep them away from prying eyes, Porsche keeps virtually all of its stillborn forays. And what’s more, it recently decided to wheel some of its top secret projects out to the general public, presenting them at events and shows the world over, even lending them to selected media. And that’s how an inconspicuous white truck delivered three of these invaluable pieces of Porsche’s history one night to a place where we could carefully examine them, pondering on what might have been…
PORSCHE 911 CARRERA 3.2 SPEEDSTER STUDIE
Apart from all having similar paintwork and lacking roofs, the three cars presented here share another common feature: their stories are all linked, starting here with this pearl-white 911 Carrera 3.2 Speedster, which was presented as a concept car at the autumnal 1987 Frankfurt motor show. It revived the idea of a Porsche Speedster, whilst taking it to the next level.
Prior to this, the last 356 Speedsters had rolled out of the Karosseriewerk Reuter garage decades earlier and the name associated with the special drop-tops had all but disappeared from the Porsche world. Fortunately, though, this special body style remained in the minds of both the brand’s enthusiasts and its management.
It took a new #Porsche
CEO, American, #Peter-Schutz
, to put his faith in the #Porsche-911
and reengage its development with a convertible version included. What he had in mind was a raw, back-to-basics Speedster. It was a recipe that sounded familiar to Porschephiles. Alas, the company chose to go for a more versatile, luxuriously appointed convertible, not far from the default Targa.
In 1986, another Speedster was penned according to the instructions of Peter Schutz, who dreamt up a Turbo-look wide-body car with a small 356-inspired airfoil barely giving any wind protection to passengers. In a matter of months Porsche chief engineer, #Helmuth-Bott
, proposed a more advanced design based on the old narrow-body 911 SC, also with a rather symbolic windshield, but in this case combined with proportionally smaller side windows, which transitioned smoothly to the rigid removable tonneau cover behind the cabin. The Schutz and Bott cars gave rise to the 911 Carrera 3.2 Speedster Studie, officially revealed during the Frankfurt show of 1987. The toned-down pearlescent paint and classic 911 motifs co-created an unlikely futuristic concept car that creatively reinterpreted the Speedster genre.
The light cabin cover can be lifted on hinges, but to get behind the wheel, I manage to slip in without raising the lid through a pet door created by opening the lower half of the door. The cabin isn’t much different from what the driver of a 1980s 911 was used to. Porsche did, however, show some creativity in choosing the colours to make the interior look at least unique, as everything was covered in white – from the steering wheel down to the floor mats.
The Speedster Studie won’t be remembered as a car with the most carefully finished interior but then again, concept cars are not designed for that purpose. Their mission is to manifest an idea, and in this respect the Speedster Studie couldn’t have performed better. The positive reception it received at the show supported by favourable market trends led to the production of a limited series of 911 Speedsters in 1989.
PORSCHE 928 CABRIOLET
The USA was a crucial client for Porsche virtually from the very beginning of the carmaker’s history, and few people knew how to exploit the great potential of the American market as well as Berlin-born but Chicago-raised Peter Schutz.
An open variant of the 928 seemed a natural extension of Porsche’s model line-up in the 1980s, which fitted perfectly with the Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills set of the time. Porsche had already had a bash at creating a 928 with a removable roof back in 1977, four years before Schutz’s arrival, verifying the idea of the Targa body. The idea, however, was soon dropped, but the need for such a car remained, so the service of cutting away the roof from the 928 (or at least its middle section) was offered through the years by various independent companies.
The Peter Schutz era at Porsche was marked by the much-anticipated comeback of the 911 but the company didn’t forget about its front-engined 928. It was thought to be a suitable basis for the new models extending the brand’s portfolio – amongst them a cabriolet, a four-door coupélimousine, and the mysterious 989. The Porsche Design Centre was asked to create several versions of the 928 convertible design, which were to be realised by the industry giant American Sunroof Corporation, whose new subsidiary was opened in nearby Weinsberg, specifically to fulfil Porsche’s needs.
The prototype 928 Cabriolet was finished in 1987 after ten months of work. It was based on the most recent 928 S4 incarnation and armed with a new five-litre 32-valve V8 engine. Even if it looked like a simple development of the series production model, it turned out to be an advanced project with its modifications going deep into the structure of the car. As the 928 wasn’t originally designed with a convertible version in mind, so the prototype needed various retrofitted reinforcements into its halved chassis. Specifically for this Cabriolet, the team designed a stronger floorpan, a firewall and, most importantly, A-pillars.
The car looks like a finished project, ready to be delivered to showrooms. Indeed that’s largely true of this prototype. Richly equipped with a four-seat interior, a potent powertrain and a projected price of about DM150000, the 928 Cabriolet really could’ve made it big in the US, if only it had a chance to prove itself. Just as it was finished, though, the US economy suffered a major financial crisis that left the dollar to DM exchange rate hugely unfavourable for Germans.
The price of the deutsche mark rose, taking with it the potential price of the 928 Cabriolet, and so Porsche sales in America fell proportionally. All this while Peter Schutz had to make way for the next CEO, Heinz Branitzki. The new boss sought to limit the firm’s expenses by terminating many of its current activities. The cabrio and four-door 928 project were among the casualties; both were eventually cancelled early in 1991.
The most inconspicuous car of our trio proves to be the most interesting and perhaps the most advanced. It took Porsche 27 years to admit that it had created this little roadster, revealing the news only in 2014. The 984 project started its life in 1984 as an external order from SEAT. At the time of entering German ownership, the Spanish brand needed a car to build its new image and international recognition upon and that led to another cooperation with Porsche. The Germans had already developed a four-cylinder engine for the Malaga, Ronda and Ibiza models but this time Porsche was asked to create a thoroughly modern, extremely compact roadster. The project, called ‘PS’, envisioned a car that was no more than 3675mm in length, 1100mm in height, and no heavier than 880kg. Also, it was expected to boast a see-through hard-top and some highly regarded Porsche mechanicals.
When the project reached a stage requiring concrete action, SEAT realised it could not accept the budget requested by Porsche for evolving the prototype into a production-ready car. Porsche didn’t want to leave the promising 984 at that stage, though, and decided to carry on its work on the car. Nicknaming it ‘Junior’, Porsche slightly altered its priorities: the new car’s price would be limited to DM40000; it would offer low fuel consumption; a new solid roof would provide more headroom; the engine would move from its central position to the rear-engine accommodation more familiar to the brand, while a bigger share of parts could be sourced from the other Porsche cars.
But the main goal remained the same: to create a modern small roadster slotting beneath the 944 that would help rejuvenate the brand’s entry-level client base. The company didn’t even need to do much to make the car look like the credible part of its family; with those round front lights it already looked like one. Contrary to the 928 or 968, here these lamps didn’t need to be raised: they hid the innovative ellipsoidal reflector spotlights, a recently introduced advanced solution that Porsche also used on the special 942 model, an extended 928 that was a gift from the company’s workers to Ferry Porsche on his 75th birthday. The 984 was meant to be an advanced car: in the early stages the development of an AWD system was taken into consideration for it, with the potential of a motorsport career in the future.
Most of the car’s other parts came as ready solutions borrowed from other models from the brand: the brakes came from the older 911 SC, the steering from the future 964, the electronics from the current 928, while the gearbox was based on the unit that was installed in the 1976 912 E (an interim model that was offered in the USA between 912 and 914). An important innovation proved to be the independent multi-link suspension on the rear axle, developed by Georg Wahl, that was passed onto the 989 limousine and eventually ended up in production in the 993 of the early 1990s. Initially the 984 prototype was planned to be given a completely new two-litre boxer engine with four valves per cylinder, a double overhead camshaft, and a turbocharger.
It was a power unit that potentially could be used in the aircraft industry in the future, too. But such an ambitious plan never materialised; instead the 984 was given a four-cylinder ‘Typ 4’ boxer from the 914 model, grown to 2400cc. That was enough to reach its proposed power output which was in the region of 120–150hp, which allowed this small and aerodynamic car to achieve aboveaverage performance figures: a 0-62mph time of less than eight seconds and a maximum speed of 143mph were good.
Although Zuffenhausen’s engineers did take some shortcuts here and there, they undoubtedly put a lot of energy into developing the 984. This is most evident from behind the steering wheel. The first thing that comes to one’s mind inside the 984 is the well-known 944. The dashboard is differentiated only by a few details, like an intriguing cylinder temperature gauge – most probably included only for research and development purposes. The whole interior is upholstered using fine materials with astonishing care. The creatively folding roof, hidden in the boot in one section, can still be opened and closed. Seizing the steering wheel one can only imagine how great this little roadster might be to drive. Judging by the traces of intense use left on the underbody, Porsche test drivers appreciated its dynamic capabilities a lot. Sadly, though, we were never able to find that out for ourselves as, like with the 928 Cabriolet, the 984 was killed by the falling dollar. With each month that passed by the projected price of the car on the US market rose, right up to a point where the whole project was deemed unprofitable. After four years of budgetdraining development work the whole 984 venture was closed down in March 1988. From a short series of prototypes only this one example survives to this day. Others were destroyed in various ways, dismantled or crashed in tests. The only 984 left might have shared this fate, too, judging by its white and black research sticker on the rear lid.
The 984 project did not, however, remain useless. It can be presumed that Porsche’s engineers took a good look at it when they were working on a roadster of similar proportions just five years later. It came to be known as the Boxster. The stories of these three cars joined together here prove that what we see offered from carmakers is just the tip of the development iceberg. The life of a prototype is tough and often completely pointless. Cars like these remain silent heroes of their brands, ending up mostly forgotten or underrated.
The life of a prototype is tough and often completely pointless.
Judging by the traces of intense use, Porsche test drivers appreciated its dynamic capabilities.
The 928 Cabriolet was ready for production, destined for the US market, but a financial crisis halted the project…
The 928 Cabriolet really could’ve made it big in the US, if only it had a chance to prove itself.
The Speedster’s cabin cover can be lifted on hinges. Its all-white colour scheme was designed to gain attention at Frankfurt.