There is something about the Porsche name that conjures up images in people’s minds. The iconic silhouette of the 911, that has changed so little through the many years and many incarnations of its production history, is one. But for those of a more mechanical mindset, it could just as easily be that famous flat engine.
The extraordinary thing, when you consider that Porsche is so closely associated with curing edge technology, is that that flat engine design goes all the way back to the earliest days of internal combustion. Carl Benz invented it in 1896. Called a ‘contra’ engine, because it had two cylinders positioned in opposition to each other, it could only deliver 5 bhp, but its basic design principles hold true in today’s Porsche engines.
Ferry Porsche (1909-1998), son of the founder of both Porsche and Volkswagen, took a 35 bhp 1.1 litre flat four-cylinder engine from a VW Beetle and put it into his 356-001, at once creating a legendary association between car and engine that has endured ever since. Power and performance have been improved steadily over the years - the 3.8 litre engine in the mid-90s 911 Carrera RS, for example, could achieve an astonishing 300 bhp before the assistance of two turbochargers raised this to 450 bhp - but what has never changed is Porsche’s belief in the air-cooled flat engine’s being the perfect power source for a sports car.
Whether using four or six cylinder configurations, Porsche has long favoured the low and rear-mounted position as the ideal for performance and handling. It gives the car an optimal center of gravity and improved braking, whilst its crank mechanism allows for an engine to cruise at high speeds for long periods without excessive strain on the mechanical components. The smooth running of particularly the six cylinder engine is legendary.
What are your thoughts about Porsche then and now? Let us know in the comments below!
Article by Fiennes Performance who have decades of experience working with both air and water cooled versions of these engines, and can offer a range of performance upgrades and enhancements to further improve what is great to begin with.