There have been a lot of iconic sports cars over the years, but the Porsche 911 has reached a whole different level of iconic. It is the standard by which all other cars even remotely in its price range are judged, and it has been for decades. It is a staple on race tracks to the point where it’s not unusual to see half of the field made up of 911s at any given GT race. What’s most amazing about this is that the 911 comes from a different era, one where sports cars didn’t usually boast huge horsepower numbers, but it has managed to adapt and stay on top. Here we’ll take a look at the first generation of the car.

This generation is sometimes referred to as the 901, as it is in the title. This is not an official designation as with subsequent generations (Type 964, Type 993 etc.), but rather it is the original name for the car, and is applied as a way of avoiding confusion when referring to the only generation of the 911 without a specific generation number. The name was changed to 911 when Peugeot sued, saying it had exclusive rights to three-digit number model names with a 0 in the middle.
Continue reading to learn more about the Porsche 911 (901).

  • 1963 - 1964 Porsche 911 (901)
  • Year:
    1963- 1964
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    130 @ 6100
  • Torque @ RPM:
    119 @ 4600
  • Displacement:
    1991 cc
  • 0-60 time:
    8 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    125 mph (Est.)
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

1963 - 1964 Porsche 911 (901) High Resolution Exterior
- image 639912
1963 - 1964 Porsche 911 (901) High Resolution Exterior
- image 639928
1963 - 1964 Porsche 911 (901) High Resolution Exterior
- image 639932

The story of the 911 sort of starts with the VW Beetle, which was designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche in the 30s, but didn’t really become successful until the late 50s. A sports version of the Beetle’s platform was given a Porsche badge and named the 356 as early as 1948, although again, it would take a while for it to gain any commercial success. But once it did gain success, Porsche took the idea further in 1964 with the 911, and just looking at the 911, especially the early models, it’s obvious that this design is an evolution of those two earlier designs. But even though the design is an evolution, the cars were each designed by different people, and the 911 was designed by Ferdinand “Butzi” Porsche, grandson of the company founder and designer of the Beetle.

It is a very small car, even in its current form, though this is still more than a foot longer and 8 inches wider than the original. This was the style of the day. Sports cars were small and very light instead of monstrously powerful, although the 911 was still a noticeable step up from the 356. The 911 also had the advantage of being much more aerodynamic than most of its competition. This is due largely to the rear-engine layout, which allowed for a much lower hood and the general teardrop design of the body. There was a convertible version, as well as the Targa body style, built solely because Porsche was under the impression that the NHTSA was going to ban traditional convertibles in the U.S., the 911’s biggest market.

Exterior Dimensions

Length 4,134 MM (162.8 Inches)
Width 1,600 MM (63 Inches)
Height 1,321 MM (52 Inches)
Wheelbase 2,200 MM (86.6 Inches)
Track (fr/r) 1,334 MM (52.5 Inches) / 1,311 MM (51.6 Inches)

Interior

1963 - 1964 Porsche 911 (901) High Resolution Interior
- image 639915

Even in a modern 911, the interior isn’t especially elaborate, although this shouldn’t be taken to mean that it’s in any way unpleasant. But this is all the more extreme when looking at a 901, which had an especially spartan interior. The 911 is a car for driving, and Porsche didn’t think customers would be interested in anything that would distract them from that. It’s also fairly cramped by modern standards, but neither of these things were at all unusual for a European sports car in 1964. European cars at this time weren’t built to be at all accommodating for anyone over about 5’8”, and that wouldn’t change for several decades. But assuming that you can fit comfortably into it, the 901 has a nice interior; it wasn’t a cheap car and quality materials were used to make it.

Drivetrain

1963 - 1964 Porsche 911 (901) High Resolution Drivetrain
- image 639917

Peugeot only sued over the model name 901, so drivetrain components on early 911s retained the 901 designation, although it was mostly used to refer to the aluminum five-speed transmissions that weren’t used up until 1969. The engine was an evolution of the Beetle/356 air-cooled boxer engine, with the most obvious difference being that this version had six cylinders instead of four. Since the 901 designation isn’t an official one, it is debatable which versions of the car it can be applied to. The first generation technically lasted up until the introduction of the Type 964 in 1989, and would therefore include a wide variety of engines. But Porsche purists would likely argue that the only “real” 901s are those from 1964 to 1969. These early cars all used 2.0-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engines, but different versions put out different power figures. Most produced 130 horsepower, but racing models put out as much as 210. An entry-level, four-cylinder model known as the Porsche 912 was offered briefly, but this was soon replaced by the 911T, which had a detuned, 110-horsepower version of the 2.0 engine and sold for less. Turbo models would come later, but these were based on a later series of the 911, and would actually have a separate model designation for the first generation, known as the Porsche 930.

The rear-engine design of the 911 made for some interesting handling. The 911 was known for not suffering fools gladly, which is a nice way of saying it would kill you if you didn’t take it seriously. But this would become much more of a problem as Porsche made more and more powerful versions of the car, and early versions like the 901 weren’t so bad in this department. Still, it didn’t take much coaxing to induce oversteer, although this can be fun when you’re doing it on purpose.

Drivetrain Specifications

Configuration Type 901 B6
Location Rear, longitudinally mounted
Displacement 1,991 cc / 121.5 cu in
Bore / Stroke 80.0 mm (3.1 in) / 66.0 mm (2.6 in)
Compression 9.0:1
Valvetrain 2 valves / cylinder, SOHC
Fuel feed 2 Solex 40P1 Carburettors
Aspiration Naturally Aspirated
Power 130 HP @ 6,100 RPM
Torque 119 LB-FT @ 4,600 RPM

Prices

The original list price for a Porsche 911 in 1964 was $6,490, about $50,000 in today’s money. The car is still far from rare, and prices can vary a lot. As with any classic, rare varieties or those in particularly good condition can go for a lot more than others. This means that the 912, though an entry-level model, is now particularly valuable because of its relative rarity. But the most valuable of all are the early prototypes that were actually badged as 901s. These go for huge sums, typically between $800,000 and $1 million.

Competition

Chevy Corvette

1963 - 1964 Porsche 911 (901) High Resolution Exterior
- image 526715

The Corvette has always been the biggest competitor to the 911 from the time it first debuted. The U.S. being the biggest market for the 911, it only made sense for it to square off against the most successful home-grown sports car. The exceptionally good-looking C2 Corvette Sting Ray debuted one year after the 911’s debut in concept form (then still known as the 901), but one year before the actual production debut. So the setup was perfect for a long-lasting rivalry, and said rivalry has been good for both cars. The debate over th two could last forever, and mostly comes down to personal taste, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to buy either of these classics.

Read our full review of the C2 here.

Jaguar E-Type

1963 - 1964 Porsche 911 (901) High Resolution Exterior
- image 158824

Predating the 911 by a couple of years, the E-Type is one of the other great iconic sports car of the 60s. It was relatively cheap compared to the competition, at least in Europe, and the $1,000 price difference between it and the 911 was a very noticeable one at the time. The E-Type had a lot more power than the 911 too, but for all of the racing technology that went into it, it was more grand tourer than pure sports car, and the 911 was a much more focused driver’s car. That said, the advantages of an E-Type are hard to ignore, and even hardened 911 fans often think of the Jag as the more attractive of the two vehicles.

Read our full review of the E-Type here.

Conclusion

The evidence of the Porsche 911’s greatness is the fact that it has been in production for so long and that the car has undergone such a gradual evolution. It has been updated, but the changes aren’t radical, they’re incremental. That’s because this original design was so right in so many ways, and driving an old 911 is a pure driving experience like almost no other car offer. There is a reason why the word “purist” is used in connection with Porsche fans more than those of other brands.

Check out these cool videos of the 911’s evolution.

  • Leave it
    • * might kill you if you don’t know how to handle a rear-engined car
    • * will probably become an obsession that costs you your marriage
    • * not as exotic as basically any other 60s European sports car
What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: