Porsche’s Four-Wheel Drive

DURING OUR FIRST IN-PERSON SOCIAL in 17 months, the Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo was featured. This is a ridiculously capable machine with designed-in off-road capability. All-wheel drive is standard as is the larger battery pack and two electric motors. Its performance is stellar with acceleration to 100 KPH happening in five seconds or less, depending on the trim, with a top speed of 220 to 250 KPH. This is a far cry from the four-wheel-drive off-road vehicle Porsche was planning in the ‘50s, the Jagdwagen (597) or Hunter.

Germany needed to fulfill its NATO commitments by 1954. The German government requested designs from Borgward, Auto Union and Porsche for a four-wheel-drive, simple, rugged and reliable machine. The Porsche design was partially VW-based using the familiar suspension and VW Kombi reduction gears. The single-carburetor, 1,488-cubic-centimetre engine, which was enlarged to 1,582, was used.

By all accounts, the Porsche outperformed the Borgward and the Auto Union (DKW). Despite just 50 horsepower, the 597 could climb a 65-percent (33-degree) slope and reach 100 KPH. However, the Porsche proved too costly at about the same price as a 356. The winning DKW came in at about half the cost, so it was chosen. Ultimately 71 vehicles were built with about 50 remaining today. It appeared to be a dead end as it was many years before Porsche explored four-wheel drive.

In the early ‘80s the World Rally Championship was for Group B cars, which eventually became too fast and were outlawed. By 1983, Porsche knew it could not escape the four-by-four era so built the 953, a 911 variant, for the Paris Dakar rally of 1984, which it surprisingly won. The plan was to build a bespoke car for Group B regulations, which became the 959 super car with a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system. Originally called “Gruppe B,” it debuted at the 1983 Frankfurt auto show, one of its themes that year was four-wheel drive.

Still not ready for homologation for Group B, Porsche prepared three rally 959 long-range desert rally raids for 1985. Although unsuccessful the previous year, in 1986 Porsche 959s finished first and second in what is considered the most grueling Paris Dakar rally.

Porsche also built a variation of the 959, the 961, which was the first four-wheel-drive car to race at Le Mans. It finished seventh in 1986. This car was again raced at Le Mans in 1987 but finished a lowly 24th. Due to a rule change, Porsche built the 959s as road cars, which were considered the most sophisticated and complex cars of their day. Over 300 vehicles were built and are exceptionally valuable today.

Porsche realized that four-wheel drive was an important new technology, which would add value to the 911. The 964 was the first 911 to incorporate this technology in the Porsche line. All 911 series to the present day incorporate four-wheel drive in various models. The four-wheel-drive technology is not for off-road capability, rather it is for improved road performance.

However, in the early 2000s, the four-wheel-drive Cayenne was introduced as having off-road capability. So, from small beginnings in the ‘50s, Porsche now has all-wheel drive through much of its current line-up.

With its 20th anniversary next year, we will have more history and experience, therefore we will have a Cayenne theme edition of Provinz next year. Don’t forget to prepare and submit your Cayenne articles by the end of November. </>

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