The Origins Of Porsche’s Model Names

THERE ARE NO SECRETS about the names Porsche has chosen for the models over its 70-plus years of history. I had fun researching and gathering the origin stories together.

One story goes that when Ferdinand Porsche founded his engineering company in the 1930s, they did not use number one for their first project. Rather, they used a higher number to make it appear they were an established company. Therefore, they began with number seven for the design of a Wanderer automobile.

The first vehicle to bear the Porsche name was the 356, this project number being assigned on June 11, 1947. The 356-001 was a mid-engine car completed in June 1948. The first production cars had the engine behind the rear axle, which was more suitable for series manufacture. That tradition, of course, continues today.

The Carrera name first appeared on the highest-performing 356 in 1955. It honours Porsche’s success in the Carrera Panamericana, the deadly and exciting Mexican road race, which ran from 1950 to 1954. The SC, or Super Carrera, was used on the 356. This nomenclature was reintroduced in 1978, for the 911. In 1984, Porsche returned to using Carrera.

Max Hoffman, the first US Porsche importer, believed Americans preferred car names rather than numbers. The 1955 coupes and cabriolets were badged Continental, but Ford claimed prior rights to this name. A similar scenario played out in the ‘60s. Porsche replaced that name with European, as the bodybuilder had already drilled holes in a few bodies for the long name “Continental.”

The 356 replacement debuted at the 1963 Frankfurt auto show, which was the 901. The 901 was chosen as it was compatible with the Volkswagen internal parts numbering system. (Excellence Was Expected by Karl Ludvigsen.) However, Peugeot objected to Porsche’s use of the 901 designation because it had exclusive rights to use model names with a zero in the middle in France. As France was a vital market for Porsche, the 911 number was adopted.

Porsche introduced the Targa in 1965 as it was worried cabriolets would not be allowed in the US due to rumoured safety rules. The name Targa celebrates Porsche’s wins in the Targa Florio and means “shield.” The suspected rules never came to pass.

When developing the 917 racecar, Porsche, as part of the secrecy surrounding the development of the car and flat-12 engine, was given the number 912. This was the same number used in the ‘60s entry-level four-cylinder 912 Porsche.

The Porsche Panamericana (see photo) was a show car built in 1989. It was developed to preview new and possible design features. It was also a gift to Ferry Porsche for his 80th birthday but he disliked the design.

The Boxster name is a combination of “boxer engine” and “roadster.” The Cayman comes from the Caiman, a South American alligator. Recently, Porsche added the number 718 to both these models harkening back to a successful racecar of the late 1950s.

The Cayenne is probably named after the hot pepper, although there is also a town in France with that name.

The Macan is either the Serbo-Croatian word for tomcat or the Indonesian-Malaysian word for tiger.

The Panamera is a made-up word which appears to refer to the Panamericana.

There is some controversy over the name of the new electric Porsche Turbo. Of course, an electric car cannot have a turbo, but rumour has it that the name was chosen for its connotation of power. Taycan is composed of two terms of Turkic origin — this name can be roughly translated as “soul of a spirited young horse.”

To me, the name Porsche conjures up racing success and spirited drives on deserted highways. May that long be the case. </>

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  1. My first contact was in 1957. It was known as a Porsche Speedster. We raced it a bit in the SCCA flat old airports circuit. A companion vehicle with 4 overhead cams was a Carrera. My how the tack would climb on that engine. There were no numbers involved such as 356. I regret the loss of names and the substitution of numbers

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