You don't have to be a car enthusiast to know the Porsche 911. It's undoubtedly one of the most iconic automobiles, not just as a performance benchmark but for its rear-placed flat-six engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration, and signature slick back teardrop silhouette.
From the same lineage that also brought us the Volkswagen Beetle, the Porsche 911 debuted as a larger, more powerful, and more comfortable successor to the Type 356. It was initially designated as the "Type 901." But French automaker Peugeot hotly contested Porsche, claiming they reserved all rights to any three-digit numerical series model number with a zero in the middle. So Porsche named its new sports car the 911.
It has been nearly 60 years since Porsche debuted the 911 at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show. The car has cultivated a rich history and rabid connoisseur base, particularly in America. Enthusiasts can often seem like they're speaking their own language. They kind of are!
Here's our quick and easy guide to speaking Porsche 911 with reasonable fluency.
Porsche 911 Generations
The "OG" 911: The original Porsche 911 began selling in 1964 and remained essentially unchanged until the 964 in 1989. Over its 25-year production span, the 911's evolution was through more powerful versions of its signature air-cooled flat-six motor, updates to the suspension, and other refinements to improve its handling and safety. It sold only as a 2+2 seater in coupe and Targa forms until its second generation revision, which introduced the first 911 convertible.
Type 912: The 912 was essentially a 911, but with a flat-four-cylinder instead of the six-cylinder. Launched in 1965, it served as the automaker's entry-level sports car, which ended up outselling the 911 because it was nimbler and more fuel-efficient. Porsche discontinued the 912 in 1969 and replaced it with the mid-engine 914.
Type 930: The original high-performance turbocharged version produced between 1975 and 1989, the 930 is the father to the later versions of the 911 Turbo. Born as a homologation special to qualify Porsche in FIA Group 4 and Group 5 GT races during that era, the 930 is distinguished by its large "whale tail" rear spoiler and wide wheel fenders. A special edition variant featured a "slant nose" front end inspired by the motorsports variants of the 930. It's often colloquially called the "widowmaker" as it developed a reputation for oversteer-prone handling and being incredibly difficult to drive for all but the most experienced.
Type 964: The 964 arrived in 1990, catapulting the model into the contemporary era by introducing major modern technologies such as electronic fuel injection, ABS, power steering, and newer climate controls—all standard. The 964 retained the 911's original core platform but featured other major technical and aesthetic updates to the front and rear exterior portions. It was also the first 911 to offer an automatic transmission and optional all-wheel drive.
Type 993: The 993 is the last of the air-cooled Porsche 911s. It's especially attractive for enthusiasts with its blend of old-school original 911 feel with modern creature comforts. Although Porsche claimed that every part from the ground up was new following the 964, including a completely new multilink rear suspension design, the 993 was still the last 911 to base its core design on the original model from 1964.
Type 996: The 996 is one of the most controversial and unloved generations of 911 because purists detest its changeover to a water-cooled flat-six engine. The 996 is also caught a lot of flak for its love-it-or-hate-it styling, particularly its "fried egg" shaped headlights. But it was the first 911 to receive a new chassis from the ground up. If you're in the market, look for a version that has had the IMS bearing replaced.
Type 997: The 997, although seemingly new, was actually a heavily updated and revised successor to the 996. It most notably received "bug-eyed" headlights to pay homage to the original 911 and the 993. Other changes included more powerful engines, suspension and chassis revisions, and a new exhaust system.
Type 991: The 991 is the second-ever generation of Porsche 911 to receive a complete overhaul from the ground up, replacing the preceding 996-based platform. Its construction involved a completely new combination of high-strength steel, aluminum, and composite materials, making it one of the lightest and stiffest modern 911s ever made.
Type 992: The 992 is the eighth and current generation of Porsche 911. Revealed in 2018, the 992 utilizes its bespoke platform, internally referred to as the Volkswagen Group MMB architecture. Unlike previous 911s, the 992 is the first version to employ widened rear wheel arches to accommodate a wider axle track—often reserved only for the high-performance models. The 992 is also the first 911 to use all-aluminum body panels.
What's the difference between air-cooled and water-cooled 911s?
Classic Porsche 911 engines were air-cooled meaning the motor cooled itself through channeled airflow. With the 996 generation debuting in 1997, Porsche switched to a more modern liquid-based cooling system.
Air-cooled Porsche 911s are more sought after by Porsche enthusiasts (and expensive if you're buying a vintage one) in part because it's the traditional layout for a 911 engine and part of what made the car unique. It's also simpler and, importantly for a sports car, lighter than what came after. Water-cooled engines are more efficient to meet stricter emissions standards and can tolerate higher outputs. As such, all modern Porsches are water-cooled.
Porsche 911 Trims
Carrera/Carrera 2S/Carrera 4/Carrera 4S: The name Carrera stems from Porsche's historic motorsports success in the Carrera Panamericana race in the 1950s. The Carrera name typically applies to the base models of the 911. It later featured the Carrera 2S name, signifying two-wheel-drive Sport models; Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S, denoting all-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive Sport models.
Targa: This term refers to the semi-open-top versions of the Porsche 911. A registered trademark of Porsche AG, the Targa debuted in 1966, making it one of the most iconic 911 body styles. Targa's feature a removable top over the front two seats, while a fixed rear window and metal bar cover the passenger cell's rear portions, making it a semi-convertible. The Targa variant remains in production today.
Turbo/Turbo S: The 911 Turbo is the high-performance version of the 911, optimized for performance but still comfortable for everyday use. Turbo S models receive a stiffer suspension and more aggressive performance tweaks. Originally, most Porsche 911s featured naturally-aspirated engines but the turbocharged engine was reserved for the “911 Turbo” model, originating with the Type 930. Porsche kept the Turbo nomenclature after switching to mostly turbocharged engines throughout the lineup.
GT2: The GT2 is based on the 911 Turbo models, featuring the same turbocharged flat-six but with a long list of performance upgrades and rear-wheel drive instead of all-wheel drive. The GT2 began with the 993 as a homologation special to meet GT2 class racing qualifications. Porsche has not introduced a GT2 model yet for the current 911 generation.
GT3: The GT3 began with the 996 generation as a spiritual successor to the original 1973 911 Carrera RS. It features similar track-focused upgrades to the GT2. But it sticks with the traditional naturally-aspirated flat-six and manual transmission. It's distinguished by a massive swan-neck rear wing unless you opt for the more sedate Touring version.
RS/RSR: These abbreviations were reserved for the high-performance track-focused variants of the 911. RS stands for Rennsport, which means "racing sport" in German. They began with the original 911 in 1973, arguably the greatest 911s of all time. It was a homologation special, which required Porsche to produce road-going variants for the consumer market to qualify for FIA Group 4 racing. RS cars are road cars. RSR trim is for the full-fledged racing versions.
SC: Porsche produced the 911 SC (Super Carrera) between 1978 and 1983. It replaced the earlier 911 and Carrera models with a more powerful, naturally-aspirated 3.0-liter flat-six. It was the unofficial second generation of the OG 911.
3.2 Carrera: The 3.2 Carrera followed the SC from 1984 to 1989. It used an even more powerful 3.2-liter flat-six that was also naturally aspirated.
Speedster: The Speedster variants signify the limited-production and special edition open-fixed top versions of the Porsche 911. It began with the third-generation 911 as a tribute to the original 356 Speedster. Since then, Porsche continues to offer 911 Speedsters in very limited numbers, and they tend to be some of the most exclusive variants in each generation.
PDK, Tiptronic, Weissach...what?
Tiptronic: This is the internal name for Porsche's automatic gearbox, first introduced on the 964. It was later succeeded by Porsche's dual-clutch PDK automatic with the 997.
PDK: Short for Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, it's the German name for the company's dual-clutch automatic transmission. The PDK is renowned as one of the quickest shifting transmissions available in a production car — and a major reason high-performance 911s like the Turbo no longer offer a manual.
Weissach axle: A special rear axle assembly design initially developed for the front-engine rear-wheel-drive 928 grand tourers. It was specially engineered to reduce liftoff oversteer under hard driving and throttle-lift during mid-corner maneuvers. It gets its name after the home city of Porsche's main research center. Porsche later adopted the Weissach axle to the 993, significantly reducing the original 911's most notably troublesome driving characteristic: aggressive oversteer.
Weissach package: An even higher-performance package on top-level 911s that focuses on reducing weight.
Custom 911 Brands
RUF: What started life as a simple shop specializing in Porsche repair in Pfaffenhausen, Germany, ended up being one of the most iconic and desirable aftermarket tuning firms for P-Cars. The company is most notable for producing some of the fastest road-going Porsches in history, such as the famous twin-turbocharged CTR "Yellow Bird" based on the 964 Turbo.
Singer: As one of the newer and more recent firms, Singer Vehicle Design made a name for itself as one of the most desirable resto-mod firms for 911s. They take classic 911 models and tastefully modify and update the vehicles with newer creature comforts, stunning custom interiors and other performance upgrades. That allows Singer Porsches to retain much of the classic 911 charm without the pitfalls of classic vehicle ownership.
Gunther Werks: Based in California, Gunther Werks is one of the most prestigious and elite tuning firms for air-cooled 911 models. Most known for its Gunther Works 400R based on the 993, the company upgrades everything from in-house tailored brake and suspension upgrades to completely customized interiors. They're not cheap either, as the price for a custom-built 400R begins at a lofty $525,000.
Gemballa: Another well-known and highly respected 911 tuning firm, Gemballa, began in 1981, specializing in upgrading and getting more power out of the 911's already capable engines. Its tuned models range from upgrading the original "slant nose" 930 to the later 993 Turbo models.
Magnus Walker: Magnus Walker was initially a fashion designer. As his popularity grew, Walker began expressing his childhood love and passion for classic Porsches. He eventually turned his passion and personal collection into a Porsche 911-based style brand, best known as the "Outlaw Porsche." Coinciding with the recognition of his clothing brand, Magnus Walker began offering upgrades and customization services for classic Porsches and remains one of the most influential individuals in the world of P-Cars.