Years of development preceded the Porsche 901 introduction at the 1963 Frankfurt Motorshow. It was only the second all new production car ever launched by the German sportscar manufacturer, but it would turn out to be the most important. Only a very few production cars used the 901 designation and today is best known as the 911. This name was adopted a year later to avoid conflicts with Peugeot, who had been using the digit-zero-digit naming scheme for years.
Porsche basically only offered one road car, the 356, which was available in various different versions. It was absolutely vital for the continuation of the company that its replacement would be a success. No risks were taken and the work of designing the all new car started in the second half of the 1950s. Between 1959 and 1961 a number of rolling protypes were constructed, of which the four seater Type 695 T-7 was closest in design to the eventual 901/911.
In its design, the 901/911 chassis followed the original unitary structure used for the 356. Completely new was the front suspension, which consisted of a lower wishbone and strut type coil spring over damper unit. In modified form the trailing arm rear suspension was carried over from the 356. The disc brakes were identical to those fitted on the 356C. Although the body design included many cues of the 356, it looked very modern and was an immediate hit. Until this day the silhouette penned by Ferri 'Butzi' Porsche is still found on the latest 911 model.
Where the chassis and body design was a logical and gradual evolution, the engine design was much more of a struggle. Keeping future developments in mind, a six cylinder configuration was chosen, but the displacement remained 2 litre. A very complicated flat six (Type 745) was designed and built, featuring two central camshafts opening the valves by pushrods. A more logical solution was adopted for what was to become the Type 901. The camshafts moved to an overhead position, removing the need for pushrods. Unlike previous Porsche OHC designs the 901 engine used chains to drive the camshafts.
Breathing through two Solex Carburetors, the air cooled engine produced 130 bhp. Judging by the price and performance of the 901/911 it was clearly a replacement for the most powerful and expensive 356 model, the Carrera 2. A proper 356 replacement was introduced in 1965, when the 912 was unveiled. It was similar to the 911, but had a less luxurious interior and used a 356 derived four cylinder engine. The 912 was a big sales success, but it was the 911 that has grown out to be the quintessential Porsche, a true icon.