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How To Tell Porsche 911 Generations Apart

Bradley Brownell September 8, 2016 Redusernab 101 27 Comments

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Yesterday, Jeff asked me which generation of 911 was my favorite, and I said “Short wheelbase long-hood, so 1965-68” and he replied “Cool, so is that like 964?” and I laughed. He then suggested I make a post showing photos of each generation and what some of the differences are. There are a whole lot of nuances involved here, so uh this is a glazing over how that all works. Read along to maybe learn something?

Some of these cars are modified, so if you have any specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. This is meant as a general primer. I really like the photo above, as this depicts a first generation 911, and a current generation 911. Both of these cars are called “911”, but they’re separated by almost 50 years. The one on the right is a 1968 Porsche 911R, and the one on the left is a 2016 Porsche 911R. One is a race car, one is a street car. If you know me, you know I don’t really like one of them, but I love the other. Alright, lets kick this off. The 911 was introduced in 1964 as a replacement to the outgoing Porsche 356 (I should probably do a post about those in the future, too…). It was bigger, heavier, and had a larger engine. A trend that Porsche has followed pretty much without fault through to today.

911 Longhood SWB – 1964-1968

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These early cars feature slab sides with very little or no flare on the fenders, horn grilles and long side markers.

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Critically important, these are called “longhood” cars because the hood extends all the way down to the top of the bumper, which is lower than in later years.

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You can tell a SWB car from a LWB by checking the rear quarter panel for this hole plug. This hole is where the rear torsion bars are inserted and removed. If the hole is right next to the rear wheel opening, then it is a short wheelbase car. An example of a long wheelbase car is below.

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The Targa model was introduced in 1967, as was the higher performance 911S.

In 1968, all US spec 911 and 912 models had fender and quarter panel mounted reflectors. If you see them, you’re spotting a 68.

 

911 Longhood LWB – 1969-1973

In the long wheelbase version, more variants began to appear. In 1973, the Carrera RS was introduced with a ducktail and fender flares as seen below.

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For the most part, everything remained the same, though LWB cars got larger engines and in later years black wiper arms and black turn signal and tail light trim.

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In this photo, you can see the extension from SWB to LWB. An LWB car has an inch and a half more sheetmetal separating the torsion bar hole from the rear wheel opening. It’s subtle, but that’s the easiest way to tell an early car from a later car.

In 1972, all 911s had the oil filler moved to an exterior opening door on the rear quarter panel. Many fuel attendants of the time mistook the door for the fuel filler and put gasoline into the oil tank. For 1973, Porsche moved the oil filler back inside the engine compartment.

1969 was the death of the 912 model. It was replaced with the 914 as the bargain 4-cylinder Porsche.

911 “Midyear” – 1974-1977

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In 1974, Porsche had to comply with new crash standards and added impact bumpers to the now-beloved 911s shape. In the rear, the new bumper came with a reflector between the tail lights that reads “PORSCHE”.

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In the front, the turn signals were moved to the bumper, the horn grilles were disposed of, and the hood was shortened to accommodate the new height of the bumper. It is very common to backdate a 74 and later car to 73 and earlier sheetmetal, but it requires new hood, new fenders, new bumpers, and a bit of welding. It’s not an easy job.

The car above is a pristine example of a 1974 Carrera, which carried on the 1973 version’s 2.7 liter engine and ducktail spoiler. These are becoming quite valuable.

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The car above is a 1976 912E. When the 914 finally died out in 1976, Porsche needed a stop-gap to play with until the 924 made it to market, so the US-only 1976-only 912E was born with 2099 units sold. Using the 914’s 2.0 liter flat four, they essentially just put that in a decontented 911 chassis and sold it for far below what a 911 of the time would cost. The one shown here is now mine, I just bought it.

911 Super Carrera – 1978-1983 and 911 Carrera 3.2 – 1984-1989

In 1978, Porsche slightly bulged the fenders of the 911 chassis and added some features, like rear window wiper. This is where things get fuzzy, though, as the car remained visually mostly the same through the next 11 years of development.

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The cars still had the impact bumpers, and they weren’t any better integrated into the shape of the body.

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The SC had a 3.0 liter and the Carrera 3.2 obviously got a displacement bump of 2 tenths of a liter. Both are relatively bulletproof.

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There were a variety of tails and bumper treatments, but they retain about the same shape, give or take.

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From an article published in 911 and Porsche World, here’s a primer on the visual differences of between an SC and a C3.2.

“There were very few changes to the bodywork in 1984. The lines were smoothed as designers finally integrated the SC’s protrusive (optional) front foglights into the bodywork (the rears were similarly absorbed in 1987), shifting the radio aerial from wing top to windscreen the following year. The (optional) Carrera tail was introduced. The almost imperceptible alterations continued inside; front seat belt buckles moved off the floor to the seats, the dash gained a temperature sensor, brake warning light and 930 heater controls, sunvisors were slightly modified and so on.”

The Cabriolet was introduced in 1983.

964-generation – 1989-1994

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The 964 generation cars basically took everything from the Carrera 3.2 and smoothed it out. The bumpers were better integrated, and the rear wing became a hydraulically actuated pop-up lid spoiler. There are no torsion bar holes, because the suspension moved to a coil spring MacPherson front and semi-trailing arm rear.

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The 964 generation offered 4-wheel-drive for the first time in a 911.

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Now up to 3.6 liters, the new 964 engine was an all-new piece rather than a carryover from the original engine architecture.

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The rear of the car has a new better-integrated center rear reflector that wraps around the rear fenders into the brake lights. These fade and crack very easily, and many of them are a shade of pink now.

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993-generation – 1995-1998

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The 993 was the last Aircooled generation. and featured a much wilder (comparatively) body redesign than the 964 had.

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Though the body is mostly new, the entire greenhouse and much of the floor pan is carried over from the 1964 model. You can take a windshield or back glass from a 993 and pop it right into an early SWB car. This is a lot of what people talk about when they say the 911 was evolutionary. Just wait until 996 for the revolution.

996-generation – 1998-2005

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The 996 was a brand new car from the ground up. The engine was watercooled for the first time, featured all new suspension design, and a new greenhouse. The interiors were drastically changed, and modern amenities were available that hadn’t been previously. The early 996s featured this shape of headlight, which was shared with the same-period Boxster. Many customers didn’t like that their more-expensive 911 looked like a bargain basement Boxster, so Porsche changed them in 2001.

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This new headlamp was introduced on the 996 Turbo and carried over through the rest of the 911 lineup later. Neither headlight design is particularly pretty, but this one is my preference between the two.

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This is a GT3 RS, the first of its line, and we didn’t get it here in the US.

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997-generation – 2005-2012

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The 997 body style introduced a new round headlamp, more traditional in the Porsche visual experience. img_4382

The changes to the 997 from the 996 were mostly visual, with a smoother exterior, improved body lines, new lights, and a much better quality interior.

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997 Facelift

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In 2008, Porsche introduced a new engine family that featured direct injection. To differentiate the two cars, Porsche changed the rear lights to be much pointier, and made them LED. There were a few other changes, but that is the primary visual change.

991-generation – 2011-present
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The 991 generation is the current iteration of the 911, and has been out for a handful of years. This car is much larger and more luxurious than the 997 it replaces. That said, it is also much more capable of a car, with more power, better handling, more grip, and a very nice interior.
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You can see from these photos that the lights changed yet again, and the new taillight and front turn signal/DRLs are much slimmer than the 997s.

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991 Facelift

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The 991 is currently going through a facelift and the new car is called the 991.2. With the Carrera’s move from naturally aspirated to turbocharged, the bodywork again changed slightly. You can see the new engine lid grille on this Carrera 4S Cabriolet below, and the rear lights have more 3D depth to them. There are intercooler exits at the bottom of the rear bumper, just behind the wheel opening, and the new LED DRL in the front bumper is much thinner still.

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And there you have it, the history of the 911.

We didn’t even really touch on race car iterations, or the Turbo, or the 959 and how that played out. More for future posts, I guess.

[Photos: Bradley C. Brownell]

  • dukeisduke

    1976 was a very interesting year for the 911, as they introduced models at both the bottom end (the 912E) and the top end (the 930 Turbo). And like you, I’ve never liked the headlight design of the 996.

    You mention the rear wiper option on the SC, but they go back further than that, don’t they? The official 50 Years wallpaper slideshow shows a SWB longhood 911 with a rear wiper:

    • Bradley Brownell

      I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one with a rear wiper.

      I’ve been selling parts for these cars for 10 years, and nobody has ever asked me for a rear wiper blade…

      Interesting.

      • nanoop

        Looks like (a blogpost says so) they did it on request from 1965 on:

  • crank_case

    Good article, especially on the early cars, I didn’t realize how muched it had changed up to the 911SC, I tend to group those cars all together.

    My favorite shape would be the 964 generation, but I think 911s are like Doctor Who, your favorite iteration is often the first you’re exposed to, and while I’d seen 70s 911s I only really started learning about them when I started reading car magazines in the early 90s.

  • MarkT

    Great read thanks. I once came inches from buying a 911T for 3600$ in San Diego, 1982 time frame, not even sure the year, but where does that fit into the lineage?

    • dukeisduke

      Wouldn’t that be a LWB longhood car? Many years ago (like 1973) I picked up Porsche and Audi brochures, probably at the State Fair of Texas. It seems like both were pretty good size, portrait orientation, with green covers. The Porsche brochure covered just the 911s, and it seemed like there was a 911, 911T, and the the hottest one, the 911S, and the Targa, in multiple flavors. Lots of pages about the craftsmanship, like a bit about how the body guys wore white cotton gloves when going over the sheet metal looking for high and low spots, because the gloves made it easier to find imperfections. Also a bit about a bare metal bodyshell sitting outdoors, to test the effectiveness of the galvanized or Thyssen steel. That’s one brochure I wish I still had.

      • Bradley Brownell

        Yeah…

        The S was introduced in 1967, was gone in 68, and came back for 69.

        The L was 68 only.

        There was the T and E also, introduced in 69.

  • Manic_King

    A window trim question. That great looking shi……chocolate brown car above has black trim which kinda makes it newer looking than it is, was it optional extra and most cars came with the brushed metal looking trim?
    They still haven’t managed to get the Cabrio look good, rear end just looks too massive.
    Cheers to your purchase, looks like a perfect little rarity.

    • Bradley Brownell

      Black window trim was introduced in 1974 (the year of that car) but aluminum trim was still an option through 1977. Just person preference.

  • nanoop

    In the German terminology, they also use letters to distinguish the years. 1968 was the A-Serie, up to 1979 (M-Serie, there is no “I” in Porsche). So 1974 was the year of the G-models. To add confusion, a colloquial “G-Modell” usually denotes all from G to M.

    Now to keep you on your toes, from 1980 on the model years were called “A-Programm”, until 2000 (Y – no I, O, U, Q), but this system isn’t well established as a referrer to MY – 964, 961 etc. are easier to grasp, I guess.

    • Bradley Brownell

      Yeah, I have used G-series before (to denote an impact-bumper car), but I’ve never really seen people use any of the other ones.

  • CraigSu

    930 Turbo Slant Nose, please!

  • Monkey10is

    …and all without even getting into the complexities of the Metzger engines and the various gearboxes.
    (I’m not a Porsche snob, and I kind of like the way that the Singer cars (and the similar Paul Stephens models in the UK) have upset the traditional hierarchies; now I can pick’n’mix — with my ‘perfect’ neun-elf featuring a mid-series bodyshell, backdated with earlier trim and cosmetics but later-model running gear. Mathematically it works out to be the 943-and-a-half model… and that’s just fine by me.)

    • nanoop

      +1/2!

  • fede

    Congrats on your new car Bradley!

    When does the 930 name start?
    Porsche does not help with the last code name being numerically lower than the previous one

    • Bradley Brownell

      “930” is the internal name for a 911 Turbo. They were introduced in 1976 and ran through 1989. There were 3.0 liter cars for the first two years, then they moved to a 3.3 liter engine.

  • Maymar

    I’ll admit, for the longest time (I think basically up until it was discussed on Cammed & Tubbed recently), I didn’t realize shorthood referred to later 911s. Knowing there was a SWB and LWB, I assumed the increase in the wheelbase was up front, lengthening the hood.

  • The 964 did switch from torsion bars to coil springs at the rear as stated in the article, but the rear suspension was a semi-trailing arm design on the production 911 from day one. This did not change until the 993, which received a multi-link design.

    • Bradley Brownell

      Yes, that’s correct. It is a different semi-trailing design, not carried over.

      I thought as I was writing it that I should clarify that, but then I didn’t, and here we are.

  • Really good, concise article. I can now identify passing 911s with a hefty degree more confidence.

  • dukeisduke

    I’d always heard that the 912E used the engine from the VW 411/412. Is that true? How closely related are the engines in the 914 and the 411/412? Related at all?

    • Bradley Brownell

      Close enough. The 2.0 liter four was also used in the Bus. Pretty much unchanged.

      • The 2.0 VW Type 4 motor was indeed basically the same between Bus, 914 2.0 and 912E applications except for things like cam profiles and compression ratios. There was one important difference however; the cylinder heads were unique. When the 2.0 version was developed for the 914, new heads were created with a revised combustion chamber, improved porting and relocated sparkplugs. These hi-performance heads were only used on the 914 2.0 and the later 912E and can be indentified in the field by their three-stud intake ports.

        • theskig

          Thanks man.

  • Mikeado

    I would just point out that the pre-facelift 997T you’ve used has aftermarket tail lights that resemble the facelift ones (although they are still the same outline as the pre-FL ones).

    Here are the normal early 997 tails (edit: obviously the GT2 you also used with the corrent ones fell through a hole in my brain while writing this, but hey ho…):

  • JBsC6

    Awesome work up on the history of the iconic 911

  • ninjabortion

    That’s a buncha fancy lookin beetles.

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