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Ancient and modern: The Porsche 911

Ancient and modern: The Porsche 911

In period, Porsche's original 911 sports car was a remarkable piece of engineering. Lightweight and cleverly packaged, it crammed four seats, a flat-six motor and strong performance for the day into an implausibly compact package.

Over 50 years later, arguably even more impressive is the car the 911 has morphed into today - by the numbers, at least. The 911 started out with a mere 130hp from a diminutive 2.0-litre flat-six motor. That was enough for zero to 60mph in around eight seconds and a top speed a little over 130mph.

The latest 911 cranks out up to 700hp, launches to 60mph in as little as 2.5 seconds and can hit over 210mph. Incredible.

OK, those numbers apply to the latest 911 GT2 RS. That's an extreme-performance, low-volume special that was sold out even before it was announced for sale. But it's still a 911 that can be bought and driven on public roads by a privileged few.

Even so, the comparison with the current entry-level 911 is probably more relevant and virtually as compelling. The basic proposition remains much the same, namely two-plus-two seating in a coupe body with that signature sweeping roofline and a flat-six motor hanging out behind the rear axle.

With that in mind, the 911 is surely one of the most enduring examples of automotive evolution rather than revolution. With each new model, Porsche pushed the game on incrementally.

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Half a century later, Porsche has built and sold over one million 911s. The core proposition remains the same, but those incremental advances have added up to a huge gap in technology and capability.

Take the engine. The basic Porsche 911 now packs a cutting-edge flat six displacing 3.0-litres and cranking out 370hp. That huge power figure is thanks in no small part to the adoption of a pair of small and responsive turbochargers. The base 911 is now nearly three times as powerful as its 1963 progenitor.

Then consider the overall size of the two cars. The 1963 original is actually slightly taller at 1,321mm versus 1,303. However, the current 911 is fully a foot longer overall in length. It's also 20cm wider.

Then there's the mass. At 1,430kg, the newest 911 is 350kg heavier. And that's without any options. Load a new 911 up with optional gadgets, the opportunities for which were slim to none with the original car, and that kerb weight delta will likely exceed 400kg.

The technological gap between the two cars is a similarly massive. The first 911 had some nice features, including an all-aluminium engine. But it was simple, analogue affair with wind-up windows and unassisted steering. In comparison, the latest 911 is a digital tour de force.

The new 911's chassis is particularly impressive. Features include active dampers that adjust to driving style and road conditions. 

To that you can add digitally controlled roll bars and even an active rear-wheel steering system that can add both low-speed agility and high-speed agility stability. Porsche also offers computer-controlled torque vectoring that ensures every ounce of traction is extracted from the road surface.

Of course, 911 buyers can also now option Porsche's PDK robotised gearbox. With seven speeds and a pair of clutches, PDK bangs in perfect rev-matched gear changes at the mere press of a button.

Inside the latest 911, meanwhile, the driver's instruments are something of a metaphor for the transformation of the car as a whole. The five round dials are instantly recognisable from the original 911. But look closer and you'll see that one of them is actually a high-def LCD panel and fully configurable to show everything from oil temps to navigation maps.

Much the same goes for the rest of the cabin. The basic layout remains that same. But the level of functionality and luxury – from real-time-traffic and Apple CarPlay support to airbags galore and precision-stictched leather covering every surface – puts the new 911 on a completely different planet.

Indeed, for Porsche purists, the core question is whether the car remains a 911 in anything other than name. But take a step back and it's clear enough that the core proposition remains much the same. It's just been interpreted through the prism of the very latest technology.