The Ultimate Guide to the Porsche Speedster – History, Variants & Much More
Just as the final 911 Speedster heads to auction we thought it would be a good idea to take a step back and look at all the Porsche Speedsters over the eras. This is our guide to the Porsche Speedster models, every one ever made and everything you wanted to know.
It started with American sports car importer Max Hoffman who saw a hole in the Porsche lineup for a stripped down version of the sports car that could function both for regular use and for an occasional trip to the race track. He thought the machine would appeal especially to buyers in the Southern California market.
As a response by North American importer Max Hoffmann, Porsche built the 356 Speedster as a cheaper and more sporting alternative to the Coupe and Cabriolet. He was right and the Speedster sold really well over its first few years.
Hoffman proposed stripping out equipment, the loss of the rear seats and simple buckets up front behind a removable raked windscreen. The hood was lightened and the sales were incredible, Hoffman’s vision helping Porsche cement its reputation as a sports car ﬁrm in the huge US market.
The original Speedster series was launched with this puristic sports car ethos but it wasn’t until 1988 that the Speedster based on the 911 Carrera celebrated its revival with an added feature. For the first time, the hood compartment lid had the characteristic double bubbles. In 1994, the next evolutionary stage of the 911 Carrera was ushered in with yet another Speedster and from that point on we saw several more Speedsters that got more extreme and moved further from the original thesis of the model variant.
This isn’t technically a Speedster, but the Type 540 (Typ 540 K/9-1 to be very precise) – known more commonly as the America Roadster – started the idea. The American Roadster was the direct predecessor of the Speedster.
U.S. importer Max Hoffman convinced Porsche it needed a lightweight convertible to compete with the best from Jaguar and Austin-Healey. It only had an emergency folding roof and could keep up with larger sports cars of the era.
The production methods used to create the America Roadster’s aluminum body proved to be too expensive, and in 1952 Porsche built only 21 units before its discontinuation in 1953. All but one of which were sold in the United States.
Porsche ran with Hoffman’s idea, removing all the luxuries from the car in an attempt to offer the car cheaper than $3000 USD. They applied the formula to an existing production car. Starting with the steel- bodied 356 Cabriolet, the factory stripped trimmings and any luxury features found in the already bare-bones interior. The windshield is raked lower than the Cab’s and is easily removable for racing. Weather protection was downgraded, with occupants making do with just a lightweight top for use in emergencies. The models featured a basic roof, no side windows and the lack of amenities meant this version had a lower base price than the conventional cabriolet.
Launched for the 1955 model year, the 356 Speedster was a stunning success over its four-year production run. The Speedster was initially available with a 1.5 liter flat four-cylinder engine. In 1955, Porsche released the 356A/1600 with cabriolet, coupe and speedster bodies from Reutter. These were updated to better suit the improved gasoline and tire technologies of the period and came with a larger 1582 cc engine that had higher compression to take advantage of the available higher octane fuels.
Porsche produced 3,676 examples of the 356 Speedster from its launch to the end of production in late 1958.
Three decades passed before the Speedster made a comeback. The first Porsche 911 based Speedster was built in 1989 and it was the last vehicle with the old 911 body. Inspired by the 911 Speedster concept from 1985, Porsche decided to build a production Speedster. It is widely known as the 3.2 speedster.
Shown at the 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show, the Speedster Clubsport prototype was based on a 911 SC. The production car arrived in 1988, though the concepts closed cockpit and lack of screen didn’t reach production. It was launched for the 1989 model year carrying direct aesthetic callbacks to the popular 356 model, including a raked windshield, two-seat configuration, and roll-away roof. The hood was, in Speedster tradition, a somewhat rudimentary affair, a rain cover if absolutely necessary rather than proper protection from the elements, although it did stowe neatly under the double-bubble rear tonneau cover. Dealers had owners sign disclaimers saying they understood it was for ‘emergency’ use.
The car was available in either narrow or Turbo-look widebody, with the latter outselling the former by a huge margin. The car proved popular, with 2,104 sold – and just 171 of them with narrow bodies.
Mechanically, these cars were identical to the 911 Carrera of the time with a 3.2-liter flat-six engine producing 214 horsepower (159 kilowatts) and running through a five-speed manual.
Like we mentioned, Porsche offered the 1989 911 Speedster in two forms: a standard body or a version with wider fenders dubbed the Turbo Look. The weight loss was claimed to be in the region of 70kg over its Coupe relation. The truth is that the 1989 model year Speedster was basically a 3.2 liter Carrera chassis with parts thrown in from the 930 Turbo. Following the one-year-only 1989 version, the 911 Speedster returned once again in 1994.
The 964 based Speedster was the 1994 Speedster which was based on the 964 Carrera 2 platform. There are far fewer 1994 911 Speedsters in the world than the 1989 mode, with production reportedly totaled only around 936 units, less than half as many as the 1989 example.
Whereas the 1989 Speedster was primarily an aesthetic package, the 964 version sought a happy medium between the regular Carrera 2 and the hardcore Carrera RS. It had the same engine as the base Carrera and didn’t have the same suspension bits as the RS, but thanks to a removable windshield and an interior stripped of all niceties, it fit the role of driver’s car rather neatly.
This is the car that Andreas Preuninger points to as being most representative of a proper 911 Speedster, the 964 mixed elements of the Carrera Cabriolet, the 3.2 Speedster before it and the 964 RS. With the pared- back, lightweight interior of the RS – including the sports bucket seats, a stock 25th from its 3.6 liter engine and the same removable, raked and shorter windscreen of the 3.2.
Porsche had hoped to build 3,000, but in the end only 936 were built. All were narrow-bodied (the model never gained a full widebody option like the previous generation), with the exception of about 20 examples ordered with Turbo-look wide bodies built by the Porsche Exclusive team.
If Preuninger points to it as being most representative in its technical make-up, so too is its appearance. With the 964’s fared bumpers, this Speedster is most visually relatable to its 356 relations.
Porsche faithful are probably shaking their heads right about now. Porsche never officially made a production 993 Speedster. Notice we said “production.” In 1995, the company created a dark green 993 Speedster for Ferdinand “Butzi” Porsche 60th birthday. Jerry Seinfeld apparently felt left out; he commissioned a silver 993 Speedster in 1998, though it seemed to have begun life as either a Targa or Cabriolet before being sent to Porsche Exclusive. Only two 993 Speedsters were ever made; if you see one that’s not silver or dark green, chances are it’s a phony. The rarest among these models is the 911 Speedster.
2010 Porsche 911 Speedster (997)
Created as one of a handful of special variants to send off the 997 generation 911, the 2010 edition is by far the most well equipped of all the Speedsters. Aside from the unique rear tonneau cover, it checked every available option box on the order form, ranging from interior trim pieces to the special gloss-black neo-Fuchs wheels. It’s quite the performer, thanks to its Carrera GTS bones. That means a 3.8-litre flat six delivering 408 hp (23 hp more than a 911 Carrera S). The new Speedster is no less efficient than the 911 Carrera S Cabriolet without Powerkit and both Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) and Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB) are standard. Because this was a “heritage” special edition, Porsche built 356 examples as a callback to the original.
It saw 356 examples. The variant was more of a trim package marking the 25th anniversary of Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur than a bona fide GT car, but the GTS specs do make it a fun car to drive and more than adequate. The hand-finished interior in black smooth-finish leather with numerous exterior colour painted details exclusive to the Speedster. These included decorative designs with checkerboard patterns in the seat centre section of the adaptive sports seats reminiscent of a chequered flag, and the leather side bolsters in the exterior colour.
Visually, the 60 millimetre lower, more raked windscreen, the flat contour of the sporty-look manual hood, and the characteristic double-bubble hardcover for the soft top define the striking profile of the new 911 Speedster. This makes the body of this rear-wheel drive with its 44 millimetre wider rear stand out even more.
The sporty flavour is further enhanced by the exterior colour “Pure Blue” that has been developed exclusively for the Speedster, providing an intriguing contrast with the tinted front lights, black headlight rings, black windscreen surround and other black decorative designs.
The new Speedster was first unveiled as a concept during the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July 2018. With just 1,948 units produced, the 2019 Porsche 911 Speedster is a car in its own right. It is extremely rare. It is undeniably unique. And with a price starting at $277,000 USD, it is lavishly expensive.
At the heart of the Porsche 911 Speedster is a slightly tweaked version of the most current 911 GT3 engine, which now produces 502-horsepower @ 8,400 rpm and 346 lb-ft of torque @ 6,250 rpm. Delivering power to the rear wheels is a 6-speed manual transmission, which like the engine, is also borrowed from the most recent iteration of the 991 GT3. This is the only transmission option available.
Overall the numbers are ultimately impressive, especially considering the Speedster’s relative lack of modern enhancements that seem to be part and parcel of what is required to make a fast car these days. The Porsche 911 Speedster is able to sprint from 0-60 mph in just 3.8 seconds – all in the absence of turbochargers, all-wheel-drive and a dual-clutch transmission.
The Porsche 911 Speedster shares an array of suspension and handling components with the GT3 and 911 R which includes a fine-tuned adjustable sports suspension, torque vectoring system, and four-wheel steering.
This is the most extreme, most GT-focused Speedster and easily the best performance Speedster to date. A future classic for sure.
Car & Driver said it best about the latest Speedster in their review “… the 911 GT3–based Speedster and its 9000-rpm 502-hp flat-six have a way of recalibrating the perceptions of high-order hominids; that flappy potato never had a chance..this car redefines the stability and confidence available from a convertible. Don’t expect the birds to understand”