Back in October of 1972, nearly fifty years ago, Porsche unveiled the car that would set into motion one of the most highly revered lineups of track cars any automaker has ever built. For Porsche fanatics, the letters R and S, when combined, conjure dreams of high-rev flat six engines, high grip, more downforce, lightweight bodywork, and incredible track prowess. Standing in for the worlds Rennsport, RS is Porsche’s track-ready lineup of 911s (and now Caymans), which was brought into the world by the engineers behind the 1973 Carrera RS 2.7, a legend of Porsche history that stands today as one of the most engaging sports car driving experiences of all time. In its day, the 2.7 was the fastest German production car ever built, it was the first series production car with front and rear spoilers, and it just purely kicked ass. Every aspect of the car was tweaked to make it faster, and from May of 1972 until it was released, a crew of 15 dedicated engineers helped make the RS one of the lightest 911s of all time, with aero, engine, and chassis work all extensively modified.
RS was originally billed as a homologation special to conform to FIA Group 4 regulations, meaning only 500 lucky people would ever get to experience the incredible nature of RS. In October the car was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show, and by the end of November all 500 pieces were accounted for. Porsche, then still a very small car company, was surprised by the car’s success and immediately set about tripling production of the RS model. In all, 1,308 touring models were built, plus 200 lightweight “sport” M471 models, plus 55 pure racing examples, and 17 “base” 911 RS were produced. By the end of that first run, some 1,580 RS models were produced for the world, and the car was eligible not only for Group 4, but Group 3 as well (which required homologation quantities of 1,000). With a 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds (the first production car under 6 seconds) and a top speed around 150 miles per hour, the Carrera RS was a performance bargain at its original price of 34,000 German Marks. In Sport trim the RS weighed just a hair under 2,000 pounds. It was the ideal sports car then, and remains it today.
With RS successfully homologated, the RSR was free to hit the race track in fast fashion, and it hit the ground running. In February of 1973, an RSR driven by Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood took the victory at the 24 Hours of Daytona with a 22 lap lead over second. Just a couple of months later Herbert Müller and Gijs van Lennep took an RSR to victory circle at the Targa Florio.
Everything about this car helped shape the Porsche we know today. The car added some wider flares at the back to accommodate wider tires. It was a stripped down monster when you wanted it to be, but it was also docile and ready for daily driving duty when you needed it to. Advertising of the day described the car with the following verbiage: “Its repertoire: by road to the race and home again. Monday to the office. Tuesday to Geneva. Back in the evening. Wednesday shopping. City. Traffic jam. Creeping traffic, but no soot on the plugs, no complaint from the clutch. Thursday country roads, motorway, switchbacks, dirt roads, construction sites, Friday only a short distance and repeated cold starts. Saturday with holiday luggage to Finland. Carrera RS – full of inexhaustible reserves in sprints and marathons.” Yeah, that sounds like today’s wildest machines. They’re all ready for the track whenever you want to push them to set a lap time, but they’re equally comfortable trundling to work the next day.
Twenty years before the Carrera RS was officially official, the 550 Spyder took Porsche’s first class victory at the legendary Carrera Panamericana in Mexico. Since that time, the Carrera name has been deeply intertwined with Porsche lore, and the RS was the first nostalgic throwback to that race. “We wanted to assign the already famous name ‘Carrera’ to a production model and thought about how we could best represent that,” recalls Harm Lagaaij, who was a designer at Porsche at the time. Hence the script down the rocker panels of the RS.
Starting in September of this year, the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart is putting on a special exhibit dedicated to the celebration of RS and the icon that was born fifty years ago. You don’t really need an excuse to go visit the Porsche museum, but this is as good a one as any.