A month after the automotive world said goodbye to Ferdinand Porsche, Porsche this past week also lost former-Chief Designer Anatole Lapine. After a spell with General Motors, during which he made a name for himself with his work on the iconic Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray, Lapine would later join Porsche, and create three of the marque’s most iconic sports coupes.
In 1976 the world bid a cautious hello to the 924. Certainly Porsche’s new entry-level model was a radical change to its popular predecessor, the targa-topped 914. In a big step away from company tradition, not only was the 2.0l engine mounted in the front (one of only six Porsche coupes to be manufactured thusly) but the 924 was also the first Porsche to boast an automatic transmission. Heads shook accordingly on the model’s global debut in 1975.
That was until customers and media representatives jumped behind the wheel. Criticism was launched at the Porsche’s only moderate power, but impressive handling, solid reliability and good fuel consumption meant orders were soon being placed. Following a particularly dark financial period for Porsche, the 924 helped dragged them out of the doldrums. Hard to believe the design was originally intended for Volkswagen.
A decade before production stopped on the 924, Porsche debuted the 928. Like the 924, the 928’s striking looks were well-received by an enthusiastic public. Just as well, since original plans had been in place for the 928 to replace the then-15 year old 911 until an eleventh hour about turn.
Also like the 924, the 928 was front-engined. Unlike the 924 though, engine output was significantly more enhanced, the 4.5l V8 under the bonnet – which by the end of the 928’s life cycle would be replaced by a 5.4l V8 – producing a very respectable 240hp. High starting prices, and an unorthodox layout that didn’t sit well with Porsche purists, meant sales for the 928 rarely hit expectations.
By 1982, the onus was now on the all-new Porsche 944. Sales of a turbocharged 924 had not been a success, and the 924 was retired. Replacing it was the not dissimilar 944, which not only used the same platform as its predecessor but also produced similar power courtesy of its 2.5l straight-four.
Sportier aesthetics, including GT-inspired wider wheel arches, and a more refined driving experience meant that the highly anticipated 944 was a hit almost immediately. Well-balanced weight distribution provided good handling too, and a factory-claimed top speed of 210kph was enough to get customers spending.
Today, the heritage of all three coupes has earnt them each their own legacy. Just as Ferdinand Porsche was with the 911, the late Anatole Lapine would surely be proud.