Porsche's four-cylinder heroes

Porsche's four-cylinder heroes

In an inevitable and expected move, Porsche has announced that the facelifted Boxster and Cayman models next year will feature turbocharged, four-cylinder engine options, with both models to use the 718 moniker.

While you might worry about the prospect of losing the flat-six edge of current crop of regular Boxster and Cayman models, the new flat-fours promise to remain just as potent, as well as more efficient. However, Porsche is looking to revise the range’s hierarchy by placing the open-top Boxster above hard-top Cayman.

Known for its legacy of utilising straight-six powerplants in its sports car, Porsche also has a history steeped in using a flat-four engine layout throughout the years and in some of its most iconic models, too.

Porsche 718 RSK

That ‘new’ 718 labelling of the upcoming Boxster and Cayman models is not a made up number; it refers back to one of Porsche’s most fantastic looking cars, the 718 RSK.

Porsche 718 RSk

Using a mid-engined layout, the 718 RSK took on the Le Mans field in the late 1950s. Piloted by Frenchman Jean Behra and German Hans Herrmann, the 718 RSK took a class win and third place overall at the 1958 Le Mans and the car subsequently took first overall at the following year’s Targa Florio.

Its 1.5-litre, quad-cam flat-four developed a rather modest sounding 142bhp but weighed a mere 570kg. The two-seater Spyder developed over its five-year existence to enable it to take on different formula, winning at the 1960 12 Hours of Sebring and even took on Formula 1.

Porsche 356

As the company’s first production model, the Porsche 356 has become one of the firm’s most revered models within its history - despite its relationship with the Volkswagen Beetle.

Porsche 356 Spyder

The 356 was the originator of the Carrera moniker and acts as genesis for the Porsche 911 lineage. Its engine was based on the Beetle’s, an air-cooled flat-four that took on new cylinder heads, camshaft, crankshaft, intake and exhaust manifolds. Meanwhile, dual carburetors more than doubled the original horsepower.

In true Porsche fashion, the 356 took on motorsport at various levels, enjoying success in rallying, Le Mans and the Mille Miglia.

Porsche 968

The Porsche 968 marks an important part of the Stuttgart firm’s history, being the last four-cylinder car it made when production ceased in 1995 and was also its last front-engined model produced before the Cayenne arrived in 2002.

Porsche 968

Although not really comparable with the iconic 911, the 968 still gained a massive cult following and has retained many devoted fans over the last 20 years. Taking on an updated version of the 944’s straight-four powerplant, the 968’s engine grew to 3.0 litres and served up 237bhp, while Porsche also added its VarioCam variable vale timing system.

Porsche offered various editions of the 968 in the forms of the Clubsport, Turbo S and Turbo RS, with the manufacturer’s motorsport division getting their mits on the latter duo. The Turbo RS was a stripped down race version for customer teams and produced a rather healthy 350bhp in international spec.

Porsche 550

As iconic Porsches go, the 550 is up there with its stellar racing history and infamous film star owner. The Ferry Porsche creation took on both coupe and Spyder forms, but it is the latter the 550 is mostly known for and leaves those in its presence rather misty eyed.

Porsche 550 Spyder

Its air-cooled, four-cylinder motor produced 108bhp that was pushed through a four-speed ‘box to the back wheels. The 550 prototypes in the early ‘50s quickly became a common site at race meetings around the world, while enjoying much success along the way and Hans Herrmann’s ‘red-tail’ car was especially fruitful. The Spyder variant entered north of 370 races, taking nearly 100 wins and 75 additional class wins.

Part of the 550 Spyder’s legacy is not so fortunate, with James Dean’s ‘Little Bastard’ ultimately becoming the film star’s final act. Dean fatally crashed his 550 Spyder into a 1950 Ford Custom on September 30 1955. The Rebel Without a Cause star had purchased his 550 Spyder after trading in his 356 in the month of his death, but still had time to customise car No. 130 with the vehicle’s number and nickname upon its bodywork. The then 24-year-old had planned to race it at the Salinas Road Race on October 1 and 2.