Here's a secret history of Porsche's four-door sportscars

By topgear, 04 May 2019

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The Porsche Panamera is ten years old. In its decade of existence, and over 235,000 sales and counting, the Panamera has morphed a long way.

It used to be a hideously ugly sea monster lookalike, available with naturally aspirated V8s and a manual gearbox, believe it or not.

These days it’s a very sleek, cool-looking device, turbocharged to the gunwales and crammed with tech. You can even have a hybrid Turbo S plug-in version with 918 Spyder hypercar cleverness and 680hp.

(Click HERE to read our Panamera Turbo S e-Hybrid review)

Quite a journey, then. But that’s nothing compared to Porsche’s secret history of four door sportscars. The Panamera was the first Porsche'sedan’ to make production, but just check out these what-might-have-been prototypes…

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Okay, strictly not a four-door, but a proper four-seater, this. It’s the Type 530 prototype, based on the classic Porsche 356. How elegant, how pure, and how pretty is that?

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Do not adjust your screen. This isn’t merely a photoshopped lovechild of Porsche and Rolls-Royce. In fact, this green machine is the first true four-door Porsche sportscar prototype, based on the classic 1960s 911 S.

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As you know, being a great big Porsche geek, the 928 Coupe was supposed to replace the tricky-to-drive 911 with a bigger, comfier, friendlier front-engined V8 alternative. But it turns out that even Porsche doesn’t know how to build a better sportscar than a 911.

This 1980s-era one-off revamped the 928 with four doors and kept the tall liftback rear. It’s basically the great-grandma of today’s gorgeous-yet-practical Panamera Sport Turismo wagon.

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By the 1990s, Porsche was in trouble. The 911 was still great to drive but was dated underneath. Crucially, the company wasn’t making enough money. Ideas on how to turn around Porsche fortunes included an entry-level mid-engined sportscar (later to become the Boxster), and a luxury four-door family model.

This is the concept: the 989. However, despite the project advancing through several designs, in the end Porsche took an even bigger gamble -; betting on the rise of super-SUVs and building something called the Cayenne instead. It wasn’t pretty, but it made money as fast as Porsche could build them, and has been roundly copied ever since.

(Click HERE to read our review of the E3 Cayenne)

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Could the original Panamera have been prettier? The Porsche Mirage concept looks like it could have been.

Apparently, the story goes that bosses from Porsche’s parent company, VW, got involved with the design process and insisted that the car could carry passengers in the rear at least as tall as the driver, and still have a boot big enough for all their luggage.

That means the roof had to be tall and long instead of sleek, and the boot got bloated. As a result, the Panamera was indeed a very roomy GT, but looked like a whale wearing roller skates.

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Possibly the best angle to view a Mk1 Panamera from, this. To launch the new four-door in style, back in 2009 Porsche squeezed its two-tonne limo vertically into a lift to display it atop a Shanghai skyscraper. Well, it beats a plinth in a shopping centre, no?

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The best looking Panamera ever? 2012’s Concept Sport Turismo promised us two things: there would be a wagon version of the Porsche exec express in years to come, and there would be some form of hybrid power on board. What a handsome machine. But Porsche knows better than to make promises it can’t keep…

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…so in 2017, we got this. The Porsche Panamera Turbo S e-Hybrid Sport Turismo. Complicated name. Complex car. It’s a practical, comfy family estate car -; with a 542bhp bi-turbo V8, two clutches, eight gears, and all-wheel drive. Oh, and 300kg of batteries and motor to up power to almost 700bhp. Much of its coding comes directly from the 918 Spyder. That’s the silver car on the right, newbies.

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If this rate of progress continues, just imagine how fast and pretty the Panamera will be in another ten years. Or will the electric Taycan usurp its big brother altogether?

STORY Ollie Kew

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