Proof That Carmakers Can Still Do Cool Things: Porsche’s Record-Breaking 911 Rock Crawler

    Porsche Sets New Altitude Record with Modified 911

    Porsche is renowned for its commitment to its heritage and has recently set a new world record to add to its list of accomplishments. In December, a highly modified Porsche 911 Carrera 4S climbed to the peak of Ojos del Salado, the world’s highest volcano in Chile, reaching an altitude of 22,093 feet. This achievement establishes a new record for vehicles.

    The idea for this record-setting 911 was born in 2019 during a conversation between Klaus Zellmer, then-president of Porsche North America, and Frank Walliser, a vice president and lead project manager for the 918 Spyder. They believed that breaking this record would be the perfect way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 964 Carrera 4, the first all-wheel drive 911.

    Porsche engineers built two rock-crawling 911s for this endeavor. The first car, nicknamed Doris, served as a proof of concept, while the second car, called Edith, is the one that achieved the record. Both cars feature a patented suspension system derived from the 919 Hybrid Le Mans racer, with Edith also incorporating Porsche’s first steer-by-wire system. Edith is also equipped with weight-saving materials not present in Doris.

    Despite the modifications, Porsche aimed to keep the drivetrain as close to factory specifications as possible. Both cars utilize the Carrera 4S’s twin-turbo 3.0-liter flat-six engine, delivering 443 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. They also retain the 4S’s seven-speed manual transmission. The only significant changes involve the power transfer system, allowing the driver to manually control the distribution between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. The cars also feature locking differentials for exceptional off-road performance.

    The distinctive feature of both cars is their immense 34-inch mud-terrain tires, mounted on 16-inch wheels, which elevate their ground clearance to an impressive 13.7 inches. Additionally, portal axles integrated into each hub and specially designed gearing help navigate challenging terrain. Despite these modifications, the top speed of the vehicles is limited to around 60 mph, making them the slowest factory-built Porsche 911s.

    During a test run on an off-road course in Malibu, the cars showcased their capabilities outside of their usual comfort zone. The Altitude 911s proved themselves as true rock crawlers, adapting to the demanding terrain effortlessly. The cabins of both cars resemble a standard 911, ensuring a familiar driving experience. However, Edith, the record-setting car, features motorsport-style switches, a racing bucket seat, and a specialized cooling system.

    Driving these vehicles showcases their unique performance characteristics. The portal axle ratios allow for precise control at crawl speeds, providing ample torque for challenging off-road conditions. The suspension system, called the Warp Connector, is a departure from the standard 911 setup, providing exceptional stability and quick response to obstacles. The rear-engine layout of the cars contributes to their excellent traction and stability.

    While Doris retains many of the familiar features of a 911, Edith stands out due to its steer-by-wire system, designed to minimize feedback to the steering wheel. This adaptation ensures that the driver can maintain control even when tackling rocks and uneven surfaces. Both cars demonstrate that the 911’s versatility extends beyond the realm of sports cars.

    The weight difference between Doris and Edith becomes more apparent during extreme uphill and downhill sections. Doris weighs 4,651 pounds, 1,249 pounds more than a standard 4S. In contrast, Edith underwent significant weight reduction, shedding 793 pounds by incorporating carbon fiber panels, a plexiglass windshield, lightweight roll cage, and other weight-saving measures. These modifications significantly improved the car’s performance.

    After their successful record-setting feat, both Doris and Edith are returning to Porsche’s headquarters, where they will be preserved at the company’s museum. Covered in the dirt from their astonishing journey, these cars will serve as a testament to the ingenuity and accomplishments of Porsche’s engineers. This achievement highlights that even in the year 2023, car manufacturers can continue to create new legacies that will be celebrated for years to come.

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