Ever since the reign of the Porsche 911 began in the early 1960’s, we’ve associated the historic “Carrera” name with it. While the 911 has the longest history with the name, the first Porsche Carrera models came in the form of the four-cylinder 356.
The word Carrera is a Spanish word meaning both “race” and “career” implying racing as a profession. This was a perfect exotic sounding name for the racing engine that came to the production 356 in 1954. The Porsche 356 A was the first generation of the car to carry the Carrera name.
What was special about the Carrera engine was its four-cam design. That means it had twin overhead camshafts for both cylinder banks on the flat-four engine. It was a performance upgrade to an already outstanding sports car that nobody asked for, but everybody wanted.
Putting four overhead cams on a rather small boxer engine was quite revolutionary at the time. In an era where engines got bigger and bigger adding more and more cylinders to increase performance, Porsche thought of performance a little differently. Keep in mind, this was the 1950’s when overhead camshafts were far from commonplace in production cars yet, let alone four of them.
This Carrera engine design was completely new and helped Porsche separate themselves farther from Volkswagen. It effectively shook off Porsche’s reputation of being a performance knockoff of VW since the two companies were connected through the Porsche family and by sharing designs. This was a turning point in Porsche becoming a serious contender in the world of performance cars.
There are two distinct generations of the 356 Carrera. The first 356 Carrera had a few different variations of 1.5L and 1.6L engines all with four cams. As demand for more cars increased, so came the demand for more power. That’s there the Carrera 2 came in. The Carrera 2 came out during the 356 B era and was upgraded to a 2.0L, the biggest engine Porsche made at the time.
The Carrera cars were not only performance upgrades, but added a few nice aesthetic extras as well. All Carreras came standard with a few features that were optional on the base 356 like a wooden steering wheel. More importantly, it came with “Carrera” badges to let everybody know what they were dealing with.
These four-cam engines loved to rev. They had high rev ranges that were exciting to explore. They also have a spectacular sound that you’d expect from a classic Porsche. Not only were they fast, great handling cars on winding roads and on the racetrack, but the extra power and higher rev range made it a better highway cruiser making it popular in the US. It was more comfortable to drive at long distances at high speed.
While today’s Carrera is a very different machine than the classic 356 Carrera, they share a name and a spirit. It’s a proper luxury sports car delivering exceptional performance, comfort, and style.