Porsche marks 70 years since Geneva debut of first 356 models

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The first production Porsche 356 coupe show at Geneva in 1949 | Porsche archive photos

From the debut of its first 356 production models 70 years ago, Porsche has used the Geneva Motor Show as the venue for a multitude of significant unveilings through the decades.

This year, Porsche celebrates the 70th anniversary of its first model launch by presenting the eighth-generation 911 and the world premieres of the sport-infused Cayman T and the Boxster T at the international Geneva show, which runs through March 17.

In March 1949, Porsche introduced itself to the world at the famed industry event with a 356 Coupe and a 356 Cabriolet, its two fledgling sports cars built in Gmünd, Austria. The cars demonstrated the company’s unique vision of aerodynamics and air-cooled rear-engine propulsion.

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Early 356 production at Gmünd in 1948

That display at a small stand in Geneva would be the start of Porsche’s fabled heritage in sports car production and world racing prowess.

“The response was fantastic, with both sports cars enthusiastically received,” according to a Porsche news release. “The successful showing in Switzerland is considered to be the foundation for the later breakthrough of the first series products from Zuffenhausen: by 1965, a total of around 78,000 units of the 356 had been built.”

Porsche shows its latest endeavors at every Geneva Motor Show, which has a reputation as the biggest and most-influential auto show of the year.

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The 904 was displayed on a stand surrounded by 356s and VWs

Fifty-five years ago, the company unveiled the groundbreaking 904 Carrera GTS, designed by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche  and still considered to be among the most beautiful race cars ever built.

The spectacular 917 endurance racer was first shown at Geneva in 1969, exactly 50 years ago, as a serious competitor for dominance in long-distance competitions, notably the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  This month, the restored chassis No. 001 goes on display at the Porsche Museum, marking the 50th anniversary.

Porsche chose the Geneva Motor Show in 1999 to present the first 911 GT3, a high-performance sports car legend.

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The 991 Hybrid was a three-time Le Mans winner

In 2014, the 919 Hybrid debuted as a competitor for the top LMP1 prototype category of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which is highlighted by the Le Mans 24.  With its 1,000 hp gas/electric hybrid drive, allowed under revised WEC rules, the 919 would rule with three Le Mans overall victories in a row, 2015-2017, plus three manufacturers world titles and three driver world titles for the same years.

Also unveiled in 2014 at Geneva was the 911 RSR designed to run in various WEC classes.  Between the 919 Hybrid and the RSR, 2014 would mark Porsche’s most extensive racing program in its history.

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Unveiling in Geneva of the latest 911 GT3 RS

Last year, the Geneva show featured a pair of Porsche innovations, a 911 GT3 RS with a full motorsport chassis and high-revving 4.0-liter engine, and a fully-electric concept cross-utility vehicle named the Mission E Cross Turismo.

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As usual, the latest presentations by Porsche at Geneva point the way for future developments in high-performance vehicles for both the race track and the highway.

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

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