A raspy boxer engine hangs off the back end. Two oval headlights and a flat hood point toward the asphalt. A large tachometer occupies the prime real estate on the instrument panel of this perfectly preserved 1967 Porsche 911.
That the modern-day 911 still includes these character traits testifies to the car's enduring shape and spirit. Yet the differences emerge in a drive of this Sand Beige classic up a forgotten road in Carmel Valley, Calif. It's smaller, simpler, lighter. And it oozes personality with every flick of the large wood-trimmed steering wheel.
The 911 made its public debut this week in 1963 at the Frankfurt Auto Show, where it was originally dubbed the 901, before Peugeot claimed rights to that name. The 911 went on sale a year later in 1964. Meant merely to replace the aging Porsche 356, the 911 quickly became the darling of the sports car set.
"The overall impression is that this car was built by men who know something about fast motoring and that it is destined for owners who feel the same," Road and Track wrote in a 1965 review of the 911.
Fifty years later, Porsche has sold more than 820,000 copies of the 911, according to the automaker. It's now in its seventh generation; buyers today can choose among a dozen iterations that have between 350 horsepower and 560 horsepower, with more versions expected.
The 911 also has one of the most storied private and factory racing histories of any production car, with multiple victories around the globe in such blue-blood race events as the 24 Hours of LeMans.
The original 911's shape has remained largely unchanged during its evolution and is arguably the most recognized silhouette in the automotive lexicon. It was the creation of Ferdinand A. Porsche, grandson of the founder of the company, who died in 2012 at age 76.
At the front of the original 911, flanked by two chrome-rimmed headlights, was a low-slung hood hiding a surprisingly useful trunk. From the top of the upright windshield, a teardrop roofline falls in a single line to the end of the rear deck lid.
Power was modest by today's standards. A 2.0-liter, air-cooled flat six-cylinder engine (also called a boxer) sat aft of the rear axle and pushed 128 horsepower to the rear wheels. When Road & Track magazine tested a 1965 911, it recorded a nine-second zero-to-60 time. Top speed was 132 mph.
A five-speed manual transmission came standard, with a gate pattern that put reverse where most drivers today would look for first gear. Disc brakes and leatherette seats were also standard; leather seats and seat belts would cost extra.
List price was about $6,500 — about $48,000 in today's dollars. That's a far cry from the $90,000 or so you'd need to buy one today.
The 1967 model we sneaked away in for an afternoon of driving during Monterey Car Week is nearly identical to the original 1965 version. Porsche had made small constant changes to items such as windshield wipers and rear-view mirrors. But the mechanicals and dimensions of the car remain unchanged.
The unrestored car is owned by Porsche, which bought it from a private owner. The odometer reads just over 73,000 miles, and other than regular maintenance and a plethora of promotional stickers showing where the car's travels have taken it, the car is no different from when it rolled off the dealer's lot 46 years ago.
Inside, headroom is ample and visibility is good. Behind the front seats are a pair of small folding rear seats that seem more useful than in the 2013 version. The instrument panel houses five gauges with a large tach at the center.
Mounted within the brushed metal dashboard is a small AM/FM radio. Curiously — by 2013 standards — the dash is void of air vents. Instead, they're mounted below the door sills and are controlled by a floor-mounted lever near the shifter.
It doesn't feel conspicuously small until you park it next to a contemporary 911. Time causes us all to expand, and this car is no different. The 2013 model is about a foot longer, 71/2 inches wider, yet almost an inch lower. Curb weight has swollen from 2,360 pounds to 3,042.
On the roads heading inland from Carmel, the '67 911 quickly showed itself to be a sweetheart of a car. It's a lively, competent machine that, with a wink and a nudge, reminds the driver how much fun driving can be.
This fun comes less from speed than engagement. After just a few twisty miles, it's easy to get a sense of how the car moves its mass through a turn. The feel for the road grows with every successive corner, aided by rack-and-pinion steering, independent rear suspension and a relatively short wheelbase.
With less power at hand than its heirs, it's harder to get this 911 into the trouble these rear-engined cars were later known for. Sure, there's a hint of oversteer, but it's predictable in a comforting way to anyone familiar with rear-wheel-drive sports cars.
The clutch and shifter both have an easy feel, though it's not hard to grab fourth when you're looking for second and vice versa. The engine pulls smoothly over a wide power band on the way to its 6,800-rpm redline. It's most lively high in the rev band, and it kicks out a note that is both more raspy and less frenetic than a contemporary car.
In the modern 911, a host of electronic driving aids can numb the experience; the original car, by comparison, feels much more natural, with a personality few cars can match.
By the numbers, a 2013 model blows away its ancestor in speed, handling and comfort — along with most anything on the road today. But its stern composure and singular focus on excellence have left simple charm on the cutting-room floor. Smiles come much quicker in the older car.
Heading back toward Carmel, this '67 Porsche gradually catches up to a late-model Ford Mustang rental, probably headed to Monterey for the car week. Seeing the light tan 911 sneak into his rear-view mirror, the driver pulls over and beckons a pass.
Though the modern Mustang could easily set a pace that would push the capabilities of this aging Porsche, a nice ribbon of asphalt opens up just beyond this section of road. It's best not to waste the opportunity.
A quick downshift through two gears, a wave to the Mustang, and the Porsche cruises past. Through the open windows, the scenery speeds by as the unmistakable rasp of six flat cylinders fills the cabin. History never sounded so good.