Porsche Panamericana

An anniversary concept car

The Panamericana was presented at the 1989 Frankfurt International Motor Show to mark the 80th birthday of Ferry Porsche, the chairman of the board of the Stuttgart-based company.

The concept car, which was developed by Porsche AG's design office in Weissach, is named after the famous Carrera Panamericana race in Mexico, that Porsche won from 1952 to 1954. It is a unique car being a hybrid between a Targa, convertible, coupé and off-road vehicle, some of the style elements and features appearing in the Porsche 911 (993) and Boxster, that ensured the brand's success in the 1990s.

The Panamericana is presented as a hybrid model between a coupé, convertible and Targa, with the possibility of adapting it for off-road driving. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Porsche

Originally, the Porsche Panamericana project was not intended to be a simple design study. Until 1992 Harm Lagaay, the Dutch designer who had developed the project, thought he had convinced the management of the German company to produce a car in small series. However, Porsche's financial position at that time was not favourable and the idea was put on hold for the foreseeable future. 

Two models were produced: the first was gifted to Ferry Porsche and the second was destined for the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, after being presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1989 and at the Tokyo Motor Show in October the same year. When the Panamericana was presented after a development period of just six months, it amazed the brand's enthusiasts with its off-road appearance and a range of practical features.

The Panamericana is equipped with three-part Speedline alloy wheels exclusively made for it. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Porsche

Groundbreaking styling   

With its wide mudguards, big tyres, high ground clearance and removable soft top, the Panamericana was not widely praised when it was unveiled to the public. The general design of the bodywork is reminiscent of the 911 SC Safari rally cars of the late 1970’s,  but it was hard to imagine at the time how much the styling elements of the car would influence Porsche's entire production over the next decade. This original model was created by an ambitious team, consisting of Harm Lagaay in charge of styling, assisted by the British Stephen Murkett, while the technical leadership of the project was in the hands of the German engineer Ulrich Bez, formerly head of BMW Technik GmbH and later director of Aston Martin. Their idea was to offer a pragmatic and evolving car. For example, the wheel arches are equipped with large wheel covers to accommodate different tyre sizes and the suspension settings can easily be changed to turn the car into an all-terrain buggy. 

The same applies to the different roof configurations that are possible thanks to a removable top made of waterproof fabric that is attached with a zip and a rear window that can be completely removed.

Following its presentation at the Frankfurt and Tokyo motor shows (pictured here) in late 1989, the Panamericana was exhibited at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés.  Crédits photo ©  Porsche

Carrera 4 platform

The Panamericana was designed on a 964 Carrera 4 Cabriolet chassis and featuring a body that was groundbreaking for its time, being the first to experiment with carbon fibre-reinforced polymer for a series production vehicle. Underneath the bodywork is the Carrera 4's 3.6-litre, air-cooled, flat six-cylinder engine, developing 250 hp and a maximum torque of 31.6 mkg at 4,800 rpm. The performance recorded during a test by the American magazine Road & Track Exotic Car Quarterly is particularly convincing for a Concept Car: 0 to 100 km/h achieved in 5.8 seconds and 13.6 seconds for the 400 m from standstill! Coupled to a 5-speed manual transmission with four-wheel drive, 69% of the torque is distributed on the rear axle and 31% on the front.

The Panamericana was a prelude to the styling elements of future Porsche 993s, particularly the front lights and the strip connecting the rear lights. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Porsche

The Weissach site

The Panamericana was developed at the new Porsche development centre in Weissach, some 20 kilometres from the Zuffenhausen plant in the Stuttgart region.

This state-of-the-art facility, known as the EZW, was opened on 1 July 1971. Since then, all Porsches for racing and road use have been created at this unique design facility, from the very first drawing over the prototype construction to the final test drive on the large integrated track. The Porsche Motorsport factory in Flacht is located not far from here. At the end of the 1980s, the facility was completed with its own crash test centre. The first site in Weissach, covering an area of 9 hectares in 1961, has steadily grown to over 100 hectares today. The current site, fully renovated in 2004, includes a design studio, a wind tunnel and an electronics integration centre. The engineers at this centre have enabled Porsche to register more than 7,000 international patents in half a century.

Technical data

Porsche Panamericana (1989)

• Engine: type M64, flat cylinders, longitudinal, rear overhang

• Displacement: 3,600 cm3

• Bore x stroke: 100 mm x 76.4 mm

• Power: 250 hp at 6,100 rpm

• Power supply: Bosch Motronic integral management system

• Ignition: Bosch Motronic integral management system

• Distribution: overhead camshaft per bench, 2 valves per cylinder

• Transmission:  type G64, 4WD, 5-speed manual + M.A.

• Tyres: 205/55 ZR 16 (front), 225/50 ZR 16 (rear)

• Brakes: ventilated discs (front and rear)

• Length: 420 cm

• Width: 185 cm

• Height: 130 cm

• Wheelbase: 227.2 cm

• Front track: 138 cm

• Rear track: 137.4 cm

• Weight (unloaded): 1,474 kg

• Maximum speed: 257 km/h

Harm Lagaay

The Panamericana Concept Car was designed by Dutch designer Harm Lagaay, who was head of the design department at Porsche AG in Weissach from 1989 to 2004. Born in The Hague on 28 December 1946, Lagaay began his career as a car designer at Simca in 1968. From 1971 he joined Porsche's design office and was involved in the design of the 911, 924 and 928 models. In 1977, he became head of the design department at Ford in Cologne where he worked on the Escort and Sierra models. In 1985 he joined BMW Technik GmbH and as head designer developed the BMW Z1 roadster. Back at Porsche, he significantly defined the style of the Boxster, Cayman, Carrera GT, Cayenne and 911 models (964, 993 and 996 model series).

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