Introduced in late 1972 as a simple homologation car, the Porsche 911 RS was an instant hit because it was packed with technology gleaned from the automaker’s racing program. The initial production run of 500 units sold out almost immediately, and Porsche ended up building over three times as many cars as it had initially planned.
Porsche developed the RS (an acronym that stands for “rennsport,” or race sport) in order to continue racing after FIA regulations banned the 917. The starting point was the 911 S, a range-topping model powered by a 2.4-liter flat-six engine rated at 190 horsepower. The S was potent, but engineers saw many ways to improve it and transform it into a hardcore track machine capable of winning races in the FIA’s competitive Group 4 category.
Porsche followed the proven formula of adding power while removing excess weight. The 911 RS was fitted with thinner glass built by Glaverbel in Belgium, thinner sheet metal and several fiberglass components including the front spoiler and the rear decklid. The diet continued inside where the RS was stripped of all equipment deemed superfluous including most of the sound deadening material, the carpet, the rear bench seat, the glovebox door, the radio and even the clock. Early cars were fitted with fixed bucket seats for the front passengers.
The race-spec 911 RS tipped the scale at 2,149 pounds, a noticeable improvement over the 911 S’ 2,369-pound weight. Buyers who wanted a better-equipped car could order a Touring package that brought back select creature comforts like carpet and adjustable seats. Cars ordered with the Touring package weighed the same as a stock 911 S.
Visually, the RS stood out from a stock 911 S thanks to a built-in decklid spoiler called bürzel, a German word that means “duck tail.” Resulting from extensive wind tunnel testing, the bürzel greatly improved the RS’ high-speed stability and was subsequently used on several other variants of the 911 over the course of the 1970s. The RS was also equipped with extra-wide Fuch alloy wheels that required flared rear fenders, and it could be ordered with eye-catching Carrera graphics that ran down the lower part of the body on both sides of the car.
Power came from a 2.7-liter air-cooled flat-six engine that made 210 horsepower at 6,300 rpms and 188 lb-ft. of torque at 5,100 rpms thanks in part to a Bosch mechanical fuel injection system. Linked to a five-speed manual transmission, the six-cylinder propelled the 911 RS from zero to 62 mph in 5.8 seconds and on to a top speed of approximately 150 mph. A stiffened suspension setup and larger brakes on all four corners kept the extra power in check.
The first RS prototypes were completed in early 1972, and the production version of the car was presented during that year’s edition of the Paris Motor Show. Period records indicate Porsche didn’t initially intend on building more than the 500 examples it needed to homologate the car but orders poured in from all over the world so 500 additional cars were built. Those quickly sold out, too, convincing Porsche to green-light a third and final run of 580 cars in 1973.
Overall, 1,580 examples of the RS were built, a number that surprised even Porsche because the car was by far the most expensive member of its lineup. In France, the Carrera RS retailed for 83,000 francs in March of 1973 while the Carrera S cost 68,000 francs. That same year, the most affordable Porsche was the 914, which sold for 28,500 francs.
Homologating the 911 paid off on the track, too, and Porsche’s iconic coupe won the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring and Sicily’s famous Targa Florio.