If you’re a Porsche fanatic, chances are pretty great that some of your favorite cars from the brand’s history are turbocharged. A lot of their greatest hits are powered by engines with exhaust-driven forced induction. Not only was Porsche a pioneer in turbocharged race cars, but they were among the first companies to sell a turbocharged street car as well. To this day, turbocharging remains quite important to the company, as the majority of their cars on the dealer showroom are turbocharged. With the exception of the GT3 and GT3 RS, Porsche does not currently make any naturally aspirated cars, every 718, 911, Cayenne, Macan, and Panamera is turbocharged. So, if you’ve ever wanted to know how the turbocharger (or turbochargers) under your hood (or decklid) work, this new video from Donut Media is for you.
This is an entertaining view of the inner workings of the turbocharger, specifically angled at the layperson. It’s not overly complicated or difficult to understand if you have a modicum of mechanical knowledge. There is, of course, a lot more information than can be conveyed in a 7-minute video, but it’s an excellent place to start.
Porsche’s Turbo History Milestones
Technically, it was General Motors who introduced the automotive world to turbocharging with the Oldsmobile Cutlass JetFire in 1962. Turbos had been used in aeronautical applications for years to help engine power correct for altitude. The technology wasn’t quite ready for prime time in cars, and GM shelved the project for a few more years. Porsche picked up the torch, and they’ve been running with it ever since.
The Can Am 917
Porsche, using the crucible of motorsport to develop this brand new tech, started working on a high-powered 917 engine for Can Am in the early 1970s, and rolled it out in full force for the 1972 season, a full decade after the JetFire engine launched. While their 917 already had a huge flat-12 engine that had dominated at Le Mans, it wasn’t nearly enough power to take the fight to McLaren’s big-block V8s in the North American prototype series. The 917/10 was born, and it was immediately dominant at the hands of Penske Racing.
The First Turbocharged 911 Racer
The car pictured below, Porsche’s 1974 911 Carrera RSR 2.1L Turbo, was campaigned by the Porsche factory in international sports car racing, and paved the way for a street-going counterpart. This exact car raced its way to second overall at Le Mans and Watkins Glen in 1974. It was incredibly fast, having been alleged to produce over 500 horsepower from its relatively small engine.
The First 930
The very first 911 Turbo, seen below, was a gift to Louise Piech in 1973. The car was built effectively from a Carrera 3.0L basis, and fitted with a more powerful turbocharged engine. This same basic design was later adapted for production use and sold in showrooms as early as 1975 in Europe. It was capable of a 5.5-second 0-60 sprint and a top speed of over 155 miles per hour, making it one of the quickest and fastest production cars of all time up to that point.
The Inimitable 959
After Porsche had proved twin-turbocharging could be made possible with the 917/30 and later 956/962 variants, they took things to a brand new level in production supercars with the launch of the 959. While those earlier twin-turbocharged cars used two parallel turbochargers to reduce turbo lag and split each half of the engine into its own turbocharger, the 959 introduced sequential twin turbos. Unlike parallel twins, where each turbo works independently, and boost pressure builds at the same engine speed, a sequentially activated turbo setup features one small turbo, which spools at lower RPMs, and the other is a larger turbo which builds more pressure but operates at higher engine RPMs.
Since then, Porsche has continued to develop new turbo technology, more or less at the forefront of advancement. They’ve worked to pioneer things like variable geometry turbines that work effectively like a pair of sequential turbos, but held within the same housing. They’ve produced electrically-assisted turbochargers to reduce lag in their 919 Hybrid LMP1 racer. It’s a whole new world at Porsche right now, and turbo technology is still at the forefront like it has been for nearly fifty years.