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Porsche’s Record-Breaking 911 Rock Crawler Is Proof Carmakers Can Still Do Cool Things

More than any other automaker, Porsche invested in its history. Its history is well displayed at the gatherings it organizes, the museums it selects, and the automobiles it manufactures. Porsche, however, doesn’t merely reflect on its previous successes. It also aims to establish new benchmarks.

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Proof is found in the company’s most recent world record. The heavily modified 911 Carrera 4S that you see here was perched on the highest point of the west ridge of Ojos del Salado, the highest volcano in the world, which is situated in the northern Chilean Alps, back in December. It was driven by three-time Le Mans champion Romain Dumas, and it reached an amazing 22,093 feet, setting a new record for vehicle height.

The concept behind this world record 911 was born in 2019 in a conversation between then Porsche North America president Klaus Zellmer and Frank Walliser, a vice president on the vehicle dynamics side and lead project manager for the 918 Spyder. They figured such a record would be the perfect way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 964 Carrera 4, the first all-wheel drive 911.

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Quick SpecsPorsche 911 “Rock Crawler”
EngineTwin-Turbo 3.0-Liter Flat-Six
Output443 Horsepower / 390 Pound-Feet
Top Speed~60 Miles Per Hour
Transmission7-Speed Manual
Ground Clearance13.7 Inches

Engineers built two of these rock-crawling 911s. The first car, affectionately nicknamed Doris, served as more of a proof of concept. The second car, nicknamed Edith, is the car that set the record. Both use a patented suspension system originally destined for the 919 Hybrid Le Mans racer, while only Edith got Porsche’s first steer-by-wire system. There’s also a serious amount of weight-saving material present on Edith that isn’t on Doris.

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Porsche wanted to keep the drivetrain as factory-fresh as possible, meaning both use the Carrera 4S’s twin-turbo 3.0-liter flat-six making the same 443 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque as they do in the standard car. Both cars use the 4S’s optional seven-speed manual transmission, also unmodified. The only real changes come at the power transfer level, after the transmission. Instead of working automatically, power distribution between the front and wheels is controlled manually through switches on the dash, with the driver being able to choose between rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The locking rear differential is one you’d normally find in a PDK-equipped Carrera 4S, while the front locking diff is bespoke.

The gigantic 34-inch mud-terrain tires dominate the aesthetics of both cars. They sit on 16-inch wheels and help to raise ground clearance to 13.7 inches — more than a Ford F-150 Raptor or Ram 1500 TRX. Also helping with the height are a set of portal axles built into each hub. The gearing, supplied by German off-roading firm Tibus, uses a 1:3.6 ratio, effectively turning first and second gears into crawler gears. Porsche says top speed in 7th is about 60 mph. So you could say this is the slowest factory-built Porsche 911 ever made.

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Speed isn’t the point, obviously. This 911 was designed with a singular purpose in mind: To scale the side of a rock-covered mountain while fighting against thin high-altitude air. While a short 15-minute jaunt around a medium-difficulty off-road course in Malibu wasn’t exactly representative of Ojos del Salado’s west ridge, it was enough to show off how a factory-designed rock crawler designed by Porsche could perform far outside the 911’s usual comfort zone.

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Aside from the abnormally high position relative to the ground, the Altitude 911 cabins are a familiar place. The seating position is perfect, with the steering wheel, pedals and shifter all in places you’d expect them to be. Doris, the prototype car, still has most of its dashboard, including the central touchscreen. There’s even a working radio with at least one working speaker in the cabin. Edith is a bit more purpose-built, with motorsport-style switches in place of the screen, a real racing bucket, and radiators located right behind your head, complete with electric fans blaring a high-pitch whine directly into your ears.

Setting off in either of these cars is easy thanks to the portal axle ratios. You can creep in first gear at what feels like 2 mph, while redline comes at about 10 mph. That jumps to 20 mph in second gear. It’s only when you get to third and fourth gear do you start to feel like you’re driving a normal car. It’s a jarring sensation, especially if you’ve never driven a car with ratios like this before. 

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Even more jarring is the suspension. It’s an extreme departure from the standard 911’s setup, and required extensive modification to the unibody to make it fit. Called the Warp Connector, it eschews the idea of independent suspension for a fully interconnected setup. Porsche 911 Altitude Doris record off roader 42

wahhaj

I'm Wahhaj, your go-to author for all things electric vehicles. Join me on this green journey as we explore the future of transportation together.

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