Porsche, renowned for blending its rich heritage with forward-thinking innovation, recently achieved a remarkable feat by setting a new vehicle altitude record. In December, a specially modified 911 Carrera 4S, under the skilled control of triple Le Mans winner Romain Dumas, conquered Ojos del Salado in northern Chile. This volcano, the highest in the world, witnessed the 911 reaching an unprecedented altitude of 22,093 feet, a testament to Porsche’s engineering prowess and adventurous spirit.
This record-setting project, born from a 2019 discussion between Klaus Zellmer, then President of Porsche North America, and Frank Walliser, Vice President of Vehicle Dynamics, was designed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 964 Carrera 4. The first all-wheel-drive 911, the 964 Carrera 4, represented a significant milestone in Porsche’s history, and this new achievement was a fitting homage.
Two unique 911s were crafted for this challenge: ‘Doris’ and ‘Edith’. Both cars featured a groundbreaking suspension system initially developed for the 919 Hybrid Le Mans racer. However, Edith, the record-setting vehicle, was distinguished by Porsche’s inaugural steer-by-wire system and a significant reduction in weight through the use of advanced materials.
In keeping with Porsche’s philosophy, the core powertrain components – the twin-turbo 3.0-liter flat-six engine and the seven-speed manual transmission – remained unaltered from the Carrera 4S. The real innovation lay in the manual control of power distribution, allowing the driver to switch between rear-wheel and all-wheel drive. This feature, combined with a bespoke locking differential system, was pivotal in tackling the demanding conditions of Ojos del Salado.
The visual dominance of the 34-inch mud-terrain tires on both cars was unmistakable. These tires, together with portal axles and a unique gearing arrangement from Tibus, drastically altered the vehicles’ capabilities, transforming them into something far removed from any standard Porsche model. Despite these extensive modifications, the driving experience retained familiar elements of the Porsche 911. The layout of the controls in the Altitude 911s remained typical of the brand, although Edith’s cabin was stripped back for its record attempt, emphasizing functionality over comfort.
The ‘Warp Connector’ suspension system, initially intended for the 919 Le Mans racer but never used, marked a significant departure from standard Porsche setups. This system, featuring interconnected springs and dampers, provided exceptional stability and responsiveness over rough terrain. The ‘SpaceDrive’ steering system in Edith, devoid of traditional steering feedback, was engineered to offer precision and control, crucial for navigating the challenging volcanic landscape.
The performance of these cars was a revelation. The unique gear ratios and advanced suspension systems facilitated an unparalleled driving experience. The rear-engine layout, a defining characteristic of the 911, contributed significantly to their stability and traction, even on the most challenging off-road courses. The difference in weight between Doris and Edith became increasingly evident in demanding situations. Edith, benefiting from extensive weight-saving measures, demonstrated superior agility and control, especially on steep descents where engine braking was crucial.
Following their historic ascent, Doris and Edith are currently being transported back to Porsche’s headquarters, destined for a place of honor in the company’s museum. Still adorned with the Chilean dirt from their remarkable journey, these vehicles stand as symbols of Porsche’s enduring commitment to innovation and adventure. As they take their place in the museum, they will not only commemorate a significant achievement but also inspire future generations to continue pushing the boundaries of automotive engineering and exploration.