1968 Porsche 911 L
The 911L was produced as a one-off series; we drive a fine example and delve into why its production life was so short. Written by Wilhelm Lutjeharms. Photography by Rob Till.
Total 911 gets behind the wheel of the 911L and looks at why it was only produced for one model year
“L’ must be one of the least exhilarating letters in the automotive world – and especially for those who appreciate Porsche 911s. After all, ‘L’ usually refers to long-wheelbase models, but letters such as S, R, RS, GT or GTS, well, enthusiasts pay more notice to those! There has been one L in the 911 range and, as it happens, it adorned a car with pride of place in the 911 lineage. We’re currently at Kyalami Circuit in Johannesburg, South Africa, where a group of modern 911s are about to take to the track. This morning, before Porsche’s fastest production 911s set off on their hot laps, the track’s management allowed us to grace the newly laid tarmac with a special 911 from the 1960s – the 911L from 1968.
As is the case today, back at the start of the 911’s production life, Porsche didn’t wait too long to update the range. By the end of 1966, the firm introduced the 911S for the 1967 model year. By the end of that year, Porsche changed the 911’s range again, adding the T (Touring) as well as the L. The L featured several of the S’s features, but not its more powerful engine (the former still offered 130bhp at 6,100rpm). This was partly owing to US regulations but it did, however, feature the S’s ventilated disc brakes.
By 1968 the 911 range comprised of the T, L and S. But, even though Porsche had little experience in terms of its customers’ demands, the firm was learning quickly with every passing year. The L was another chapter, albeit a very short one, with the company testing the proverbial waters in the European and US markets. For the American market, Porsche made a few changes to the engine to comply with the emission requirements. Compared with the European engines, these US-specification units featured a V-belt driven air pump, which blows air into the exhaust manifolds when the throttle is closed. In line with Porsche’s aim to offer a luxury version of the 911 with a softer ride, the front anti-roll diameter was also reduced from 13mm to 11mm. The current owner purchased this 911L a couple of years ago. In other words, at exactly the right time before the air-cooled market exploded. There was little interest in the car at the auction where he bought it; as a result, he bought it for a bargain price. Since then, he has spent a significant sum on the car to restore certain elements of it. One of the highlights includes an engine-out detail job, which has left the flat six in near-pristine condition. The owner explains: “It’s just such a fun car to drive but I have to admit, it handles like a dog!” The only nonstandard items on the car are the headlights, but he is hoping to source and fit true-to-original items in the future. Our location for the drive and shoot of the L couldn’t be more appropriate. As I paged through a few of my Porsche books before this drive, I was surprised to find that 911Ls participated in a few race events all those years ago. In 1968 an L took part in the GDR Rally and in the same year, Helmut Kelleners and Jürgen Neuhaus competed in a touring car race at the Nürburgring.
As the sun rises over the 911L’s small dimensions, its Polo red colour becomes even brighter, as does the run-off area painted in the colour of the South African flag. If it wasn’t for the gold-coloured Porsche and 911L lettering on the engine cover, the car could easily be mistaken for one of any short-wheelbase 911s. Aside from the notorious handling woes of these early models, the 911L has near-perfect design and stance and its proportions are flawless. It is quite understandable why some enthusiasts prefer these cars to the later long-wheelbase versions. The elegant simplicity of this early design is also reflected in the car’s minimalistic steel wheels, which have chrome hubs and centre Porsche crests. They complement the polished aluminium window frames with aplomb.
Unlike the doors of later 911s, the L features redesigned door handles with recessed buttons. There were also several other updates to the L including, to name a few, black windscreen wipers and a larger door mirror. On the inside, there is a black, as opposed to wood-trimmed, steering wheel. The door swings open with ease and I get seated behind the large steering wheel. My 1.87-metre frame allows my head to just fit in below the roof lining, while there is also the option to open the sunroof for the added pleasure of fresh air and that flat-six engine sound, or to invite some sunlight into the cabin… depending on the outside air temperature, of course. However, the sunlight does help to illuminate the otherwise very dark interior.
The condition of the black vinyl attests to how well the artificial material withstands the ravages of time compared to leather. Judging by the seats’ appearance, the L could have rolled off the production line 20 years ago, rather than 50. The seats were not developed to be particularly supportive, but they are sufficiently comfortable thanks to generous padding. The pattern on the seats is replicated on the fascia, as well as the black strip that stretches from the left of the steering wheel to the far right where the ‘911L’ lettering reminds you which version of the iconic car you are driving.
In the centre of the four-spoke steering wheel, the perfectly aged Porsche crest is encircled by a round piece of wood – isn’t that a neat touch? The black-circled dials, especially compared to those of the 911s from the 1970s, are more simplistic, but still feature the legendary five-dial layout. They are also basic in their design and therefore extremely easy to read. Compared to the busy, and at times confusing, interior layout and design of some modern cars – including Porsches – it is refreshing to drive a car equipped with only the bare essentials. The basic, two-knob radio unit affords some cheery on road entertainment, but switching it on will prove disappointing in that it will broadcast news and music from 2020, not from 1968!
I turn the key in the ignition barrel positioned to the left of the steering wheel (where else!) and with a light prod of the accelerator pedal, the 2.0-litre, flat-six engine catches and settles into an even idle. After selecting the dog-leg first gear, I release the clutch pedal and the L pulls away. I quickly ease my foot off the floor-mounted throttle pedal, as the engine reacts quicker to my input than I anticipated. Second gear is across the gate and up and as I lean on the throttle, the engine reacts with a surprising level of conviction, even below 3,000rpm. This time I keep the throttle pinned and the revs climb past 4,000 and 5,000rpm. If I’m honest, the engine sounds like a typical flat six, but I deduce that the engine is probably working hard. Still, for a 50-year-old engine it pulls stronger than I thought it would.
The ride quality is good, and it soon becomes evident that the L is quite suitable to be driven every day, but the handling does indeed require a fair degree of familiarisation. There is more play on the steering wheel than in later 911s, but when your speed picks up, the car reacts to steering inputs with more zeal, but at the same time you do have to anticipate the slight delay in the rack. While pushing the L through some corners, I need to hang on to the steering wheel, as you tend to move around in the seat under those circumstances. It is, however, rather fun to experience how the car dips into corners, followed by the modest grip on offer from the suspension and tyres. It is especially apparent when we look at the photographs and see that the 911L cocked one of its front wheels over the rumble strips (without all that much effort!). It instantly reminds me of all those images of 911 racing cars of the era that were photographed with one of their wheels catching some air. As with all pre-G50 gearboxes, shifts can’t be rushed, but I found that I rarely struggled to guide the gear lever in the right direction; only shifting to second from first is a bit time consuming.
By virtue of tipping the scales at only 1,080 kilograms, the L allows you to make brisk progress. Compared to larger European sedans of the time, not to mention over-the-top American cars, the 911L, even without the added performance of the S model, must have felt refreshingly quick, nimble and a joy to drive. Being produced only as a 1968 model year, only 449 L Coupes were built for the US, of which some featured the Sportomatic transmission, and another 720 were produced mainly for the European markets. However, there were also a few Targa Ls produced, but their numbers are even smaller. No wonder we had to search long and hard to find a car to feature in Total 911.
Even though the L was meant to offer a slightly more luxurious feel, it was still marketed as a pure sports car. A 911L sales catalogue of the time features a racing 911 in action with the words ‘Racing: the ultimate proof ’ in big letters. The L was priced at DM 21,450 in 1968; compare that to the full-on race car from the same year, the limited 911R, which cost a substantial DM 45,000. The L’s limited production makes the model desirable as a collector’s item. However, that is the case with most 911s produced in the 1960s!
Today, Porsche doesn’t really focus on producing a 911 that offers a different level of luxury compared with one of its siblings. Models differ because of the focus on higher engine or optional performance-oriented equipment. So, as our morning with the L draws to an end, there is one question that I need to ask the owner, would he ever sell it? He sums it up in one word: “Never”. If it were my car, I would have probably said the same.
“The handling does require a fair degree of familiarisation”
Compression ratio 9.0:1
Maximum power 130bhp @ 6,100rpm
Maximum torque 173Nm @ 4,600rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual
Front MacPherson strut and longitudinal torsion bar
Rear Semi trailing arm and transverse torsion bar
Wheels & tyres
Front 5.5x15-inch Fuchs; 195/65 R15
Rear 5.5x15-inch Fuchs; 195/65 R15
0-62mph 8.4 secs
Top speed 132mph
ABOVE The 911L featured several of the 911S’s features but aimed to offer a luxury version of the iconic 911 with a softer ride height and black vinyl interior
OTHER ‘ONE OFF ’ 911S
The impact-bumper series never featured an RS model, but the Clubsport was the closest model to it. It tips the scales at around 50kg less than a standard Carrera. Porsche hasn’t re-used Clubsport as a specific model name since, only as an option to indicate equipment level.
930 TURBO TARGA
As a car’s body structure suffers a loss of rigidity when its roof is removed, it is understandable why Porsche only once produced a Targa version of its turbocharged 911. It still remains one of the most provocative designs, replete with those wide hips and removable top design.
964 C4 LIGHTWEIGHT
As featured in issue 131, the C4 Lightweight is a special car for numerous reasons. We associate Porsche’s lightweight approach with rear-wheel-drive 911 derivatives only, but here Porsche gave some of this focus on its first series production all-wheel-drive Carrera model.
997 SPORT CLASSIC
One of the most sought-after 997s, the Sport Classic lured customers to purchase one of just 250 with high specifications and a high output version of the 3.8-litre flat six. Highlights include part-cloth/part-leather seats, pseudo Fuchs and a modern interpretation of the famous 1970s ducktail.
“The 911L has near-perfect design and stance”