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Porsche 911: The sports car that conquered the world

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Porsche legacy lives - at 200 mph
  • The Porsche 911 -- originally called the 901 -- was unveiled at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show
  • The silhouette has hardly changed in almost 50 years
  • The top speed has increased 75 mph to 205 mph

CNN's global series i-List takes you to a different country each month. In February, we visit Germany and look at changes shaping the country's economy, culture and social fabric.

Zuffenhausen, Germany (CNN) -- With a top speed of 205 mph and a silhouette known and loved the world over, the Porsche 911 is an icon of German design and engineering.

Since it was introduced nearly 50 years ago, its top speed has increased by 75 mph -- but the distinctive shape has remained almost unchanged.

Unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1963, the designer was Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, then 25, grandson of the company's founder.

Recalling the design process, he said: "Right from the start the specification was that the car had to be instantly recognizable as a Porsche from its silhouette."

The two-door luxury coupe initially was called the Porsche 901, until a patent issue with Peugeot forced a change in name.

Gallery: Porsche 911 through the ages

The high-performance vehicle, today the carmaker's most expensive basic model, has remained in style over the years.

Last year, Porsche delivered 21,680 units of the 911 worldwide, which accounted for about a quarter of the total vehicles it delivered during the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

Such is the popularity of the model that the automaker recently designed a special 911 inscribed with names of its fans on the social networking site Facebook to celebrate reaching its millionth fan.

There are now more than 1.3 million fans on the page.

One of its biggest enthusiasts is Walter Roehrl, a rally legend who made his name racing in the 1970s and 1980s.

The attention to engineering is what makes the 911 stand apart, according to Roehrl, who has been a senior test driver at Porsche for the last 17 years.

The car had to be instantly recognizable as a Porsche from its silhouette.
--Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, 911 designer

The engine is "so good," he said. "That is the reason I like this car, because it's not the power, it's the response of this car."

Since it made its debut, the sports coupe has been modified for use by professional drivers, and it has one of the strongest competition track records of all time.

At last year's Geneva Motor Show, Porsche unveiled the 911 GT3 R, its first hybrid track car.

Roehrl said of the 911: "It's the only car today which has the engine really in the back." That gives it much better traction than compared to other racing vehicles.

Roehrl recently took CNN's Diana Magnay for a spin around a Porsche test circuit in Zuffenhausen.

She said: "It's hard to explain what it's like when Roehrl puts his foot down. It's about precision at speed, not the actual speed itself."

Roehrl, who won 14 world rally championship races in his racing career, added: "When I was a skier I always wanted the skis to be just an extension of my legs, and it's the same with the car.

"The car is a part of my body like my small finger. It has to do exactly what I want."

CNN's Diana Magnay and Catriona Davies contributed to this report

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