Porsche was struggling financially in the early 1990s, but helping Audi and Mercedes-Benz develop two of their most iconic cars pulled it back from the edge.
If it were not for the development and manufacturing that Porsche undertook for the Mercedes-Benz E500 and Audi RS2, there is a good chance it might not be around today.
These projects carried Porsche through financial troubles – while helping it develop the vehicles that turned the company around: the Boxster, 996, and Cayenne.
Long before Mercedes-Benz owned AMG, it enlisted Porsche to redesign the Mercedes W124 chassis to accept a 5.0-litre, V8 engine – as they needed a challenger to the newly-released BMW M5.
With sales of its sportscars slowing down and projects like the four-door 928 canned, Porsche had the capacity and skills to help Mercedes-Benz build the 500E.
The parts were produced by Mercedes-Benz and assembled by Porsche on the old 959 production line.
The result is one of the original sleeper sedans that paved the way for the super-powerful executive saloons of today.
The 500E packed the 5.0-litre engine from the 500 SL, and front suspension and braking system from the 500SL roadster.
It hit 100km/h in under 6.0 seconds and ran to a 260km/h top speed. Cosmetic enhancements were subtle, which led to it being widely known as the “Wolf in sheep’s clothing”.
Porsche built 10,479 units from 1991 to 1994, and there are a few in South Africa, too.
Audi RS2 Avant
Audi’s super-wagons of today find their roots in the Audi RS2 from 1994.
The RS2 was Audi’s first RS car and the first high-performance estate to establish the brand as a challenger in this segment.
It featured a 2.2-litre, turbocharged, five-cylinder engine – heavily modified and built by Porsche.
Its styling also carried several cues hinting at Porsche’s involvement: brakes from the 968 Club Sport emblazoned with the Porsche name, and alloy wheels, side mirrors, and fog lights from the 911 Turbo.
Porsche badging was even engraved in the “RS” emblem.
This meant the RS2 was able to accelerate to 100km/h in under 4.8 seconds, with a top speed of 262km/h.
Under 3,000 examples were produced – and there are a few in South Africa.
Bonus inclusion – Renault Clio V6
One of the little-known development projects from Porsche is the Phase 2 Renault Sport Clio V6 – although its involvement was limited to the engine.
While not crucial to Porsche’s financial survival, it was fitting for this model to be included.
For the second-phase Clio V6, in line with moving production to a new facility in France, Renault sent its engine off to Porsche to extract more power and tweak performance.
Porsche gave the Renault Laguna V6 a bigger intake, new camshaft, and increased the rev limit – which resulted in a 100km/h sprint that was 0.5-seconds quicker (5.8 seconds) than the model it replaced.
Only 1,300 units were produced, and as with most things that Porsche touched in those days, they’re highly collectible now.