Porsche and the rear window wiper are inexorably linked in the annals of automotive history. And for good reason.
While rear wipers were around as an accessory as far back as the 1940s, they never became commonplace. In the mid-fifties, interest picked up a bit in Italy. In 1955, Ferrari installed a pair on a 250 GT Europa.
The following year, rear wipers were featured on the Lancia Florida prototype by Pininfarina. When the production version of the Lancia debuted at the 1957 Salon de Genève as the Flaminia Berlina, the rear wipers were retained. While much praised for their functionality, they once again failed to catch on. This was not surprising as the outside mirror; another aid to rear vision, was still widely (particularly in Italy) considered superfluous.
Nearly a decade later, a wealthy German industrialist contacted the Porsche factory in 1965 about ordering a new 911 with a special request: he wanted a wiper installed on the rear window. Porsche dutifully set about developing a suitable wiper assembly.
When other Porsche enthusiasts saw this gentleman cruising the autobahn and parked along the strasse with his custom rear wiper, the factory began receiving an increasing number of requests for similar installations. As a result, Porsche developed a retrofit kit and simultaneously began offering the rear wiper as a standard production option on 1966 models.
The early wiper arm pivot shafts were fitted with inner and outer angled bushings that enabled it to be mounted on the edge of the air intake recess of the existing engine lid. A year later, as the wiper option gained popularity, engine lid pressing dies were modified to incorporate integral mounting bosses for rear wiper installation, eliminating the need for the angled adapter bushings. These were included on each side of the lid to accommodate both left and right-hand drive configurations.
Other manufacturers began to take note of Porsche’s rear wiper and in 1969 Volvo added one to the 145. At long last, the time for rear wipers had arrived.
By the mid-1970s, rear wipers became ubiquitous on hatchbacks, estates and station wagons. Such body styles were particularly good candidates for such a feature; with their lack of a rear deck their back glass invariably collects more rear-tyre road spray.
Porsche has remained a steadfast devotee of the rear wiper, offering the option on every fixed-roof production model subsequent to the 911 with the exception of the 916, whose long rear deck and recessed vertical rear window obviated the need for one.
The rear wiper is a highly desirable option on any Porsche, new or old. Beyond its functionality, it is a perfect visual metaphor of classic Porsche essence and character. The 356 and early 911, with their air-cooled reliability, rear engine traction, long-travel independent suspension and generous ground clearance were not just smooth-road sporting machines; they were tough, all-weather, go anywhere on any road vehicles.
This differentiated them from other sporting cars of the time which generally suffered from restricted ground clearance, limited traction, often borderline weather sealing and occasionally marginal cooling systems. Indeed, Porsches were even better than most standard sedans when the going got rough or the weather inclement.
No matter the meteorological conditions or terrain, a Porsche was expected to get the driver to his destination. The stark functionality of a rear wiper is a sculptural expression of this Porsche heritage.
Early 911 rally cars (including the 1968 Rallye Monte-Carlo winning 911T) were routinely equipped with rear wipers until high-speed stage rallying made weight reduction paramount.
Any rallyist who has ever wrong-slotted can appreciate the potential value of a rear wiper.
While Ferraris, E-Types and other sporting machines were all too often trotted out only on clear sunny days, Porsches routinely took their owners wherever they had to go, day in and day out. A rear wiper, in addition to its obvious utility, telegraphed to the casual observer that they were gazing upon a fine automobile, not likely a dilettante or garage queen. Wherever one needed to go, this car would get them there, efficiently as possible.
If you spot a vintage or contemporary Porsche with the optional rear wiper, it is a safe bet that it is most likely driven by a true Porsche connoisseur.
Uninitiated enthusiasts, unencumbered by intimate familiarity of Porsche tradition, sometimes protest that the iconic rear wiper is stylistically unbecoming. On the contrary, a Porsche sporting a rear wiper is analogous to Sean Connery as James Bond in black tie donning a steel Rolex Submariner: a seemingly incongruous functional instrument; seemingly out of place, but discreetly hinting at ancillary capabilities on call. What would you prefer driving: an automobile displaying tangible and functional evidence of its robust heritage, or a mechanical fair-weather pretty boy?