Porsche and the rear window wiper are forever linked in the annals of automotive history, and for good reason.
While rear window wipers were accessories as far back as the early 1940s, they never became commonplace for a variety of reasons that I’ll talk about in a bit. Italy became slightly interested in them in the mid-1950s. Ferrari installed a pair of them on a 1955 Ferrari 250 GT Europa by Pinin Farina.
Interest had picked up sufficiently that, in 1957, rear wipers made their next public appearance at the 1957 Salon de Genève on the new Lancia Flaminia Berlina, another Pinin Farina creation. While they were highly praised for their functionality by the press, nobody quite caught onto the idea. This should come as no surprise: outside mirrors, which greatly aid rear visibility were considered superfluous to Italians.
Eight years later, a wealthy German industrialist contacted Porsche with a request. He wanted a wiper installed on the rear window. Porsche set about developing a rear window wiper.
You can only imagine what other Porsche enthusiasts thought when they saw this fine gentleman cruising the boulevards with his fancy new car and it’s rear window wiper. The factory began to receive an increasingly large number of requests for similar installations. The demand was so great that Porsche offered a dealer-installed or DIY retrofit kit. This wasn’t even enough – Porsche decided to make it a factory option in 1966.
The early rear wipers were rudimentary at best, but they did the job. The early wiper arm pivot shafts had bushings angled inward and outward, which enabled it to be mounted to the edge of the air intake recess on the existing engine lid.
In 1967, as the rear wiper option gained massive popularity, engine lid pressing dies were slightly modified to incorporate integral mounting pieces for the rear wiper installation. This eliminated the need for the angled adapter bushings. These were included on both sides of the engine lid to accommodate both left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive applications.
Volvo took note of Porsche’s little invention, and added one to the 145 in 1969. The time for rear window wipers had finally arrived.
By the time the OPEC oil crisis arrived in the mid-1970s, rear wipers had become commonplace on hatchbacks, station wagons, and off-road machines like the Chevy Blazer and Ford Bronco. These body styles were perfect applications for the rear window wiper: because of the lack of a rear deck (a trunk), a rear window is bound to collect more dirt and grime than a sedan or pickup truck’s.
Since 1965, Porsche has remained a devout follower of the rear window wiper, offering it on every single fixed-roof production car after the 911, with the exception of the 914, as it had a recessed rear window and long rear deck, which eliminated the necessity of a rear window wiper.
It doesn’t matter how old the Porsche is to make this option desirable. It goes far beyond a functionality statement. It’s a perfect visual metaphor of the classic Porsche essence and character that has carried through today.
You can still feel the original Porsche character today. The 356 and 911 (through the 993 generation), with their air-cooled reliability (their engines were souped-up VW Beetle engines), rear-engine traction, fully-independent suspension with incredibly long travel, and generous ground clearance meant that these were not cars to be taken lightly. They were not smooth-road sports cars like the Triumphs of the same era. They were truly all-weather, go-anywhere-on-any-road cars. This set them far apart from the other sports cars of the era, which generally had low ground clearance, borderline-at-best weather sealing, limited traction, horrifically unreliable everything, and marginal-at-best cooling systems.
It should come as no surprise to you that early Porsches were even better for all-weather capabilities than most standard sedans when the weather got yucky. Those early Porsches don’t care about the meteorological conditions or terrain. They will get a driver and their passenger to almost any destination in comfort. They truly have the functionality of a Swiss Army knife. The stark functionality of a rear window wiper expresses this.
Almost every Porsche that went rallying was fitted with a rear window wiper until high-speed rallying and weight reduction made them somewhat obsolete. Anybody who has ever gone rallying or bombing up and down a fire road knows just how important a rear window wiper is, especially after a big slide.
Most Ferraris, Jaguars, and Corvettes are taken out when the weather is nice. It’s always been that way. Porsche owners have never been afraid of taking their Porsche out when it’s rainy or snowing. A rear window wiper, in addition to it’s functionality, signals to the casual observer that they are gazing upon a car that earns it’s keep. While it’s great to have a car that wins trophies, how often is that car driven?
To the uninitiated Porsche enthusiast, a rear window wiper would seemingly ruin the looks of the car. Let me explain it this way: a Porsche with a rear window wiper is like seeing Sean Connery as James Bond in black tie slipping a steel Rolex Submariner onto his wrist. It’s a seemingly incongruous functional instrument that seems out of place, but it hints at capabilities at his beck and call.