30 Oct 2017

Richard’s GT Porsche Column: 2

Richard’s second column for GT Porsche magazine considers the ideal 911

Richard is writing a regular column for GT Porsche magazine in the UK. Here is his second piece, considering the ideal 911.

I have just returned from driving a 2.7-litre 1973 911 rally car in a forest in Wales. This was a client test day and my first time meeting this particular client. It was the first time he had seen his new (to him) car and his first time on gravel. I only did two laps (10 miles) and they were the first laps in one of our cars since being out in Sweden at our Below Zero Ice driving centre. The experience was therefore a great deal of FUN!

The car in question is a well-travelled 911 and has been driven, in no particular order, by Björn Waldegård, Jimmy and Colin McRae, Sebastien Ogier, Stig Blomqvist and more. It’s had some success, even in my hands. I managed to win the Manx and Costa Brava historic rallies driving this car, not to mention several gravel rallies. For some reason, it’s a special 911. Regardless of the engine, the tyres or the surface it always feels good. Why is this relevant?

Well, with my second GT Porsche column pending, it reminded me what a joy these cars are to drive. The Porsche 911 means different things to different people and it’s not for me to suggest that anyone is particularly right or wrong. But below I shall talk about what they mean to me.

A question I am often asked is, if I were to own only one 911 from 50+ years in production, which would it be? Easy: a ’65 2.0-litre SWB with one of our new race engines and a 901 gearbox. I enjoy driving not for outright speed, but for the feeling of making something work. The 2.0-litre SWB car is special: it feels small, it requires effort to deliver its best and, with narrow wheels and Avon tyres, the handling is sublime. The engine sings with a wonderful noise, the 901 ‘box (half tongue-in-cheek), is the best manual transmission Porsche ever made and it’s all nice and light.

Putting this into context, I have recently driven a 991 Turbo and a 991 GT3 and no doubt they are extraordinary cars, but it all comes down to what you use your 911 for. We build a lot of cars and I always ask owners what percentage of driving will be track or road based. As I spend 95% or more of my time on the road, I bias my thoughts on this usage.

Exploring my perfect Porsche 911 would take more than space available here, but I think I can give a quick summary. Our roads are busy these days and so the joy of driving, whilst respecting other road users, means we have to be careful. This immediately rules out half of all Porsches, as they are too fast to have fun in on the road, whilst being sensible.

I will boldly say that from 964 onwards they have too much mechanical grip and therefore, for me personally to get fun out of them (i.e. getting the car moving about a bit), I have to be going too fast for today’s roads. Most of these cars are breaking every speed limit in the country in second gear. This leaves the SWB cars, the long wheelbase pre-impact bumper cars, and those cars from 1974 – 1989, not forgetting the 3.0- and 3.3-litre 930s. So it boils down to the chassis and engine combinations from this lot.

The standout engine is still a 2.7RS. I am amazed every time I drive one and cannot imagine how they must have felt in 1973 – still hard to beat. The 3.0 is great, the 3.2 is a little too lazy in standard form, the 3.0-litre Turbo is mega fun but not great for road driving, nor Is the 3.3: too much lag. But the early 2.0 engines are simply sublime. Nor do I subscribe to the SWB vs LWB argument. Driven well, the SWB is better on the road, as it changes direction so quickly and there is no drama or downside to it when well set up.

Having said all of the above, I must throw in a huge dose of realism. One Porsche is not enough for anyone and therefore all of the above needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. But, compared to any other car ever built, they are more mentally stimulating. At every corner, they ask a question, not always the same one but always a great one, which, as a driver, you have to answer without hesitation.