The Porsche 911 & Carrera RS

To many people Porsche means the 911, its distinctive shape instantly recognisable, seemingly unchanged after 25 years of production.

It was Ferry Porsche (Ferdinand II) who set his son Butzi (Ferdinand III) the task of finding a replacement for the popular but increasingly outdated Porsche 356 in the late Fifties. Among the ground rules laid down were the facts that it had to be a coupe and be powered an air-cooled engine.

While Butzi worked on the shape with his father’s help, the technical staff experimented with various engine designs, rejectinging pushrod-actuated valve train and wet-sump oiling before deciding on the single overhead camshaft, dry-sump design which became the basis for every subsequent 6 cylinder Porsche model.

The 901, as the model was first designated, was introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1963. It was narrower than the 356 by 2.4 inches, had a 5 inch longer wheelbase, improved interior space and greater glass area, but it was not until the following year that the 911, as it was now called following a complaint from Peugeot who had an established model range with a zero as the middle digit, went on sale to the public. Few changes had been made from the Frankfurt Show model and it was to remain virtually unchanged for the first three years of its life, but it was soon joined by other 911 models with both more and less horsepower and slightly different body styles.

It was in 1967 that the first major change did take place when the wheelbase was lengthened from 87.0 inches to 89.3 inches. This dimension lasted five years until 1972 before being extended again to 89.5 inches, the length of the present cars.

The sportier 160bhp, 140mph 911S was announced in the Spring of 1967 with 9.8:1 compression, larger valves, revised camshafts, forged alloy pistons and ventilated disc brakes. Externally the model was distinguishable by its alloy wheels and inside by a leather-covered steering wheel. It was followed in August by the 911L which similar to the original 911 but with different camshafts although it still developed 130bhp. The 911T, introduced at around the same time, had a lower compression, smaller valves, cast-iron cylinders and a different crankshaft. It was the least powerful of the range developing only 110bhp.

The original 1991cc displacement was increased to 2195cc in 1970, which provided more power and torque, and to 234Icc in 1972 which provided 130bhp at 5600rpm, 165bhp at 6200rpm and 190bhp at 6500rpm respectively for the 911 T, and S types. The reduced compression ratios of 7.5, 8.0 amd 8.5:1 respectively were all in the interest of the increasingly stringent US emissions regulations and the necessity to run on 91-octane unleaded fuel.

The engine displacement was again increased to 2687cc in 1974, to 2994cc in 1978 and to 3164cc in 1984. The 911 Turbo, with 2993cc displacement, was introduced in 1975 and increased to 3.3 litres in 1978.

Solex carburettors were fitted to original models but were replaced by Webers in early 1966. Mechanical fuel injection was introduced in August 1968 which helped boost the power of the E and S by 10bhp. Bosch K-Jetronic was fitted on some models in 1973 and Bosch Motronic in 1984. With the discontinuation of the T and E versions in 1973, it was only the standard 911 which used carburettors.

As the power from the engine increased from the original 130bhp to around 300bhp, the transmission was beefed up to accept it. The four-speed Sportomatic transmission was introduced as an option in 1967 and lasted 13 years before being discontinued in 1980.

The most notable variants of the 911 included the Targa of 1967, the Carrera RS of 1972-1974, the Turbo from 1975 to present, the Carrera look with flared wheel arches, which have been standardized since 1978 with the demise of the 911S and the Cabriolet from 1983 to present.

The body has been subject to continual development since 1964, always managing to keep up to date and never old fashioned. The chrome trim was replaced by black trim when fashion dictated, the door handle mechanism was improved, the wheels were often re-designed and spoilers added as necessary, the 911S, for example, being the first Porsche model to receive a front spoiler in 1971 to alleviate the characteristic Porsche front-end lightness at high speeds.

Of all the Porsche 911 models that have been produced over the 25 years, it is the Carrera RS which affects some of the strongest emotion.

It is strange how single words achieve a significance all of their own when applied to cars and conjure up images vastly different from that of their original meaning. For instance a body of armed men acting as guards would not be everybody’s first mental picture when talking of an Escort. Sometimes car manufacturers borrow names from exciting or exotic places to help their model’s image which then proceed to stamp their own meaning of the word so that tithe original is buried. Mention Daytona, for instance, and the mind tends to focus on a Ferrari rather than the race track.

Unless Spanish or Spanish speaking, it is doubtful if many realise that `carrera’ in fact rneans ‘race’. If it does conjure up anything at all, it might be something to do with Latin America. In fact Porsche adopted the Carrera tag following a class win in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana Mexico race and initially denoted the fastest model in the line-up. It was not until 1972 that it more or less became a model in its own right with the Carrera RS Touring. Outwardly similar to the 911, which was entering its eighth year of production, the new model was unique to the range, although, as is so often the case with special new models, it served the purpose of heralding new ideas which subsequently filtered their way down through the rest of the range.

The engine, for instance, was different. It was based on the 911’s but was bigger. It was not a simple case of boring the thing out, however, for nothing at Porsche is quite that simple. At 2.4 litres, the bore of 84mm was already very near the 87.5mm maximum beyond which it was impossible to go without tempting mechanical mayhem. By coating the aluminium cylinder walls with a nickel-silicon carbide, a process developed on the 917 sports racing car, both the wear was reduced and the engine power output increased so the bore could increased to 90mm. Retaining the same stroke as the 911, 70.4mm, the engine capacity was thus enlarged to 2687cc.

Although there were not any other modifications to the engine, horsepower was increased by 20bhp to 210bhp with 188 lb ft of torque an increase of 18 per cent. At 4000rpm, the power surge was strong all the way to the rev limiter at 7300rpm making it one of the most rapid and pleasurable cars to drive.

In order to achieve its breathtaking performance of 0-60mph in under 6 seconds and a top speed of 150mph, the Careers RS featured a number of modifications not seen before on road-going Porsches. It was an entirely functional car, stripped of all unnecessary addenda in the cabin. For instance, carpets and sound-damping were omitted while the doors, devoid of trim, were opened by a cord, the glovebox lid was dispensed with as were the rear seats. The weight-saving exercise went even further though: the underseal was replaced by normal paint, glassfibre was used on unstressed parts of the body, a thinner guage metal was used as was a special thin glass. The net result was that the car weighed in at 900kg.

The car differed externally from its more pedestrian stablemates. A small ‘duck tail’ spoiler adorned the rear fibreglass engine cover, while the side of the car sported an eye-catching Carrera logo in red, green or blue. The front spoiler was unique to this model, but such was its utilitarian function that it was virtually illegal on German roads.

The only way that Porsche could therefore register the cars for domestic customers was to licence them at the local, more pliant, Stuttgart taxation office.

The Carrera RS had its own specification for the running gear. Thicker anti-roll bars and lightweight Bilstein shock absorbers were fitted while the wider rear track was extenuated by the flared rear arches. While the car could corner at an impressive velocity, the suspension was rather harsh and transmitted quite a lot of noise, but at least the driver knew that the front 185/70 and back 216/60 tyres always had their feet on the ground.

All this added up to a dream car to drive. Where early Porsche 911s were faultless with regards to ride, steering, road-holding and braking, they were criticised by some for lacking sheer performance. The Carrera RS rectified this, the 2.7 litre transforming it.

If there was an Achilles heel it was in the gearbox. Where the original box had 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th in H-pattern with 1st tucked away on the left, the Carrera’s had the first four gears in the H-pattern with fifth up and away, a retrograde step for the purist. Such was the torque of the engine, though, that the necessity to change down to accelerate away, for whatever reason, became unnecessary for the 2.7 could deliver the power without changing down.

As the car was intended for competition use, the plan was to produce only 500 examples for homologation into the Group 4 Special GT category, and as such it was built on its own special line. Such was its appeal, though, that even a second batch of 500 cars produced were snapped up and yet the demand was still unsatiated. By this time the set of 1000 special body panels had been exhausted together with the spares from which a further 36 were made. The decision was therefore taken to continue its production with the heavier, basic 911S shell, especially as most customers were specifying the RS Touring options which utilised the 911S trim, rather than the stripped-out lightweight models. Altogether another 600, fitted with full Carrera RS running gear and badges were made.

Gordon Bruce of Gordon Bruce Associates is the owner of a Carrera RS Touring and finds that returning to it even after driving the most exotic and powerful of cars is still a revelation.

For sheer performance, it is quite exhilarating, despite only 210bhp which is seemingly mediocre by today’s standards, but it can still accelerate from 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds and 0-100mph in 15 seconds. There is also the sharp throttle response that goes with it, instantaneous at any speed allied to a total lack of temperament making this one of the most enjoyable of super cars to drive.

The brakes are superb allowing the driver to build up his confidence and approach bends and corners at speeds that would be unwise in most other cars but knowing that the brakes will slow the car down without trauma and fade every time.

Then there is the handling, a point of contention with some but which Gordon is adamant is well within the capabilities of most while the chassis still remains in a class of its own even after 15 years.

All 911s are worthy cars, but the Carrera RS must still rank as one of greatest road cars of all time.