PORSCHE 911 GT3 RS 4.0

years ago Porsche produced the first completely new 911 in what was then already a 35-year-old career. The new car, code-named 996,

was a very different kind of device, sufficiently so that, because I had the fortune to be editing this magazine at the time, I contrived a cheesy 'Nein Eleven' headline and wrote a story explaining that while the new car was capable and welcome, the spirit and excitement of the original had been lost. In fact it had been merely hidden. A year later Porsche produced a pure sports version to

enable it to homologate its racing cars and we were all surprised to find it was not to be granted 'RS' status like its fabled predecessor, the 2.7 RS, which had been conceived in 1973 for much the same reason. Instead Porsche appended a new name to it, the `GT3' badge relating to its intended category of racing.

But the new GT3 road car was a curious and compromised device. Heavier rather than lighter than the standard 996, quick but decidedly tricky on the limit, it shone a light illuminating a new route in which this car could go, without bothering to actually head in that direction. But after the GT3 the journey commenced with the first GT3 RS, and as the 996 evolved

into the 997, so the breed developed until seven iterations later we arrive at this, the 997 GT3 RS 4.0. When I think back to that first and flawed GT3, it's bizarre to think this is its direct descendant, and underneath all those wings and fins you'll find essentially the same platform.

For from those inauspicious beginnings, Porsche has bred its finest road car yet, better even than the only two other possible contenders for the title, the original 2.7 RS and the RS version of the last air-cooled car, the 993. It is a very important car too, and this is why. At the end of this year Porsche will replace the 911 again. I understand that new car, confusingly code-named 991, will be as different to the EEO

996/997 series as that series was to all the 911s which went before it. The various scoop photographs that inevitably surface at this stage in a car's development show one that looks similar to the old series but I am assured it is entirely new. Which means this car is the very last of both the 997 and the original GT3 line.

Something else dies with this car too: the Hans Metzger-designed flat-six motor. For some years this engine has only been used in Porsche's GT3 and GT2 cars, all other 911s, Boxsters and Caymans using an entirely unrelated, much cheaper to manufacture, direct-injection flatsix. The Metzger engine is ancient: it was first fitted to a road-going 911 — the 964 — back in 1989 but its competition roots are older even than that. Yet this is the engine that brought Porsche its most recent Le Mans win, in 1998. It has survived so long because it's just about indestructible. If you're lucky enough to own a 911 powered by one of these motors, you might think its red line is somewhere you should visit sparingly. If so you'll be interested to know that one of the routine tests to which this engine was subjected during development for use in this ultimate GT3 was to be run flat out and nonstop for 3000km. That's London to Moscow and halfway back at full throttle.

So what kind of car has Porsche's Motorsport department prepared as a fond farewell to all these milestones? The clue is in the title: this is the first roadgoing 911 to use an engine displacing more than 3.8 litres. By using the long stroke crank of the

RSR race car (there was no more space between the cylinders to allow expansion in that direction), a capacity of 3996cc has been achieved, and because it has been stroked rather than bored, a lot of attention was paid to the way air gets into and gases emerge from the engine to ensure the power gain more than matched the increase in torque you'd expect.

The result is a 4-litre engine that produces 493bhp without the aid of turbocharging. Better still, a fat chunk of extra torque has been found at every point in the rev range.

But Porsche would never leave it at that. Although just 400 of these 4-litre RSs will be built, that didn't stop Porsche seeing how far they could push the car in other directions to create a suitably fitting finale. So first they made it lighter, making extensive use of carbon fibre, notable in places like the bonnet and front bumper. Even the carpet underlay was discarded to save a few grammes.

Next they sharpened up the suspension using Rose joints in the rear suspension, unique spring rates and springs that come with small helper springs to ensure some pre-load is always kept in the suspension.

Finally attention turned to aerodynamics. While most manufacturers of even overtly sporting road cars are happy to focus their efforts in this area to minimising lift and thereby ensuring stability at speed, Porsche works to an altogether different standard. Porsche fitted a new rear wing and discovered two things: first it not only eliminated all rear axle lift but then actually contributed 200kg of downforce at 183mph. Secondly it completely unbalanced the car aerodynamically. That's why it has those little winglets at the front (left): they may not look like much but there are places at the old Niirburgring where they make the difference between being able to go flat out and leaving the circuit.

First I drove it at moderate effort on the road and then as fast as I could around Silverstone. And I'm still not sure which environment impressed me more. On the track it was scintillatingly quick and responded much more like a race car than something wearing a number plate. Better, the extra torque and improved grip meant you could hang in higher gears than you would in a 3.8-litre RS, which meant fewer gear changes and more time to concentrate on your lines, braking points and so on. So it wasn't just faster, but easier too.

That a car so capable on the track should be less than horrid on the road would have been impressive. In fact the 4-litre GT3 was sufficiently quiet and comfortable that some of the 400 will use theirs every day. It may look like a road-legal racer, but you can still have yours with air conditioning, navigation and many of life's other little luxuries.

I'm not sure what I'd do if I had the £128,466 required to buy one. Probably get frustrated because it's only Porsche's closest friends that'll even be offered one. But even if I was on the list, what then? As investments go, owning one of fewer than 40 cars destined for the UK is probably one of the more bulletproof bets in the road car world, especially if you kept the miles off it. But this is not a car you can park and look at — it's not especially beautiful nor so rare or precious you wouldn't dare use it.

But I don't think I'd use it every day — the pressure on my licence would be too great. Instead I'd take the time to plan a few great trips a year, always with a far-flung circuit as its destination, and know there was nothing I could throw at it that it wouldn't be able to take. Make no mistake, even by Porsche's often supersonic standards, it has never made a car like this. The only remaining question is how on earth will the all-new 911 follow in its footsteps?