The boundary of middle age tends to roll back as your years advance, and two famous cars subscribe to that theory. The Mini Cooper, born in 1962, is being prepared for yet another Monte-Carlo Rally while its old adversary, the Porsche 911, which first appeared a year later, is rejuvenated with a new rear suspension system in readiness of a second season of Super Cup competitions.
Mika Hakkinen didn’t complain about the 911 Carrera’s rear suspension when he won the Monaco Super Cup race last May, although in former years the overhung sixcylinder engine had a habit of dictating the path of the rear wheels through corners.
The Carrera 2/4 chassis introduced in 1988 finally tamed the oversteer, but did nothing to quell the strongest objection from loyal customers. Namely, the noisy, jarring sounds emanating from the rear tyres and amplifying right through the cabin.
The ‘Swinging Sixties’ suited the Porsche 911 very well, in every sense of the words. Dunlop SP tyres, 165 section, were mounted on 4.5J x 15 steel rims – you could order 5J, or even 5.5J alloy rims at extra cost – and the long travel suspension allowed plenty of camber change. Porsche’s top engineers were, even then, deeply rooted in the past!
Noise and vibration only became a problem as tyre widths increased and springing became harder, but a golden opportunity to revise the rear suspension was wasted when the Carrera 4’s major revisions were announced in 1988. There simply wasn’t enough money in the development budget to do everything, management now admits.
Today, all is well in Porsche’s world. An entirely new rear suspension system, triangulated and caged, has been grafted on to the existing monocoque. It’s rubbermounted and completely overcomes the noise-vibration harshness (NVH) problems that have dogged the 911 in recent years.
Of course, a sports car with nine-inch section rear tyres can’t behave like a wraith, and we’ll need a further trial on the notorious Denham section of the M40 to pass judgment. Suffice to say, for now, that the ’94 model 911 gives a very comfortable, quiet ride in contrast to its immediate predecessor.
The 911 is better in many ways. Its appearance has been changed more substantially than at any time in the past three decades, notably with new front and rear body panels, flush-fitting windows, lower headlamps (at last!) which extend the ‘fish eye’ look of the 928 and 968, and bodywork which is beautifully flared to accommodate the wider track.
This increases by an inch at the front, but a full 2.7 inches at the rear. Cornering forces in excess of 1g are promised, though you’d need a race track or a skid pan to exploit the tenacity of the tyres. And since there is no need to build understeer into the steering, the geometry has been altered and the power operated rack quickened to improve the response.
There is more. The flat-six is still air cooled, still has the characteristic, throaty rumble overlaid by the whine of the beltdriven cooling fan, but it has been toned down. Heard from a distance it’s still a Porsche, but now with hydraulic tappets, a dual catalytic exhaust system and an 8.8 per cent hike in power, to 272 bhp.
An entirely new six-speed transmission is installed, a beauty with close ratios and a quick, easy shift. The massively powerful disc brake system has a fifth generation Bosch ABS control, but as one colleague discovered it doesn’t work properly when the 911 is airborne. . .
Some of us feared that the 911 would have been toned down too much, boiled for the Greens, but we needn’t have worried. A Grand Touring car that can hit 60 mph from rest in 5.2 seconds, and 100 mph in under 14 could never be boring, and the Porsche formula is scintillating.
In olden days Porsche AG would have hiked the price by five per cent without a second thought. They’ve invested ‘millions of marks’ (their phrase) in the new 911, but declared that the price remains unchanged. The outlay will be recouped from improved, more efficient production methods, and there’s no sign anywhere that quality has been compromised.
This means that the 911 Carrera should come to Britain in December at a tad below £51,000, a price that’s beginning to look quite reasonable after the hikes that accelerated the downward spiral in sales five years ago.
Professor Helmuth Batt, former director of research and development, reckoned that the Porsche range should be sufficiently improved every two or three years to persuade customers of the need to buy new models at regular intervals. He is no longer the king of Weissach but his philosophy remains. The new 911, celebrating its 30th birthday, has hit the jackpot.
M L C