On the Road with a Porsche Type 911

A Real G.T. Car

Just before the Government clamped the 70 m.p.h. limit on this unhappy motoring country of ours, the Porsche Concessionaires for Great Britain said they could let us have a 911 on loan. As luck would have it the Editor was rather busily engaged with other road-test cars so he suggested that I might like the Porsche. There were two other reasons as well, which were that (a) I had driven well over a quarter of a million miles in Porsches over the past 10 years, so I should know something about Porsches, and (b) the 911 was the model I had marked down as my 1965 car until economic and policy reasons caused me to change my ideas and have a 4.2-litre E-type Jaguar instead.

After covering some 1,200 miles in a week, most of them at fairly high speeds, a report on the 911 Porsche is the easiest thing to write, for without question it is the best car Porsche have yet built for normal road use. However, if I finish the road test here and now by merely saying “this is one of the best cars I have ever driven,” and leave it at that, the Production Manager will start ticking and complain about empty pages, while the more inquisitive readers will be asking “Why is it one of the best cars you have ever driven ?”, so I will now try and analyse one of the best week’s motoring that I have had for a long time.

The Porsche 911 is the 2-litre flat-six-cylinder engine car which first appeared over a year ago, and was a complete breakaway from the old 356 series that was derived from Volkswagens way back in 1950/51. Apart from being an entirely different shape from the accepted beetle-like Porsches of old, the 911 was the first production break from swing axle suspension at the rear and trailing-arm links at the front, although torsion bars are still retained. The front suspension uses a Macpherson-strut layout and wishbone, and wide-base triangular trailing members support each rear wheel completely independently. The engine is aircooled, like all Porsches, and is a horizontally opposed six-cylinder, with three cylinders to each bank, the inclined overhead valves being operated by rockers from an overhead camshaft layout, the camshaft on each bank being driven by chain from the crankshaft, while a belt drives a multi-blade fan that blows air through ducts downwards onto the cylinder barrels and heads, the air then being ducted out underneath the car. As on previous Porsches the engine is mounted behind the centre-line of the rear, where, though, unlike the 4-cylinder Porsches, this power unit is supported at both ends, the front on the gearbox/axle unit and the rear on a transverse mounting. The gearbox is a 5-speed and reverse unit, which lies ahead. of the rear axle centre-line. Disc brakes are fitted to all four wheels, and the test car was shod with German Dunlop SP tyres. When this model was first released by the factory it was known as the 901, and was due to be followed by the sports/racing 904, but due to various reasons the 904 appeared first, and when the 901 eventually got into production it was renumbered the 911. This can be pronounced “nine-eleven” or “nine-one-one” the former being the more usual name for the car. The same car, fitted with a push-rod 4-cylinder engine is also available and is known as the 912, but our interest lies in the high-performance 911 model.

On first acquaintance the car seemed a little disappointing, having no particular character about the interior when you first sit down, unlike the old 356 series, which you felt could only be Porsches. Driving quietly away this lack of character was even more noticeable, so that seasoned Porsche owners commented that it was all right, but hardly a Porsche, and in fact it could have been almost any sort of reasonable GT car. But once I had sorted out all the controls, found my way about the car and got out into the open country the whole car immediately became alive and was unmistakably a Porsche in all the true traditions of the Stuttgart firm. The more I drove it and the harder I made it work the more Porsche-like it became, so that by the end of the week I had no doubts at all that this was a car from the brains of Dr. Porsche and his men, and could not possibly have come from anywhere else, and I was continually saying to myself “Why don’t all manufacturers make cars like this ? It can’t be so difficult.”

The most outstanding attribute of a Porsche is the remarkable one-piece feel of the whole structure, for no matter what sort of surface you are on, or what speed you are travelling at, you never get the feeling that anything other than the suspension is moving. There is no kick-back through the steering wheel, no movement of the doors, seats or body structure, and you never get the feeling that something is going to fall off. In short, the whole car has a feeling that it is indestructible, unlike many other cars in the GT Category in which you feel that even if the exhaust system doesn’t rattle off, the doors will fly open, or the bodywork begin to split somewhere. This one-piece feel in the 911 is coupled with suspension, ride, road-holding, steering, braking and general good manners that are truly modern, and the nearest to perfection that production cars have yet reached. The steering looks, on paper, to be unnecessarily complicated, and unlikely in provide good results, but it has set a new standard in my estimation, even better than the 230SL Mercedes-Benz power steering, which used to be my idea of the best. The Porsche has a very short steering column, from which a universal joint takes the motion to the centre of the car and then another universal joint couples to a shaft incorporating a flexible damper joint, Which operates the rack and pinion mechanism which itself is mounted rigidly on a tubular cross-member. The short primary column from the steering wheel is carried in a tubular housing that tapers into a flat plate at its forward end, where it is bolted to the body/chassis structure. In the event of a head-on crash into a solid object this housing will collapse and the driver does not get four feet of steel tube through his chest, as with a normal steering column assembly. There is absolutely no lost motion in the system and you can feel exactly what the wheels are doing in all times, without any of the usual “kick-back” associated with rack and pinion steering. The actual steering characteristics are almost complete neutrality, and I never achieved cornering powers on the open road that would cause the 911 to show signs of breakaway at either the front or the rear, and, believe me, the German SP tyres, which the Porsche suspension kept firmly on the road can absorb some pretty high cornering forces. On a closed aerodrome it was possible to reach the limit, and then the rear went first, as with most cars, but under normal fast road-driving there is little indication that the engine weight is overhung at the rear. Since the first of the 911s was built, one of which I tried in 1964 round the Solitude circuit, the amount of roll has been reduced enormously. The early cars seemed to roll on an axis parallel with the ground, rather like a DS Citroen but this trait has now disappeared.

Truly outstanding about the Porsche 911 are the “ride” characteristics, which smooth out road surfaces in a most impressive manner and put the car in the same category as Citroen and Rover 2000. It is the sort of level ride that all family saloons of good quality should have, but very few achieve, and Porsche have it in a pure GT car. Along a local “test” road which has a bumpy and wavy surface, where 60-65 m.p.h. is good going in most cars, the Porsche was quite happy at 85-90 m.p.h. One of the secrets of good suspension is shock-absorbers, and the telescopic shockers on the Porsche have progressively-acting rubber buffers inside them.

Every year the list of manufacturers who use Porsche baulk-ring syncromesh patents in their gearbox designs gets bigger and bigger, and it makes you realise that Porsche must know something about gearboxes. Anyone who has driven the old Type 356 cars will appreciate the Porsche gearbox, and the 5-speed box that followed the various versions of 4-speed on the earlier cars takes over where the old ones left off. The present 5-speed gearbox is truly fantastic and you find yourself changing gear just for the fun of the thing, or to “show off” to your friends. An accompanying illustration shows the layout of the gear-lever positions, and the lever has to be pressed against a spring to get 1st or reverse, so that when changing from 1st into 2nd you merely apply a forward pressure. If you apply any sideways force you can almost guarantee that you will change from 1st to 4th. I let four friends try the car on a sprint course, and two muffed their first change and two didn’t. Porsche have never built cars that require any brute force, finesse in driving being assumed to be a natural talent for Porsche owners. From 2nd to 3rd you can pull the lever back at fast as you like, and then the change from 3rd across the gate to 4th is one of those outstanding things in motoring. If you are on full power in 3rd, with 6,800 r.p.m. on the tachometer, you can flash the lever across into 4th as fast as possible, but you must press the clutch pedal sufficiently to free the plates.

The hard, crisp exhaust note as you continue on at full throttle in 4th gear is sheer heaven. Vintage enthusiasts get enormous pleasure from a rapid clutchless-change on a crash gearbox, being able to demonstrate their prowess. but the change at peak r.p.m. from 3rd to 4th in a Porsche 911 will match any such pleasures, and what is more you are beginning to travel pretty quickly by this time. The change into fifth is similar to that from 2nd to 3rd. For most road work there is no need to use 1st gear, other than for starting off from rest, for providing the wheels are actually rolling the car will pull away well in 2nd gear; consequently you can treat the gearbox as a 4-speed unit, with an emergency low gear., but it is a close-ratio, high-geared box and the benefits from using it intelligently are really outstanding. For those who appreciate gearbox ratios, a study of the figures given in the accompanying panel will be most illuminating, for they are virtually to sports/racing motorcycle standards.

Coupled to the best of all gearboxes is an engine that thrives on r.p.m. When you first start it up and let it idle it sounds like a bucket of old nails, and is noisy compared with many 6-cylinder engines, but touch the throttle pedal and the rattling and clanking immediately turn into a whine that soon becomes a hum. Accelerating really hard up the rev, range in the gears you can’t help being impressed by the way the engine becomes more like a dynamo the higher the r.p.m. go. Peak power is developed at 6,100 r.p.m., but 6,800 r.p.m. is permissible in the gears, though it is pointless to go so high in 1st or 2nd. Like all Porsches there is no hope of over-revving in top gear, for the Zuffenhausen engineers believe in high gearing and a close-ratio gearbox, a principle with which everyone who enjoys real motoring must agree. You can wind the 911 up to 6,800 r.p,m. in 4th gear and it will then comfortably reach 6,000 r.p.m. in 5th„ which is a pretty honest 120 m.p.h. After that the revs take some time to build up higher, 6,200 often being seen, but 6,400 needing a Motorway. At that you are doing close on 130 m.p.h., which is not bad going for a fully equipped 2-litre car. Once there you feel you could hold it flat-out for ever, for the engine is so smooth and it seems to thrive on such r.p.m., unlike many other engines which get rough or fussy when they are on peak power. The old 1,600-c.c. Porsche 4-cylinder engines had exactly the same feeling about them, showing no signs of stress at peak power r.p.m. in top gear, and my old 1600 Super did many miles at 5„200 r.p.m. on full throttle in top gear. With the 911 even at Porsche’s hoped-for maximum of 6,500 r.p.m. in 5th gear you still have 300 r.p.m. in hand before you reach the red line on the tachometer, and this gives a wonderful feeling of confidence, which I know from 10 years of Porsche driving to be justifiable confidence. Lke all Porsches, the 911 likes to be driven hard with the driver using the tachometer intelligently, and for this reason this instrument takes pride of place in the centre or the instrument panel, the two-pronged steering wheel giving a clear and unobstructed view of the 8,000 r.p.m. dial. Slightly to the right is the 150-m.p.h. speedometer, with mileage and trip but this is rather a vaguely annotated dial, with markings at every 15 m.p.h. and figures only at 30, 60, 90, 120 and 150, so that by the time you have tried to decide what m.p.h. it is indicating you are probably doing some other speed. The fact that the speedo is vaguely marked, smaller in diameter than the tachometer, and off to the right, rather indicates that Porsche do not intend it to be taken very seriously and it is there merely to comply with the law. The tachometer is the instrument to be used. After all, the 911 feels so safe and sure at any speed that mere m.p.h. becomes purely academic or legal, you drive the car at a speed commensurate with road conditions, for you know that it can use any road to the roads maximum capability.

The other instruments include a large-dial electric clock on the far right, with an adjustable red pointer for keeping a note of starting time, or appointment time, and on the left of the central tachometer are two combined instruments. The first tells you all you want to know about the condition of the oil in the dry sump lubrication system and the second tells you the quantities of liquids contained in the Porsche. The first dial has temperature in degrees-F. on one side and pressure in lb./sq. in. on the right. When under full sail, with everything functioning normally, the pressure is 80 lb./sq. in. and the temperature is 175 deg. F. The second dial shows on one side fuel tank contents which says vaguely that you have 2/4 for half a tank, or 4/4 for a full tank. There is a red light indicating about 1 1/2 gallons as a reserve, but I feel it is a pity that the old foolproof three-position tap has been dropped, but this is due to a complete revision of the fuel tank and system, as will be explained later. On the other side of this second dial is a clever little indicator that shows you how much oil you have in the dry-sump oil tank. With the engine warm (at least 140 deg. F.) and after idling for a little while, the needle will settle down and indicate the contents in the tank in litres, six litres being adequate, four litres being too low. just in case you have no faith in electrics, there is a conventional dipstick in the oil tank, which is mounted on the right of the engine compartment.

While on cockpit equipment it is worth mentioning that there is the usual sort of key-starter, and the engine never seems to fire until you have let go of the key (voltage drop ?), a two-position lights switch. for sidelamps and headlamps., and this knob also controls a panel light rheostat, but it unfortunately does not extinguish the panel lights completely. Behind the steering wheel are two column-stalks, the right-hand one moving up and down parallel to the wheel rim for operating direction indicators, pulling backwards against a spring for headlamp flashers, and clicking from the neutral position away front you for full-beam headlamps. This arrangement. is very good, for it means that when on dipped lamps no matter which way you move the lever in the heat of the moment you get full beam, which is often essential when travelling fast at night. The left-hand stalk controls wipers and washers, the wipers having a 3-speed motor operated by moving the stalk downwards in the plane of the steering wheel, while pulling the stalk towards you operates the washers. The heating and ventilation systems have a number of controls and ringing the changes on these can produce almnost any desired condition. Just in front of the gear-lever is a short lever controlling the flow from the heater; pulling it rearwards closes air gates, by cables, which deflect hot air from the engine along the chassis members and into the car through vents just in front of the seats and through vents on the scuttle at the foot of the windscreen. The floor vents have sliding gates to control the flow, and a control on the scuttle opens a fresh-air vent in front of the windscreen which lets air into the base of the screen, along with the hot air. The rear quarter-light windows hinge open and their use is essential for ensuring a good flow of air, while the porous roof lining lets hot air pass out through vents across the top of the rear window, this large expanse of glass being warmed by air pipes from the main heating system. By juggling with the volume of heat from the centre control, the amount you let in from the floor vent, the opening of the rear quarter-lights and the fresh-air vent on the scuttle, you can get a very comfortable situation of being warm around the lower portions; while having cool fresh air on your face. The quantity of heat sent in from the engine cooling system is quite remarkable, and when travelling really fast you could easily suffer from scorched ankles! But to return to road driving again, for that is what the 955 is built for.

Forward visibility is outstanding, for the falling front gives a completely unobstructed view of the road, while visibility through the back and across the rear quarters is also very good for manoeuvring, the only criticism being the messy quarters around the windscreen pillars. Small swivelling panels are provided at the front of the side windows, and these make the winthcreen pillars a bit thick, as well having another vertical pillar in your line of vision when looking outwards for three-quarter forward vision, and pedestrians and cyclists can easily be lost in this area. Personally, I can find no use whatsoever for swivelling panels in the side windows; never having had them on my old Porsche, nor having them on my present E-type Jaguar. Apart from reducing three-quarter forward vision their only use seems to be to cause cold air currents on the passenger’s legs, and for the driver to throw cigarette ends into the faces of overtaking motorcyclists. The seats are well up to Porsche standards, and have adjustment from the vertical to the horizontal for the squab, effected by a small lever at the base of the seat, while they have the normal fore and aft movement. Behind the front seats is a large luggage area, which lifts up in two halves to reveal small seats for the occasional, short-duration journey by short-stature passengers. With the large sloping rear window extending well forward along the roof, sitting in these rear seats seems very exposed, the glass being almost overhead. Night driving is very satisfactory, the lights being good for 120 m.p.h. on known roads, while 110-mph. cruising in the dark on motorways is very relaxed. The headlamp full-beam indicator, is nicely subdued, as is the turn-indicator warning light.

When you visit the Porsche factory in Stuttgart you are more than likely to see Dr. Ferry Porsche arrive in one of his latest models, for he not only designs Porsche cars, but uses them as well, while Huscke von Hanstein, the Racing Manager, covers great mileages all over Europe in Porsches. If you go to Le Mans or the Targa Florio you will find members of the technical department in production Porsches as well as experimental ones, and because the people at Porsches use Porsche cars the customer gets the benefit of this in great attention to detail from the user point of view. In some makes of car you wonder whether the chief engineer or the managing director has ever driven them at all, but with Porsche it is the opposite. On the 911 there are three typical examples that immediately spring to mind. When the radio aerial is retracted it goes in flush with its base and can only be withdrawn again by means of a small key-come-hook attached to the ignition key. This may seem a strange thing to do, but if you have had your aerial pulled up and then bent at right-angles by French or Italian hooligans, as I have, while the car is parked outside a hotel at night, you will appreciate this feature. The fuel filler is concealed beneath a flap on the top of the left-hand wing in front of the windscreen, this cap being opened by a release knob and cable on the instrument panel. Inside this recess is a rubber apron that has to be unfolded before the tank cap is revealed, the apron then lying over the edge of the aperture guarding the paintwork of the body against clumsy petrol pump attendants who knock chips of paint off with the hose nozzle, while it also catches the inevitable drips. The third detail is the provision of two lights in the front luggage locker that light up when the lid is raised. These sort of details, so typical in the 911. come from usage by members of the factory staff with real motoring experience. Similar things are the provision of coat hooks behind the seats, a safety catch on the passenger seat to prevent it pitching forward under heavy braking when it is unoccupied, clips to retain the hinged rear seat-backs when they are unoccupied, a funnel in the neck of the windscreen washer bag to facilitate filling, the provision of a rubber bag for the washer fluid and, not a glass bottle like some people still fit, push-button interior operation for the doors instead of levers, anti-dazzle rear-view mirror, a towing hook built into the front of the chassis, useful map pockets in the doors and on the sides of the bulkhead, and a simple white light in the oil gauge’s dial to show that the hand-brake is on when the ignition is switched on.

The lid of the engine compartment is opened by a knob recessed into the left-hand door pillar, concealed when the door is closed, and the front luggage compartment lid is released by a knob under the instrument panel. Both lids are self-supporting, controlled by pneumatic dampers to stay in any position. The front luggage compartment is very much larger than on earlier Porsches and presents a useful carpeted space into which small objects can be put without being lost. This is achieved by mounting the spare wheel flat in the bottom of the nose, and building a shaped petrol tank that surrounds the spare wheel, the 12-volt battery taking up one corner of this area. In spite of the tank filler neck having to run upwards through some curves to the wing flap it is possible to put full petrol pump pressure into the filler without any blow-back occurring. It is this low mounting of the fuel tank that prevents the use of the old Porsche/VW type of reserve petrol tap, for the tank lies well below the level of the carburetters and a Bendix electric pump sucks the petrol to the rear of the car.

Carburation on the 6-cylinder engine is by a series of three Solex carburetters to each bank of cylinders, and these operate on the “weir” fuel feed system. The Bendix pump feeds a collector box below each trio of carburetters, from whence a pipeline runs to a mechanical pump that feeds a gallery running along the level of each trio of chokes. The jets take what fuel they require and the surplus drains down into the collector boxes, there being a mechanical pump for each row of carburetters, these pumps being driven off the rear of the left-hand camshaft. In accordance with new American constructional regulations the engine and oil tank breathers are fed into the carburetter intake filters, which is all very well, but if the oil tank is inadvertently overfilled and frothing occurs it can cause oil mist to pass through the engine, so that quite a cloud of blue smoke will come out of the single, large-diameter exhaust pipe when starting up. In case oil should collect in the main air-filter body there is a drain pipe to lead it away into the nether regions of the gearbox, but during the test this little rubber pipe fell off. Due to some misinformation I overfilled the oil tank, with the consequence that an ominous layer of oil began to appear on top of the engine, but A.F.N. soon solved this problem for me.

As will have been gathered by now, the new Porsche 911 is a most interesting car technically and is one that is a real joy to drive. Its first-class stability, hard-working engine, perfect gearbox, accurate steering, high cornering propensities, and one-piece feel make it a real GT car, a car that is intended for hard motoring. The harder you drive it the more it seems to come alive, and you can almost hear it chuckling to itself as you really begin to use it the way Dr. Porsche meant it to be used. No matter what you do it never seems to become embarrassed, like many so-called GT cars, and I imagine it would be terrific on a journey through rugged mountain country (perhaps I can borrow one for this year’s trip to Sicily). It has all the creature comforts desirable for long journeys, is a 2-seater with plenty of luggage room, and tiny occasional seats for giving a lift to the inevitable third person; in fact, all the attributes that go to make a real GT car. Above all else it is a car that makes it very clear that it enjoys being driven hard and fast, and it is with you all the way through thick and thin; an incredibly safe car that you know you can trust, and if you make a mistake when driving it fast it will stay with you and help you to sort things out, in true Porsche fashion, and not give up and embarrass you at an inopportune moment, like some well-known cars.

Now if Dr. Porsche could find some way of getting the power and torque of a 4.2-litre Jaguar engine into the 911 we would have something approaching the perfect GT car. As it is, Porsche have made an outstanding car in the 911 that carries on from where the old 2-litre Carrera left off, and it sets standards towards which everyone should endeavour to arrive. Needless to say nothing is perfect and there are probably things about the 911 which would upset and annoy many people, such as the engine noise at tick-over, or the wind noise at 100 m.p.h., or the fact that it doesn’t have a boot like a Ford Zephyr, or that it doesn’t have an automatic gearbox, and no doubt many professional road testers will write sneering remarks about the short comings of the 911. If they do then all I can say is that they can’t he capable of enjoying motoring with a capital M, motoring for the sheer fun of handling a good car. The Porsche 911 is such terrific fun to drive fast that if you cannot forgive it a few defects then you don’t deserve to be driving it and you should be in a “Crootmobile” or some other family saloon.

During the test period the British Drag Racing Association were holding a practice meeting on the standing-start 1-mile, so I took the opportunity of pitting the 911 against the electronic-beam timers, and it recorded a best time of 15.62 sec., with numerous runs just under 16 sec. A driver completely strange to the car also got under 16 sec. on his first attempt. For the quarter-mile it was only necessary to use 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears, the finishing line being crossed at 6,800 r.p.m. in 3rd gear, a speed of approximately 92 m.p.h.—and there remained the nice thought that there were still two more gears to come !

As with most good things there is always a snag, and with the 911 it is the price, which is a total in Britain of £3,438 1s. 3d., which includes purchase tax, import duty, and all the other costs that are involved in importing cars from a foreign country. The lucky Germans can buy this splendid car for about the price we pay for an E-type Jaguar. Another small snag is the fuel consunmtion, especially for a 2-litre car, for it showed a little over 18 m.p.g. overall, while if you keep it above 6,500 all the time it will drop to nearly 16 m.p.g. However, I presume that if you can afford the total purchase price you are not very worried about fuel consumption, and if you enjoy motoring and value things as a ratio of enjoyment/consumption/cost, then the 911 comes out very high. After a glorious week with the 911 Porsche I rate it as one of the great cars of today by all standards.—D. S. J.