The ultimate variation on a theme!
If you glance through the latest Porsche catalogue you will see the four 1982 models lined up in nose-to-tail formation. There is the “basic” 2-litre 924, slippery and effective; the new 944, slightly more aggressively styled round the same basic shell; and the 4.5-litre V8 928S, sculptured eke a bullet, a true super-car to last the marque into the 1990s. Right at the back you will see something that is so totally different from its stablemates that one has difficulty in believing it could have come from the same manufacturer. Crouching low, attracting attention with its spats, spoilers and flared wheel arches, is the ultimate development of the 911 concept — the 3.3-litre turbo. For sixteen years the rear engined devices, the origins of which can be traced through the classic 356 back to the very dawn of the German company’s history, have captivated and delighted a host of enthusiasts. Fitted with a 2.0-litre flat-six-cylinder engine developing 130 b.h.p., the first Porsche 911 took its bow in a very different world to that we’ve come to know teethe 1980s. Petrol was about four and tuppence a gallon, Harold Wilson’s Labour Government was less than a year old, the “swinging sixties” were in oh-so-misleading full cry, deluding so many people into believing that we really did live in a land of peace and plenty on which the sun would never set. Finally it was a time in which the multi-national oil companies had unfettered control over the globe’s petroleum supply. Most people didn’t know much about Arabs and probably associated their homelands with little more than the supply of packets of Christmas dates, rather than “black gold”.
It is a measure of Porsche’s stature that there is still room for the Porsche 3.3-litre turbo, and other similar supercars, in 1982. Perhaps it proves more than anything that there will always be a place for really good cars, whatever the economic climate. Quality stands for a great deal, even in these times when we’re encouraged to accept mediocrity as the norm. A great deal of the success of the 911 range can also be attributed to the gentle process of evolution which has seen development to the current turbo’s pitch. The 911 turbo has grown gently throughout the 1970s, starting as the much-acclaimed 3-litre turbo which came on the scene in 1974 as little more than a “homologation special” based on the racing RSR. In 1977 the first 3.3-litre turbo burst on the scene, offering the well-heeled connoisseur the chance of owning a projectile with race-track performance yet combined with an astonishing docility and flexibility. Yet, even with all that to be said in the car’s favour, the Porsche 911 turbo is still something of an acquired taste, like caviar. Nobody would dispute that it is an excellent piece of precision machinery. But those who become lyrical at an encounter with a Ferrari 308 or similar Italian exotica will probably only give the Zuffenhausen product a grudging nod of approval. If you love the rasp of a four-can Ferrari V8 snapping into life behind your neck, you won’t necessarily be impressed by that efficient, bland, flat bark as the 3,299 c.c. flat-six-cylinder springs into action.
Climbing into the snug, cloth covered driver’s seat, a shaft of concern crosses one’s mind. Those spindly little front wings which fall into immediate view seem worryingly skinny, somewhat dated. The pedals are not, in my view, desperately convenient to operate. They’re too high from the floor. Juggling to obtain an “ideal” driving position can also cause some problems. If you’re long of leg, you may find that you’re rather further from the steering wheel than you might like. I found that I was driving with rather more of a “straight arm” than usual behind the very comfortable, vertically positioned, leather bound wheel rim. But that’s mere detail that can easily be accommodated in exchange for enjoying the Porsche turbo’s more obvious attractions. The same can be said for the somewhat unpredictable heating/ventilation system. But, truly, these are minor trifles. You don’t buy a 911 turbo in order to waft along in cosseted luxury. This is a machine for Driving with a capital “D”. Much better to enjoy the relaxing sight of those beautifully calibrated instruments, white figures on a black background with readings indicated by red needles. Nothing could be easier on the eye, more informative or positively soothing. A reflection of the sheer thought that Porsche put into their motor cars.
One final thought before you get underway. How can Porsche instil such splendid handling into a car whose weight distribution seems, on the face of it, to be all wrong? With all that weight over the rear axle – behind it, in fact – how can it behave so decently? Well, the fact of the matter is that it does.
It its latest guise, the 3.3-litre flat-six is fitted with a KKK turbocharger and intercooler which adds up to quite a tight package in the engine bay. Developing 300 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. and Producing 304 lb./ft. torque at 4,000 r.p.m., there is clearly no need for a five speed gearbox and the stubby, surprisingly precise gearchange controls only four forward ratios. With all the resultant performance on tap it is quite remarkable just what a gentle machine the 911 turbo feels when it is being driven sedately. There is none of the coughing, misfiring, spluttering temperament associated with some so-called high performance machines. Inching one’s way forward in a suburban traffic jam provides nothing more serious than sheer frustration as you think of the time that’s being wasted – time that could be put to good use on the open, uncluttered road. If you’re lucky enough to find one. In fact, for most of the time, “legal” motoring is carried out with such nonchalance, the car barely ticking over, that this Porsche really seems too good for current motoring conditions. But other subtleties in the car’s character, such as its remarkable ability to brake with no fuss from high speed, thanks to its large drilled disc brakes working in harmony with that splendid Pirelli P7 rubber, its agility in tricky situations and its high speed stability, prove every bit as impressive as its straight line performance.
Suffice to say, this Porsche turbo is electrifying when it comes to getting off the mark. It leaps from a standstill to 60 m.p.h. in just over five seconds. In a little more than twice that time span, the 911 turbo is nuzzling towards the 100 m.p.h. mark. But that isn’t all. With all that torque, it will punch between 80 and 100 m.p.h. in top gear in just about seven seconds. All that adds up to tremendous reserves of safety and manoeuvrability when it comes to dealing with lesser mortals. This 911 threads its silky progress through the traffic as if other cars don’t exist, an assumption which can admittedly prove somewhat hazardous when you come upon some fellow who doesn’t appreciate that you’ve already assessed what he is about to do and are concentrating on the next “problem” halls mile beyond him.
Those big Pirelli P7s (225/50 at the rear, 205/50 at the front) help to transmit a fair deal of “thump bump” when the Porsche is underway, but this never develops into anything which shakes the car off a predetermined course. The 911 turbo rewards conscientious driving but will not look after the unwary in the same fashion as the 928S. In the wet, particularly, the throttle should be squeezed with some caution, particularly when accelerating out of roundabouts, because that turbo snaps into action with very little in the way of lag once you have topped 2,000 r.p.m. It should also be mentioned, in connection with stability, that the 17.6 gallon fuel tank is situated at the front of the car and there is a quite perceptible difference in the handling when the tank is full as compared to when it is almost empty. It’s not sufficiently different to be worrying, but you can sense that the front end is slightly more prone to understeer on wet roads to the latter situation. It would be most unwise to be lured into the “classic” 911 driving error – running into a soaking bend too quickly with a trailing throttle – with very little of that additional weight over the front wheels. But, apart from that area of vulnerability for the driver (which, one should emphasise, occurs only at relatively high speeds) the Porsche 911 turbo is well up to matching the skill of most competent drivers, move for move. Sustained acceleration to 120 m.p.h. is provided as a matter of course and the way in which this Porsche leaps forward to 130 m.p.h. in no way makes one think that the claimed 160 m.p.h. is anything else but completely believable. During our time with the car, spent in autumnal weather conditions, the 911 turbo returned a whisker less than 20 m.p.g. although it would be more realistic to expect between 15 and 16 m.p.g. if the roads were dry and one was exploiting the car’s exhilarating performance more regularly.
Truly, this is a car for sheer motoring pleasure to be enjoyed by a driver and his companion. There is room for a couple of children behind the front seats but these seats will be required for extra luggage if you are planning on carrying anything more than an overnight bag since the space in the front luggage compartment is minimal. What’s more, a price tag of £27,950 inclusive of car tax and VAT ensures that anybody purchasing one of these machines will probably be indulging himself and use it as a device to use on “high days and holidays”, preferably before the World has rubbed the sleep from its eyes and struggled out of bed. In that connection, and to indicate the real character of the 911 turbo, I quote below from a note which I received from D.S.J. after he had sampled the sleek, black coupe.
“I got up this morning and did 100 miles round Hampshire before the public woke up. Fantastic. The ultimate tool, and so docile Auntie could go shopping in it. By nine o’clock it was all over, the public had woken up and it was a case of squirting from one traffic jam to another. It was then I realised that real motoring, is now the province of the very rich (it always was really, though for a fleeting moment it looked as though peasants like you and me were going to be able to do it, but it was false). You keep a Porsche turbo or something similar like people keep boats. You don’t use it to go anywhere, but when the weather is fair you go off for a sail. When the public are in bed, or stirring uneasily, you go off for a 100 mile blast, then put it away and go about your business in a Eurobox or an Execubox in the streams of traffic. An extravagant pastime, but then so is a three-masted schooner, a Spitfire aeroplane or a power boat. Motoring has returned to where it started. A pastime for the rich . . .”
Of course, motoring for the rich in days gone by didn’t necessarily mean efficient motoring. And that is where things have changed dramatically. Improvements in metallurgy, aerodynamics, fuel systems and suspension are epitomised in the Porsche 911 3.3-litre turbo. Not only is this car about performance, it is also about efficiency. Fifteen years ago this son of performance combined with a fuel consumption wilt, h can be coaxed towards 20 m.p.g. would have proved almost impossibly incompatible. The Porsche turbo may seem a rich man’s toy at first glance, but it is not about wasteful profligacy. With superb standards of build quality, a seven year warranty against corrosion, Porsche are moving with the times — indeed they are in the leading bunch when it comes to setting standards by which cars should be judged. It is this appreciation that standards are ever changing, not static, combined with top-class engineering integrity which will guarantee that Porsche continue to make “socially acceptable” high performance road cars in the foreseeable future.
Ironically. Porsche’s determination to press on with a continual programme of improvement is the one thing that makes the Porsche 911 turbo, for all its overall competence, look so dreadfully outdated. It may be impressive, aggressive. “macho”, call it what you will. But against that sleek 928S it looks to the writer like a nostalgic flashback to an age gone by. You have to drive it to appreciate it. For sheer pleasure on the eye, my choice would be the front engined V8 model. And when you take a final look at the 911 turbo, appreciating just what progress has been made in fifteen years, one can only look on to 1994 with an enormous sense of anticipation. What price a 200 mph, ground effect, 5.7-litre turbo 928 turning in a regular 25 m.p.g.? As Jenks remarked in his letter to me, “Kee-rist!” — A.H.